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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Why do some coin types suddenly disappear from the Market? Scarcity, Rarity in a Demand Driven market.

Scarcity, Rarity in a Demand Driven market.

The truth is that  all markets are essentially demand driven.

If everyone suddenly realized their I phone 37 was essentially exactly the same as their I phone 3 Apple profits would disappear.

If everyone suddenly realized commodities-trader turned "artist" Jeff Koons was essentially making fun of his own clients a Balloon Dog would suddenly have no value at all.
Image result for balloon dog auction price(rather than 55 million dollars.)Image result for balloon dog auction price

Demand for drugs is why no policy directed at curbing the supply of drugs is ever effective.

Demand for capital in a debt ridden economy is why Supply Side Economics is suddenly impotent.

The coin market is another Demand Driven market.  Take the "rare and valuable Mint State flowing hair large cent. "Only" 1200 1793 lots have been auctioned with the high hammer having gone at close to a million dollars.
1794 $1 B-1, BB-1, R.4, AU58 NGC. CAC
Now, in other areas of the coin market, say Ancients, or Medieval coinage, if any particular piece had come up for auction 1000 times, it would be considered the most common coin available, and even coins of excessive beauty, and historical interest would have trouble breaking the $5,000 dollar mark were they that common.

For example, a particularly nice mint state Daric of exceptional style, might have come up for auction 10 to 20 times, while run of the mill mint state daric probably has come up for auction 100-200 times (85 have been graded mint state or better - which seems like a tremendous amount in the current ancient coin market) Still, a Gem daric only hammered at $25,000 and nicest fines style mints state Darics only make slightly more that $15,000

Image result for mint state daric
This is because the Ancient and Medieval markets are tiny compared to the US market. But as demand shifts, coins and medals that were at one time readily available are suddenly impossible to find.

This is where supply comes in.  In very tight markets small shifts in demand can cause large price bumps, and pieces that once seemed available can disappear off the market

And though demand is shifting rapidly because of the advent of slabbed ancients, and because the Japanese have become very active in several ancient and world coin areas, the market is still relatively small.

The most difficult thing for a collector coming from US coins to get their head around, is how relatively tiny (compared to the US markets) these markets are - in many areas.

For example, about five years ago a horde of 20 shooting darics hit the ancient coin market.
Ancients:Greek, Ancients: PERSIA. Achaemenid Empire. Darius I - Xerxes I (ca.505-480 BC). AV daric (15mm, 8.34 gm).  ...MS graded examples sold for about 20,000 dollars.  For a year or two every major auction seemed to have one of these.  High end collectors knew they could pick one up if they really wanted one.  At that time 20 coins could have that effect on the Ancient Coin market.  These are gone.  It's been over 2 years since one in any grade has been auctioned.  More may be found.  Or maybe not.

I use Darics as examples because these were from 500 BCE to about 336 BCE the reserve currency of the Eastern Ancient world - while Athenian Owls and Kyzykian Staters were the reserve currency of the Western Ancient world.

As such, the Darics are easily the most common Ancient Gold pieces along with the Alexandrine Gold Staters that replaced them after Alexander the Great.

But the fact is there are many more MS 1793 Flowing Hair Dollars floating around than there are MS Darics.

There was a relatively large and recent horde of Darics which has still not been fully absorbed by the Ancient Coin Market.  But for new collectors, wait about 2-3 years and as the market grows and the horde is absorbed, my guess is that mint state Darics will become quite difficult to find at auction or in dealer inventories.

You can extend that logic to other areas of the Ancient Coin market that aren't nearly as plentiful.

Friday, March 1, 2019


Whither the Price of Gold?

There is a link between collector gold coins and the price of bullion gold.  It constitutes only a part of the price of a rare gold coin, but a part that can not be ignored.  As the bullion price of gold rises, a general awareness of the desirability of gold permeates the public consciousness, 

So what makes the price of gold rise?


Many people think the gold price is linked to commodity prices in general, precious metals prices in particular , other currencies in inverse ratios.  All that is true around the edges.

But gold is and has always been a hedge against instability.

Why? Because it has a 5000 year track record of holding its value over time.  Nothing else can compete with that.  So when people really begin to lose confidence is the institutions that provide stability, they return to hording gold.

I would suggest that we are in a period of collapsing stability.  We are in a period where the very people in charge the institutions that provide stability are  expending all the energy in challenging, abusing, and destroying those institutions.

Not just here.  But around the world.

And consider this, the United is the most stable country in the world, and our stability is crumbling by the day.

Political instability is obvious.  Financial instability less so.  BUT With the US debt climbing over 22 Trillion dollars and rising at an alarming rate while over 70 precent of all Corporate debt is rated only one level above junk, and US household debt at a record 13 trillion dollars, it would only take a sudden modest rise in interest rates to cause a massive financial collapse. 

Meanwhile Global debt has reached 250 trillion which is about 350 percent of global GDP.

Now imagine how the general public will react to a crisis considering the absolute vaccuum of confidence in the current political regime?


That is where the price of gold is headed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


The Dirty Open Secret of Western Economy is that every Major Western Economy considered to be Capitalist is dominated by the actions of its respective Central Bank.

The Function of a central bank is to set the Cost of Money.  In this, they control the flow of money.

An economy wherein the cost and flow of money is controlled by a Central Planning organization is in essence a socialist economy.

We don't like to think of it as such, because it is Socialism for the Wealthy.

In a true market capitalist economy the cost of money (interest rate) would reflect the future value of money plus a risk factor.

If the money devalues at say 10 percent a year, a capitalist economy would require and basic yearly interest rate of 10 percent plus a very conservative risk factor of say  2-3 percent.

In the United States the top 50 items purchased in the 50 largest cities get 10 percent more expensive every year, and they have done so for the last 50 years.

When you loan money to a bank, therefor, in a capitalist economy, you should receive an interest rate of about 13 percent.

But in Socialism for the Wealthy Capitalism wherein the Central Bank sets the cost of money they "base" their rates on a fairy tale CPI which excludes everything that costs money: Housing, Education, Health Care, food, heating oil, prescription drugs etc.  Thus they say there is no inflation, even though each dollar buys about 10 percent less year over year.

In this Socialism for the Wealthy economy then, when you loan money to the bank in the form of a bank account, the bank pays you an interest rate of ZERO.

This becomes an unvirtuous cycle as it in turn causes money to lose value even more quickly, as it subsidizes speculation at the expense of savings, and it encourages the accumulation of massive debt.

The bank then takes that money and speculates with it - or extend it to client speculators at well below real market rates (Why not? - their speculation is being subsidized to the tune of about 13 percent, and if it fails they get bailed out anyway) and that money floods into the risk markets -especially for hard assets (like Real Estate funds for example), and also assets coveted by the Wealthy class.  This in turn, drives up the cost of everything a consumer needs to buy - Housing, Food, Heating oil, Education, Health Care etc, (as opposed to discretionary items like TV sets)

This flow of funds from savers to speculators causes the wealthy get ever richer and the poor and middle class get ever poorer.

A direct  beneficiary of this is the Investment Hard Asset Market.

Why? Because as the value of money is ever eroded, and the transfer of wealth is one way from the middle class to the wealthy - the wealthy become ever wealthier and they are incentivized to invest in assets that benefit from the destruction of the value of money.  These are assets that  have intrinsic value.

What assets have intrinsic value?

Coins for one.  Especially Ancient coins, as they are manuscripts, artifacts and artworks central to the History of Human Kind.  They are also easy to maintain, especially in slabs, easy to store, and difficult for the government to account for.  And best of all they have a track record of retaining their value over large swaths of time.

So as long as the Cost of Money is functionally Negative - as it is now by about 10 to 15 percentage points, hard assets will continue to appreciate by about that much per year - not taking into account the vicissitudes of crowd psychology (fetish value) which causes certain pieces to rise more quickly than others.

So it is best to still choose wisely, but in Ancient coins you are choosing in a market supported by the current economic system.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018



There are undoubtedly collectors of ancient coins who can not understand why these are a fine style coins. 

However, the brilliance of the designs can easily be lost on the jaded modern viewer who is inundated from the earliest age by images of all types drawing from thousands of years of artistic and commercial endeavor. 

It may be difficult to appreciate how stunningly new these designs were to the history of world art.  How extraordinary it must have been for ancient merchants to have witnessed for the first time,  Mythical Beings: Heroes, Gods and Goddesses, whom they could only have seen in public buildings temples and shrines presented in this new medium.

These artists who engraved these images did not only have to wonder:  How should we present Zeus?  What posture should he assume?  What emotions should be invoked by those beholding him?

But also: How to effect this on a little oval piece of Electrum?

Now, undoubtedly houses of the wealthy, as well as temples and other public building were adorned with Mythical Images.: sculptures and paintings.  But engraving in metal was certainly a new artform.  And these coins are amongst the first metallic engravings. 

And certainly these are the first artworks that were, in effect, mass produced and disseminated throughout the ancient world.

That  doesn't mean, of course, that every single Electrum image is a masterpiece.  Some are undoubtedly clumsy.  Some perhaps altogether botched.
  This one, for example doesn't do much for me.  It looks more like a chicken than a Siren. 

But others are true masterpieces that use the confines of the oval and the substance of the metal to achieve miniature sculptures to rival those of any period by any artist.

 Some, like this coin, endeavor to evoke an entire mythological story To quote the catalogers at  CNG : This rare type depicts the legend of the omphalos (navel) stone, which marked the sacred precinct of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi as the physical center of the earth. According to tradition, two eagles, which had been released by Zeus, one flying from the east, and the other from the west, met exactly at the site of Apollo’s sanctuary. 

Some artist - or group of artists - had to select this myth and then hash out the best way to depict it in this new medium.  How to relate an entire myth with all its associated meaning on a little oval of electrum?

To really appreciate the brilliance of this design you have to consider that most other designs from this period in similar mediums - seals, scarabs, jewels, consisted of signs and image that were much more standardized.: A beatle, a lion, an ibis etc - whose forms had been well established for centuries.

That doesn't mean, of course, that there aren't  beautiful scarabs and seals from this period and earlier, it simply means that this new art from should be appreciated in light of what must have been the equivalent of what would be considered as groundbreaking avant-garde genius in our own era.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Alexander is by far the greatest Classical Hero of well recorded times. His education in the arts and letters inspired him to tracvel with a retinue of writers and artists. Thus his exploits were chronicled by contemporaries Ptolemy, Heironymus, Nearchus (Alexander's admiral), Aristobulus (Alexander's chief engineer) and Calisthenes (Aristotle's nephew) whose writings, though lost, were read and synthesized by Arrian of Nicomedia, much of whose work survives to this day. Herodotus , Diodorus, and Quintus Curtius roughly contemporay to Arrian, also wrote histories that are still partially extant, also drawing on the writings of Alexander's contemporaries.

Immediately following Alexander's death, his half-brother Philip, his mother Olympia, and his Generals: Ptolemy, Seleukos, Antigonos, Peithon, Lysimachos and Perdikass fought bitterly over the now divided empire.  Much of this discord is also well recorded by contemporary or near contemporary writers,

Unfortunately what is not recorded is a contemporary history of the coinage.   Without a written record, attributions and timelines are speculative - not historical.

To some extent, though, the coins themselves can be read as documents.  They include names of issuing authorities, mintmarks, and, very occasionally,  dates.  From these we can infer a somewhat accurate reconstruction - though with far less certainty then you might find in certain numismatic circles.

Coins are also stylistic documents. The more refined the style the easier it is to identify it  with a particular artist or group of artists.

Alexander's image was recorded by some of the greatest artists of the period. He traveled with renowned Sculptor Lyssippos, and the renowned gem carver Pyrgoteles.

The coin engraving during the period immediately following his death was certainly heavily influenced by Alexander's court artists who surely trained some of the engravers who went on to carve masterpieces at the Abydos, Lampsakos, Kolophon and Magnesia mints.  Fine style coins were also minted at the Pella and Amphipolis mints in Thrace. both before and after Lysimachus took control there.

Much of the portraiture of this period is unrivaled.

Some of the coins have been positively identified as displaying portraits of Alexander.  The coins of Lysimachus have portraits which are identified being of Alexander though many clearly are not.  Some are quite beautiful and seem to be modeled on contemporary images of Alexander.:

Some are probably meant to be Alexander, but were engraved by artists of lesser ability so it's tough to tell if they are Alexander or perhaps some contemporary ruler -  or perhaps the features are conflated:

Some do not appear to be Alexander at all, and almost certainly represent some later diginitary:

But in many ways the most intriguing Alexander portraits were engraved under the auspices of Philip III, Alexander's half brother, about whom little is known.  He avoided military service in an era in which it would have been unthinkable to do so unless somehow infirm, so it is supposed that he must have been.  And it seems certain he reigned under the influence of Olympia.  Otherwise all we know is that he employed a stable of terrific artists.

Certainly the finest Alexander portrait was carved in Philip's name:

This is thought to have been modeled on Alexander's death mask.  There is no proof of that but the skill of portraiture certainly goes beyond anything seen before this coin.  It was produced at the Kolophon and Magnesia mints from the same obverse die almost certainly immediately after the death of Alexander..  But other coins bearing portraits with strikingly similar features came out of these two mints as well as Abydos and Lampsakos mints during the same period of time.

All these mints are on the Western coast of present day Turkey which may well have served as Philip's main area of power.  And, of course, Philip's claim to power lay in his lineage as he was not a military man, so placing Alexander's portrait on his coinage was a way of making his case for succession.

Other quite beautiful dies from this quartet of mints that appear to all be portraying Alexander the Great include:


Not all of these have been identified by numismatists as Alexander, but one would have to be blind not to see the similarities.  And in fact, these portraits are far more similar than most of those portraying Alexander on the Lysimachus staters.  While some may strike a particular viewer as more accomplished than others, they speak to a group of prodigiously skilled engravers who almost appeared to competing to achieve the finest portrait of Alexander.

And several other characters are portrayed in very fine style from this period at these mints.  But thus far their identities can only be guessed at:

Ancients:Greek, Ancients: MACEDONIAN KINGDOM. Philip II (359-336 BC). AV stater(18mm, 8.61 gm, 8h). NGC AU 5/5 - 3/5, Fine Style....

In all, this is certainly a tremendous era of portraiture, the likes of which is not seen again in coinage - or any extant artform - until the golden age of Rome.

Friday, August 31, 2018



Here's a Little Fine Style Game.  Below are coins 10 different FINE STYLE Alexander staters.

All have arguably been engraved by artists of merit.

Some, to my eye are quite pedestrian.  One, in my opinion, is particularly beautiful. 

How many of these do you think have been described by either NGC or one of 5 major auction houses as being of particularly FINE STYLE?

IF you guessed every single one - you'd be correct.  There is obviously a very wide range of what is considered Fine Style, depending on the viewer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

ANCIENT COINTS: Attractive Coins and Fine Style coins: a subtle guide

How does the traditional collector of ancients judge the beauty of an ancient coin?

How does NGC judge the beauty of an ancient coin?

How do you judge the beauty of an ancient coin?

Different questions.  Because everyone's aesthetic is - and should be - different.

Yet there are certainly aspects to the traditional view of the beauty of an ancient coin that can be objectively gauged.

Some of these will be reflected in NGC grades, some will not.  Outside of condition, which is NGC's obvious strong suit, here some other facets I feel are good to consider when developing your own aesthetic.

These are - in the order of importance - in my opinion:

1) Skill of the die carver (celetor).  This does not count in the NGC grade - or in the "fine style" designation - unless the coin's coindition is attractive in a global way in the opinion of the grader.

Yet a skillfully engraved coin will usually appeal to many collectors.  It is not difficult to
recognize a skillfully engraved coin.  In the case of a portrait, you feel it has been modeled on an actual person.

In case of a mythical tableau. you feel the human emotion associated to the myth: the Grandeur of Zeus, the fierceness of the Winged Lion etc.

What can be more controversial is the difference between a routinely well crafted coin and a true masterpiece of art.

The masterpiece captures and conveys something of the human condition.

Generally this is to be found in a well executed portrait that conveys insight into who the person was: For example this fine style tetradrachm of Lysimachus has a truly a stunning  Alexander portrait, wherein we can experience the combination of will, focus, fierceness and noble beauty that so inspired his troops:

Is can also be found in a composition that conveys exactly what is so compelling about a particular Myth.'  This Odysseus sacrifice scene, captures the drama of the moment before death, the ultimate sacrifice.

The masterpiece of coinage will afford the collector great pleasure with every viewing regardless of whether it it noted on the holder.  For example this masterpiece by signed by the Delta Artist, lacks the fine style designation on the holder:  Ancients:Greek, Ancients: PTOLEMAIC EGYPT. Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285/4-24 BC).AV trichryson or pentadrachm (25mm, 17.82 gm, 12h).  ...

Even a routinely well crafted coin will appeal to the eye in a far more satisfying way than a perfectly preserved coin executed by a aesthetic dunce.  And many NGC fine style coins are only routinely well crafted
 NGC "fine style" yet only routinely well crafted.

2) Die State/ Metal Quality.  A coin stuck from fresh dies on good metal is also something not reflected in the NGC grade, yet traditionally it one of things most prized by collectors because there is little that appeals to the eye more than a fresh image on good metal.  There is nothing more depressing than a Choice Mints State,  coin that is marred by badly rusted  or blundered or worn dies.  Just as even a smattering of die rust can destroy the aesthetic appeal of an otherwise beautiful coin - depending on where it occurs - and how distracting.

For example here is an NGC CH AU 4/5 5/5 "Fine style" gold Syracuse 50 litrae with both die rust and a badly worn die in the chin area - that is really hideous to the eye.  It has been engraved by a skilled die cutter - but the die state is atrocious.
Ancients:Greek, Ancients: SICILY. Syracuse. Time of Dionysius I (405-367 BC). AV 50litrae (11mm, 2.88 gm, 7h)....

How to tell the die state?  For one thing - absence of die rust.  For another: Deep definition of line.  On a fresh die the image pops off the flan.  This is obviously more subjective, and often difficult to capture in a photo.  But you'll know it when you see it.  To old time collectors of CNG coins, the designation "Struck from fresh dies" was something that always elicited excitement - and a premium bid.

3) Strike and Centering.  These are issues that are certainly reflected both in the strike grade and the Star designation at NGC.  And there is no doubt something satisfying in a well centered coin.  However,  it must be noted that many ancient coins have an obverse of prime aesthetic importance and a reverse that serves more to impart information - civic ethnic, titles and affiliations, or, in the case of archaic coins, simple punches. If the reverse punch is off center it may affect the strike grade - but so what?  Who buys an archaic coin to contemplate the punch?  And who buys an Alexander portrait to admire the placement of the chariot on the reverse?  Some people do, but more often the portrait is most important.

Many small striking problems - like die shifts that can only be seen at the edges, or perhaps a slight doubling of horse hooves on the reverse - may be recorded on the holder but, really, again, do these problems interfere in any way with the aesthetics of the coin?

For example this Athenian  tetradrachm, suffers from a die shift that in no way interferes with
the lovely style.  (not noted) .  But it results in reduced strike grade and a notation on the holder - as well, quite possibly, the omission of the fine style designation.  Yet it is a premium example of this coin, and far more beautiful than many CH MS examples.
Ancients:Greek, Ancients: ATTICA. Athens. Ca. 454-404 BC. AR tetradrachm (17.16gm). NGC Choice AU 4/5 - 4/5, die shift....

At the same time most collectors rightfully shun coins where parts of the design are completely off the flan.

4) Toning.  Again, of minor importance to the NGC designations, but something that obviously has a great effect on the eye appeal of a coin. A beautifully toned coin - especially in silver, can add greatly to one's aesthetic enjoyment.  For example this beautifully toned didrachm of Calabria, rightfully has received both "fine style" and star designations.  It is also struck, quite clearly from fresh dies.
Ancients:Greek, Ancients: CALABRIA. Tarentum. Ca. 332-302 BC. AR stater or didrachm(19mm, 7.82 gm, 3h). NGC MS รข˜… 4/5 - 5/5, Fine Style....

6) Surface - I consider minor marks on the surface of a coin to be the least important of aesthetic factors.  Obviously when buying a portrait, one doesn't like to see scuffs across the face.  But does a scuff in the field of an otherwise beautiful portrait really matter?  It may drastically reduce the surface grade, and it may also be noted on the holder - but it may also only be noticeable if one tilts the coin at an angle and studies the field.  What is the point of studying the field when an artistically masterful image is popping off the flan, just begging to be appreciated?

For example this attractive stater has scuffs (on the neck) noted on the holder - yet they certainly in no way distract from the very well crafted (yet not exceptional) portrait. (again, not noted.)

The way in which the coin has been cleaned may drastically reduce a surface grade - yet nearly all ancient coins have been cleaned - just as nearly all old master paintings have been cleaned.   Slight differences in degree to which they'd been cleaned matter greatly to graders - but they hardly affect the aesthetics of the piece unless the cleaning has been materially botched.

COMMON SENSE:  As in everything, use common sense in the aesthetic appreciation of a coin.  Trust your eye.  If problems are noted on the holder that you can't see, perhaps they're not of any material concern.  If a coin is noted as fine style and you don't like the style - then it's not fine style to you.  If the notation is lacking and you see a masterpiece, perhaps you should jump at the chance to get an underappreciated masterpiece.