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Friday, February 25, 2011

Gold-Stater Ancient Gold Coin Update Feb 25, 2011

PART 1 - Alexander the Great and related issues.

For collectors/investors coming into the Greek gold coin market the task of valuing issues can be daunting. In the US and world markets there are population reports, stated mintages, and historical price structures. In Ancient gold, none of the these things currently exist (though, in time, they will). Meanwhile, in Greek gold, easily the thinnest market, pricing can seem almost capricious.

Therefor, it's not surprising that newer collector/investors tend to move into the most plentiful issues where prices can be tracked, while searching for the highest grades. These tend to be coins issued by or picturing Alexander the Great and his father Philip of Macedon, and his brother Philip III.

Stater issued by Alexander and early posthumous issues (circa 336- 300 BCE) are certainly the most plentiful Greek gold issue. A hoard, numbering about 2000 coins, was discovered about two years ago and has been released onto the market over the last two years. Of these, many have been graded. Mint State coins have settled into the $7500 range, and Choice Mint states have been selling for $30,000. In the latter grade the coin still must be considered very rare, even by Ancient coin standards. What does this mean? I would guess that less than a dozen exist. Mint state versions would still be extremely rare by US and World coin standards. What does this mean? I would guess that less than fifty exist.

If any multiples (Distaters) or fractions were in the hoard they would have been in small numbers and have not hit the market. Distaters are very rare in any condition, as are the fractions (1/2, 1/4, 1/8 staters).

Philip of Macedon staters (circa 340- 330 BCE) used to be most plentiful. A hoard of about 1000 coins were discovered about five years ago. Mint state coins used to be about $5000, but have moved over the last year to upward of $10,000 dollars. I've never seen or heard of a choice mint state example. Even in mint state, the coins is very difficult to find.

Alexander portraits bring us to the next level of collecting/investing.

From there collectors tend to move on to tougher issues that are still plentiful enough to afford some sort of price discovery. Alexander portraits include coins issued by Alexander's brother Philip III, and coins of Lysimachos, and Lysimachos posthumous types.

There was a hoard of Philip Alex portrait staters (Circa 320 BCE) about 10 years ago numbering about 50 - and all of superb style from dies done by the same artist. Before that the coins was extremely rare. Now it is still extremely rare by any standard but that of Greek gold. The hoard was well preserved, and when they do appear they are often AU condition (quite a good grade for coins that are 2300 years old.) In mint state they are extremely rare and the price is tending to follow that of mint state Caesar portraits (which are far more common), moving up noticeably each successive time they appear. The last mint state example went for 25,000 in New York. I've never seen or heard of a choice mint state. At the NY auctions, a mint state Caesar went for $100,000.

Lysimachos (323-281 BCE) Alexander portraits are more plentiful, but they vary greatly in style. Superb style examples in mint state are extremely rare and go for as much as the Philips. Lesser styles and lesser grades command less. But nice Au coins of pleasing style are now in the 10-15,000 dollar range. I'd guess the numbers are similar to the Philip Alex portraits. In mint state and fine style, the prices can be north of $20,000.

Posthumous Lysimachos types (281-66BCE) were minted from the time of Lysmachos death all the way down to the Mithridates types. These are plentiful as a group, though any given type (a portrait by any given artist) might be extremely rare. A huge hoard of Mithridates types was discovered many years back, numbering probably around 2500, and these tend to be low quality, and horrible style. But even these in mint state are quite rare. However, the horrible style tends to hold down the price to around $2000. Again, I've never seen a Choice mint state.

World and US collectors will be struck that common Greek gold coins number in the very low thousands (Perhaps 2 - 3000). It should be noted that this is similar to the rarest World and US mintages. And because Greek coins are at least 2000 years old, mint state examples are always very rare.

Finally a note on hoards. As time goes on, less and less is being found. Now we are in an environment where much of the known Greek and Roman world has been thoroughly excavated, and aggressive import and export restrictions are being implemented worldwide. Very little is coming on the market. Dealers who used to publish annual and semiannual fix price lists have ceased doing so, saving their material for high profile auctions. This is the reality of the current market, and it is not likely to change.



  1. I know that Au is the symbol for gold in the Periodic Table of the Elements, but I wasn't aware what AU meant in coin parlance until I looked it up when I read your blog entry. Perhaps a concise glossary for your Ancient Gold Coin updates would assist the newly inspired coin collector aspirant.

  2. thanks for the comment. I try to remember to explain symbols and terms as I go. I'll remember on this one in the future.