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Sunday, August 5, 2012


In buying any sort of art: condition is always paramount.  But ancient coins are unique in that they are dug up out of the ground after thousands of years and cleaned.  And they were hand struck from hand-engraved dies, so no two are ever the same.  This makes grading - and thus valuing - coins a challenge.

There are Four major considerations;

First: State of preservation: the overall condition that could range from as struck/mint state to About Uncirculated to Extremely Fine to Very Fine, to Good to Poor.

Obviously collectors value Mint State highest,  It is important to know however how many mint state coins there might be of a certain type to assess the value of the grade.  And it is important to know that  this is only one of four metrics.  And often not the most important.

Second: Strike: which includes centering.  A well struck well centered coin is terribly important.  A coin can be mint state but poorly struck and still have very little value.  A coin can be mint state with poor centering and have very little value.  As a rule images must be clear and well centered.  Occasionally some writing can be a little indistinct or even a few letters may be off the flan and the coin might still be highly valued.  But for top coins all images and lettering should be well struck and centered.

Third: Surfaces: this includes quality of metal as well as nicks, digs and scratches.  For many sophisticated collectors Quality of Metal is paramount. Especially with silver.  Gold is inert so the issue is less salient.  Still, a gold coin that has spent much time in a river (for example) might have an unappealing quality of metal that hurts the value.  As for nicks and scratches, it really depends where they are and how visible.  As a rule, scratches on the image of a face can hurt the value of a coin - depending on how visible.  Scratches in the field, less so.

Fourth: Style:  Style is the most subjective and often the most important element in determining value.  Some beautiful silver pieces from the "signing period" (around 400 BCE in Sicily) can bring over a million dollars - in fine style and high grade.  Electrum Staters and hektes of similar grades bring wildly differing prices according to the quality of the style.   Fine style portraits _ especially Caesar Portraits can bring 10 or even 50 times the value of poor style coins of high state of preservation.

SLABS: Above I have shown an image of an NGC graded coin.  To their great credit: they grade a coin in all four important areas.  Further, they provide the virtue of informing the collector about damaged, altered (clipped, smoothed, tooled) and fake coins.  Many dealers - and auction houses - will not do this.  CAVEAT EMPTOR.  The most costly error a collector can make is buying a damaged, repaired, altered or fake coin that has not been described as such.  This is why I sell graded coins.

All these consideration are important.  It's a challenge to be able to artfully weigh them all in valuing an ancient coin.  It takes time and effort.

But remember this: a coin that is visually stunning - meaning it literally stuns you when you look at it, just as you might be stunned occasionally when looking at a member of the opposite sex - that's a coin worth possessing.

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