Thursday, April 7, 2016
You've decided it's worth buying coins. The obvious choice for many Americans is US coins, just as French collect French coins and Russians collect Russian coins.
Ancient coins are interesting because though they may have been minted in Greece or Turkey or Italy they belong to all modern western and mid-eastern cultures, as the Ancient Empires spread through most of Western and Mideastern world - all the way to India, in fact. And these empires along with their philosophy and customs radically affected all areas they conquered. If you're American, almost all of you political and social institutions are based on Greek models and Greek thought. The founding fathers were are all fluent in Ancient Greek - as were all educated people of their period.
Ancient Coins can he divided in many ways. In a very basic way they can be divided into a few basic categories. First, there is Archaic Coinage which began in Lydia in about 625 BCE and spread through Greece Turkey and Persia in about 500 BCE.
Archaic coinage is minted in silver, gold and electrum - a gold silver alloy. Electrum was considered to be a form of gold. It is most often about 60% - 40% gold to silver. The ratios can vary. Early Electrum dating back towards 600 BCE and perhaps beyond - dating is not an exact science - comes from the Black Sea area of what is now Turkey. Lydia, Ephesos, Samos, Lesbos, Chios, and Kyzikos all had early electrum issues. Those of Kyzikos are the most plentiful. Some Kyzikene staters are common by archaic standards, which means that perhaps twenty of a type might exist. Some of the most common Hektes exist in numbers far beyond that - perhaps in the fifties or sixties. By modern standards these are still tiny populations.
Electrum issues were divided into Staters of 14 to 16 grams (depending on the weight standard), half staters, third stater (Trites), sixth staters (Hektes) all the way down to 1/24 staters. Collecting electrum is interesting because you are collecting the very first coins in history. You are also collecting documents from a period from which very little documentation survives. You are collecting human history.
The great challenge to collecting electrum is that the grading system is least helpful in this ancient category. First, almost all electrum Staters in top condition are only AU (about uncirculated.). This puts off some grade conscious US collectors. Occasionally you'll see a mint state Hekte (sixth stater), but sometimes these can be hideous little coins with blundered images for which naive collects shell out top dollar. Second, the flan: shape, metal quality, and metal composition is part of the aesthetic creation, and there is no grade for this. Third, Style and Composition: (beautiful, intircate engraving with clean lines) is critically important and there is no grade for that. All this often keeps novice collectors on the sidelines. But for those who appreciate their own sense of aesthetics, and their own love of history this can be a very rewarding area.
Archaic gold tends to be a narrow category comprised of the issues of Kroisos of Lydia and then those of Persia. Kroisos issued gold on two weight standards - and early standard wherein a stater was about 10.8 grams and a reformed light standard where the stater was reduced to about 8.1 grams. The Persians then issued coins with Lydian designs. Heavy staters and derivatives tend to be very rare. Light staters of Kroisos about ten times as common. Light staters in the Persian style are about twice as common as Lydian style staters. The Persians then introduced the Daric, at about the same weight standard, wherein gold is divided into three basic designs: Shooting Darics, Dagger Darics and Running Darics, and occasionally Double Darics. Shooting Darics are very rare. Dagger Darics are quite nearly as rare. Running Darics are the most common ancient gold coin outside of Alexander staters. All archaic gold is very popular with collectors who tend to be very grade conscious, with gem mint examples existing. Though the designs of these coins do vary stylistically and can be important to more sophisticated collectors. As in all coinage beware of paying too much for poorly engraved and struck coins of very high quality preservation.
The next Category of Gold Ancients would comprise the period from Philip of Macedon through Alexander the Great and his generals: Seleukos, Lysimachos, and Ptolemy. These are issued in staters, Di (double) staters and occaissionally half staters, quarter staters and third staters and even tenth staters. Mostly based on an 8.6 grams to the stater standard. Though Ptolemy, in Egypt, broke the stater down to Drachms, which are roughly half staters and issued coins up to octo (eight drachms) with the very occasional Dekadrachm.
Again, these coins tend to by collected in a very grade conscious way. Some issues, like Philip staters, tend to be very large by ancient standards. Gem mint examples exist. And again, style, is tremendously important to the more sophisticated collector. Also, since many issues tend to exist in relatively great number (there must be perhaps between 1000 and 2000 Alexnader staters in existence) scholarly distinctions become important to many collectors. Mintmarks indicating issuing authorities can be collected. Again, it is important to beware of hideous, poorly engraved, badly struck coins of very high quality. They only appeal to novices. Then there are the portrait coins. Beautifully rendered portraits of Alexander, Lysimachos, Ptolemy, Seuleukos, of course, command great premiums in top condition for obvious reasons.
Finally, the third catagory of Greek gold ancients occurs in the Enemies of Rome. This includes Carthage, Syracuse, Epirus, the Tarantines, Mithridates and Heirs, and the Baktrians. Of these the Carthaginian and Syracusian coins are by far the most common. The Carthaginian series is extensive and includes staters, trihemistaters, shekels and fractions. This series also includes electrum coinage, which also traded as gold. Because of the relative availability and the similarity of images on various types, the series remains relatively affordable. As always, style varies greatly within issues. The Syracuse series includes coins minted under the various tyrants: Dionysus I, Agathocles, Timoleon, Hieron and Heironymous (who has but one issue.) All except the last are relatively available, though in high grade and fine style they are all challenging.
Then there is the coinage of Pyrhus, Mithridates, Eukratides etc. These are all very rare even by ancient standards. Coins in top grade can command very high prices. But coins in poor grades and poor style even when very rare are often difficult to move. The problem with extreme rarity is that there are few who collect. So few are looking for poor examples simply to fill out collections. However, connoisseurs will pay to get top examples of rarities.
Finally a note on ex-jewelry and repaired coins. They are considered to be almost the same as fakes. Don't buy them. If a coin has a 1 for surface don't buy it unless it's just for academic purposes.