Ancient Coins: Degrees of rarity

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by CoinBlazer, May 13, 2019.

  1. CoinBlazer

    CoinBlazer Professional Teenager

    I've been doing some research on rarity of ancient coins. (and discovering mine are as common as the dirt they are found in :D)
    I notice that there are many contradicting scales of rarity, and that no one can agree whats rare, whats not and how to decide.
    If you could design a widely accepted rarity scale or system, what would it be?
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  3. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    If you can find at least 2-3 examples on sale at any given time, it's not rare. Might be uncommon, but definitely not rare. And if you can find more than seven or eight examples on sale at any time then it's a very common coin. Everything else you read in catalogs about Rarity is meaningless.

    But beware, just because it's rare it doesn't mean it's supposed to be expensive. Some provincial coinage during the crisis of the third century might be super rare or one of a kind, but you can find them on sale for $50 or $60. For a rare coin to be expensive it is not enough to be one of a handful.... there has to be a large enough demand for the coin that not everyone that truly needs to have one, has one. Otherwise it's just one of thousands of ultra rare coins at bargain prices. Basically, don't let a dealer try to jack up the price on you just because a coin is "rare". Otherwise you'll pay $400 for a coin no one else will pay you more than $100 if you want to sell it later.
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
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  4. Paul M.

    Paul M. Well-Known Member

    The converse is also true. Some fairly common coins can be relatively expensive due to high demand. See, for instance, Athenian owl tetradrachms. There are currently more than 30 for sale on NumisBids, and the estimates start in the low hundreds of USD. That's because the demand is there for an absurd amount of these coins.
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  5. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    One dirty trick I see on vcoins is dealers who list late Roman bronzes for hundreds of dollars because it is "an unlisted variety". It may be so, for these decades old catalogs are out of date...but unlisted doesn't automatically mean rare or expensive. Sometimes I found three or four examples of the same coin on Vcoins listed for hundreds of dollars just because it's not listed on a 40 or 50 year old catalog. But the fact that you can find so many should be a warning sign that it is not a particularly rare coin and you shouldn't be paying those prices.

    This might be common sense for people who have been collecting for many years, but I feel like I have to repeat it for the benefit of the newbies who might come across this thread. I don't want people to have a bad experience and leave the hobby because of it. Most dealers are fair and honest... but there will always be one or two out there waiting to take advantage of you (even on Vcoins).
  6. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    True! Julius Caesar denarii and Mark Antony denarii, and the Tiberius "tribute penny" are also on the same boat. Way overpriced for the availability. And I'm certainly guilty of paying way too much for some of those most others.

    But they are just so beautiful...who cares if they are a dime a dozen and overpriced.:wideyed::woot:

    82693q00 (1).jpg
    * 21 on vcoins as we speak, and dozens more listed on sale online. But $500 seems to be the price of a good one, despite them being as common as dirt.
    87764q00 (1).jpg
    *46 tribute pennies on vcoins as we speak, and I can find dozens more in each coin auction each week. But good luck getting one under $400 in XF condition despite there being a boatload of them.
    Julius Caesar.jpg
    *8 Julius Caesar lifetime portraits on vcoins as we each of my regular online dealers has at least 2-3 in stock on their websites...and most auctions will typically have at least 1-2 listed. But for some reason you can't buy one under $1000 even though they are readily available everywhere.

    But yeah, you are right....the worst offender is this coin...

    Attica Athena Owl Tet.jpg
    *200+ on sale on vcoins, hundreds more in dealer websites online, and dozens in each auction lately, but you won't find any for sale for less than $500 (unless it's an absolute dog), and the early ones cost over $1000 even though they are just as common as the rest. For that reason the owl is the most over-hyped and overpriced coin there is
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  7. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one step at a time Supporter

    @CoinBlazer you will enjoy this thread from BenSi and this article
    from David Hendin and Arthur Houghton: "Defining Rarity in Seleucid and Ancient Jewish Coinages". The authors ask, "Can one devise a concept approach to rarity values that can be applied to all ancient coinages?"
  8. Paul M.

    Paul M. Well-Known Member

    This is an intermediate style owl tetradrachm. I acquired mine for $320, and it is no dog (no photo handy, unfortunately -- it is wicked difficult to image because of a glossy black patina). When I was counting owls on NumisBids, I was actually referring to classical owls. I would say those are overhyped.

    There are also specific legionary denarii that are wickedly hard to find. Ask anyone who's tried to put the whole set together. ;)
  9. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Rarity is less meaningful in the context of ancient coins than it is in modern coins. What is important is desirability. As a case in point two groups of coins Athenian tetradrachms from 454-404 B.C. and the Tiberius denarius Rv. Pax seated, the so called "Tribute Penny" usually command prices much higher than other "more rare" ancient coins. The thing is, everyone wants one and so even though they are very common they still command high prices.
  10. Paul M.

    Paul M. Well-Known Member

    Desirability is just supply relative to demand, just like it is for modern coins. Ancient coins are just seen as more niche, so demand is lower, generally speaking. I can point to any number of $20-30 Constantine the Great coins which are quite desirable, in addition to the parliament of owls that's available for purchase right now to illustrate my point.
  11. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    Well, if everyone wanted one, there shouldn't be so many readily available on vcoins, auctions, and online sites. The truth is that the price lately is way too high considering the abundance in the marketplace at any given time, but collectors have shown a willingness to overpay for them rather than demand and wait for lower prices.
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  12. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Instead of "everyone" I should have said "a very large number". I would say that the fact that dealers are willing to stock a number of coins of the same type is testament to their perceived popularity. I cannot be sure that abundance should cause a price drop. What it does, is offer choice, as well as advertise availability. Collectors who may at the back of their minds might like to own one, might see this as an opportune time to get one.
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  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Thanks to Sulla80 for this link. All interested should read it. The concept can only be applied to all coins if you consider the factors spelled out in this well thought out piece. I particularly like the idea that 'rare' for some series might mean there are only as many of that one minor variety as there are total coins of another series. The one that I see most often is the denarii of Pescennius Niger which exist in many variations represented by only one coin in the usual literature. More, it is unusual to find die duplicates of Athenian tetradrachms of the common varieties simply because they used so many dies to make the things. The question here can not be answered without really long footnotes.
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  14. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one step at a time Supporter

    and thanks to @Ed Snible for referencing in the other thread that I mentioned.
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  15. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Except for the most common and/or generic of ancient coins, you will be hard-pressed to procure more than a couple of any specific ancient coin variety - yes certain varieties may be rare or even unique, but nobody cares because nobody has the time, interest, or money to collect *thousands* of reverse types of Gallienus or Constantine. It's the same issue that modern collectors are seeing with Canada et al. churning out a new "rare" NCLT every other week.

    From my experience, the biggest factors in rarity are, in some sort of order:

    1) The rarest of the rare emperors for a Roman Emperor set - Romulus Augustus is rare in an absolute sense, but immense demand as the "Last Emperor" routinely drives his coins up to high end sports car / small house prices.

    2) Greek coins of immense historical importance and exceptional artistic merit - Especially the coins of Syracuse can go well into the six figures.

    3) Very important reverses or types for famous individuals who are not rare as a "type emperor" - Examples like early Augustus/Octavian denarii, Nero sestertii, and Trajan/Hadrian sestertii commemorating special events or victories.

    Some fun examples from my collection:

    1) Athens "mass production" owl tet... upper end of average grade for the most common type - about $450
    Athens tetradrachm.jpg

    Alexander the Great lifetime Tetradrachm, with a popular control mark - plough for Tarsus - Again common as dirt, but a popular choice for those with the willpower to day "just one ancient for me" - this was about $600
    Alexander III tet Tarsus Price 3027.jpg

    My most expensive coin by a fair margin - Didius Julianus, a "key" emperor who held the shortest uncontested reign of the Principate - just a hair under $1,000
    Didius julianus denarius concord militvm.jpg

    On the other side - here are coins that blow all of the above out of the water in terms of rarity, but don't even come close in terms of price because of lack of demand

    Unpublished mule of Constantine with a PROVIDENTIAE CAESS reverse, from Arles, third officina - an officina that did not strike for Constantine; only his sons. Paid $1 for it, and would consider myself lucky to get $50 for it from a specialized collector

    The ephemeral Silk Road King Hyrcodes - an attractive and rare issue, but it only cost me $35 because so few people collect these
    Bukhara Hirkod hyrcodes hemidrachm soldier.jpg

    Archaic obol of Cyzicus, known from only a few (<10) examples - I have been unable to sell this even at an exceptional price
    Kyzikos obol rooster tunny.jpg
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  16. Theodosius

    Theodosius Unrepentant Fine Style Freak! Supporter

    Remember that coins that may have been rare 20, 30, 50 years ago could be much more common today with the discovery of new hoards. This happened a lot after the fall of the iron curtain. There are also onesy, twosey discoveries of various rarities now and then from old collections being sold.

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  17. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Probably the most scarce coin in my collection is my denarius of Didius Julianus I like it because he was killed on June I which is also my birthday. I am not much into the "rare emperors" club. I tend to prefer coins of more common emperors with interesting reverses. Perhaps the nexus for where rarity meets importance to me is my tetradrachm of Syracuse minted during the "signed" period. I feel that this was a major turning point in Greek art so that's why I purchased it.
    1. Denarius of Didius Julianus Rv Concordia stg. RIC 1 193 A.D.
    2. Sestertius of Antoninius Pius Rv Liberalitas scene RIC 774 145 A.D.
    3. Syracuse Tetradrachm reverse signed by Eukleidas Fischer-Bossert 86m (this coin) Note my picture the reverse is to the left the obverse is to the right sorry didiusjulianus2.jpeg piuss18.jpg syracuset14.jpg
  18. Julius Germanicus

    Julius Germanicus Supporter! Supporter

    My rarest large bronzes...

    Nr. 6-4 were in fact my most expensive coins but only because Sestertii of those rulers in a presentable state are rare as such and sought after. They did however not cost a premium for each representing a very rare type for the denomination, because no sane collector will start collecting different reverse type for these rulers:

    6) Gordian I, RIC 10, ca. 10 known
    Bildschirmfoto 2019-05-14 um 09.34.17.png

    5) Gordian II RIC 7, 7 known
    Bildschirmfoto 2019-05-14 um 09.34.08.png

    4) Macrinus RIC 139, ca. 5 known
    Bildschirmfoto 2019-05-14 um 09.34.28.png

    Nr.3-1 were all misdescribed by the respective auction houses and did not cost more than what one would expect for an average Sestertius.

    3) Hadrian RIC 703 k, 3 known
    Bildschirmfoto 2019-05-14 um 09.22.40.png

    2) Salonina Göbl 490y, 2 known
    Bildschirmfoto 2019-05-14 um 09.22.56.png

    1) Numerianus Cohen 32, unique
    Bildschirmfoto 2019-05-14 um 09.21.44.png

    If I had American coins only 1 % as rare, I would be a rich man.

    But I am very happy that I managed to get a hold of these in just four years of collecting.
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
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  19. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Demand means more than supply when it comes to price.

    This one -- with hundreds of examples for sale on any given day -- costs hundreds of dollars due to demand:

    Tiberius Denarius.jpg

    But this dupondius -- of which only two are known (the other is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris) -- went for less than $50 at auction:

    Faustina Sr CONSECRATIO funeral pyre dupondius sunlight.jpg
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  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    In recent years there seems to have been a trend for new collectors being too good to buy common coins. They start by spending big money on things other people have told them are rare and worthy rather than things they themselves find interesting. I guess this is the same concept that brings us a US type set with a 1909S VDB as the representative Lincoln cent. It would be very interesting if all coins came with an accurate census report but that will never be. It would be more interesting to see indication of how many people are aware of and looking for any given type. At least that number would bear some significance to price. Remember the old tale about the 'third known' coin that failed to sell because there were only two collectors who cared and they owned the other two. Today the question is how many Athenian tetradrachms were in the recent find and whether there will be that many collectors that want one in the next century. We all have to wonder how many Tribute Pennies, Widow's Mites etc. exist but those are numbers that will never be known, too. I strongly recommend we all buy the coins we like when they present themselves at a price we can accept. No one will have a complete set of these things so there should be no pressure to own the ones we find boring.
  21. Ken Dorney

    Ken Dorney Yea, I'm Cool That Way...

    This is often caused by a cut and paste concept. The first dealer prices it very high, the others who couldn't find others listed copied the price of the first. Just because it is listed at one price doesn't mean it will sell at that price. And as Dough points out, maybe one or two sold at high prices but specialized collectors for those types now have it and there isnt anyone left to pay the high price.

    I have to disagree. With all due respect to those who collect them, the so-called 'Widows Mite' types are more over-priced than anything else. Incredibly common and mostly in a poor state of preservation, they should retail around $1-5 on a good day.
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