Any advice for starting a collection of Imperial denarii?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by savitale, Jan 24, 2021.

  1. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    The current market is pushing my plans for Greek coinage beyond my means for now. So I’m thinking of denarii instead. My intent would be to focus on higher grade, well struck examples that I will not feel the need to upgrade.

    I am familiar with the buy the book before coin mantra. I’ve looked at the old references (RIC, etc.) and I’ve decided they are no longer useful compared to what is now available online.
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    The first thing you should ask yourself is whether you are going to go broad or in-depth. Are you going to do the "one of each person" thing or "all varieties of Elagabalus" thing? Because the former is compatible with "higher grade, well struck examples" but the specialist collector must put aside notions of grade when seeking rare types.

    Would you be satisfied with this? Because there are only a handful of known examples.

    Faustina I, AD 138-141.
    Roman AR denarius.
    Rome, AD 143-145.
    Obv: DIVA AVG FAVSTINA, bust of Faustina I, veiled and draped, right.
    Rev: PIETAS AVG, Pietas, veiled and draped, standing facing, head right, by lighted altar, raising both hands.
    Refs: RIC 392; BMCRE 308; RSC 251b; Strack 430; RCV --; CRE 109; Dinsdale 019460.
    Notes: Double die-match to ANS 1941.131.831. Other known specimens appear to be limited to the following collections: The British Museum, the Staatliches Münzkabinett in Munich, the Staatliches Münzkabinett in Vienna, the Nationalmuseum in Rome, and the American Numismatic Society.
  4. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    I think the first half of the third century AD is a good area to start with. There are many nice coins in gVF and EF availible, and you will get a good start without breaking the bank if you buy the emperors from Septimius Severus to Maximinus.
    If you want more «famous» emperors, both Vespasian and Domitian are next tier price-wise. Same with Antoninus Pius. Looking forward to see you posting your first denarius here:)
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2021
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  5. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    I don't agree with that. For instance, you think that the 2019 volume of RIC on Hadrian is not useful now because of the internet?

    Even older references are extremely useful. You might find bits of info on the internet, but, for example, if you are interested in the Constantinian period, you can't beat having RIC VII for a reference.
  6. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    I should explain further. If you are going to go deep in a narrow area, then the appropriate reference work(s) is important. That’s not my intention however. And it’s more the “buy the book before the coin”, rather than the book itself I have issue with. I truly don’t believe you need to read a bunch of dusty old volumes, instead of what is available on line, before getting started.
  7. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

  8. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    IMO, start with a choice MS Severus Alexander
    Severus alexander iovi propvgnatori.jpg

    Or Maximinus Thrax
    Maximinus thrax victoria avg.jpg

    Both of the above examples could be had for about $100 or less, or a little more if you go for ones with fresh die strikes on both sides. I was going for the portraiture on mine, but better examples are of course out there. These two represent the best denarii you can buy for under $500.

    Each phase of denarii have their own factors that dictate what price the market will pay.

    - Julio-Claudian denarii are like 90% either the Augustus / Gaius and Lucius type or the Tiberius / Livia "Tribute penny" type, and are expensive across the board. I wouldn't start with them.
    - Ditto with the 69 AD Civil War issues - rare emperors = expensive coins.
    - Flavian denarii circulated heavily and are usually of good workmanship, so coins in the ch F - VF are affordable, but prices go up as you approach MS. Probably the only exception are Domitian's Minerva types Domitian denarius Minerva 92 AD.jpg

    - Nerva-Antonine remain highly affordable until you get to XF, but it's primarily a combination of historical interest + artistry, especially for Trajan and Hadrian. It used to be feasible to budget $100-150 per emperor to get one like this, but COVID has pushed the prices up so that isn't feasible anymore.
    Trajan Arabia denarius.jpg

    - Severan dynasty denarii are still affordable up to MS, but their reverses are often boring, so the more "exciting" ones will bring in big bucks.

    - After the Severans came Maximinus and Gordian III, then the denarius ceased production.
  9. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    I guess if I were to give advice on putting together a collection of Roman Imperial denarii I guess I would repeat some of the things said about starting a collection of coins. One thing would be to establish two things in the beginning
    1. Establish a minimum acceptable grade
    2. Establish your boundaries. Are you going to include antoninianii, or aurelianii? Are you going try to add some of the usurpers? the imperial women?
    I myself would not go the route of either the 1 emperor 1 coin nor would I try to get every type of one emperor. I myself prefer a more mixed approach. Some of my favorite denarii have interesting reverses commemorating successful wars, building projects and visits to the provinces. Some emperors such as Marcus Aurelius and Caracalla have a series of different portraits so one can see their image mutate from an juvenile to a mature individual. But some just seem to have a really neat story behind them.
    Caracalla Ar Denarius Rome 217 AD Obv Head right laureate Rv, Victory seated right facing trophy. In exergue VIC PART Victory over Parthia RIC 297e 2.61 grms 18 mm Photo By W. Hansen
    Here we have the image of the bridegroom from Hell. According to the Roman historian Herodian Caracalla had made overtures to the King of Parthia to wed his daughter. Then.......
    A huge mob of barbarians gathered and stood about casually, wherever they happened to be, eager to see the bridegroom and expecting nothing out of the ordinary. Then the signal was given, and Caracalla ordered his army to attack and massacre the spectators. Astounded by this onslaught, the barbarians turned and fled, wounded and bleeding. Artabanus himself, snatched up and placed on a horse by some of his personal bodyguards, barely escaped with a few companions. The rest of the Parthians, lacking their indispensable horses, were cut down (for they had sent the horses out to graze and were standing about). They were unable to escape by running, either; their long, loose robes, hanging to their feet, tripped them up.[9]Taken from Wikipedia
    You just cannot make this stuff up
    Planchet archives at:
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2021
  10. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Exploring 2nd & 3rd century denarii is a reasonable place to start - enjoy!
    Caracalla Jupiter.jpg
    Caracalla, AD 198-217, AR Denarius, Rome mint, struck AD 216
    Obv: ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM, laureate head right
    Rev: P M TR P XVIIII COS IIII P P, Jupiter, naked to waist, seated left, holding Victory in extended right hand and sceptre in left hand; at feet, left, eagle
    Ref: RIC IV 277c, Life of Caracalla
    Notes: Calculating Price
  11. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    That is a good question. I am more interested in the "one of each person route". As you say that fits more with my preference toward more well-preserved examples.
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  12. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    Thanks @Finn235 . That is very helpful. It makes sense to start where you suggest before wading into deeper waters.
  13. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    Yes, those sound like good ideas. I think a minimum acceptable grade might be "NGC AU" which I think is roughly "EF" on the more traditional scale.

    I like to finish things, so for a boundary I would stick to conventional emperors. I was originally thinking of doing just the 12 Caesars, but on further reflection that might not be the right subset to start with.
  14. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    The twelve Caesars doesn't even include the most influential emperors in Roman history. If you're going to let a book define what constitutes a set of Roman coins, why not chapter 10 of Mary Beard's excellent history, SPQR? Chapter 10 is titled, "Fourteen Emperors." I've suggested this as a collecting area before.

    The fourteen are:
    1. Tiberius
    2. Caligula
    3. Claudius
    4. Nero
    5. Vespasian
    6. Titus
    7. Domitian
    8. Nerva
    9. Trajan
    10. Hadrian
    11. Antoninus Pius
    12. Marcus Aurelius
    13. Lucius Verus
    14. Commodus
    Now, I'd add Septimius Severus to this list, because he was a very important emperor in Roman history.

    You could complete the entire set in VF - EF denarii for about $10,000. The first three are the priciest. There are no shortages of these coins at high-end auctions and the well-heeled collector could obtain the entire set over the course of a month or two.

    I think a good way to get your feet wet would be to acquire the "five good emperors" (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius) subset of this list. You can get very high grade examples of each of these for a couple hundred bucks. You could get them for < $80 each if you were willing to accept gF-VF and were patient. High grade examples would be easy to sell, too, if you decided to move in a different direction.

    I got bored with a "one coin per person" collection and now collect a little bit of everything in the realm of the Roman Empire. I like provincial coins as much or more than Imperial issues; I have subcollections of the Antonine women, Severan women, and the so-called "barracks emperors," particularly Philip I, Trajan Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Volusian, and Gallienus. I'm never at a loss for coins to acquire and my subcollections give me much joy.
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  15. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    Good idea, I like it! It would take me a lot longer than one month to complete, though. I act slowly.
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  16. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    This is the usual story. A 'one per' collection will soon require a compromise. You will either have to allow a change in the minimum grade or a change in the definition of complete. Not doing that usually means you spend a long time not adding anything to the collection. At that point you most likely will either quit or change to a collecting style with more than one per person You can get tired of waiting for a coin you need that some billionaire snaps up while you watch. My sub-collections are different than Roman Collector's but I agree with his statements and add Greek and Eastern to the mix. Rome is great but it is not everything.
  17. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    Really good advice here.

    (disagreeing with the premise warning) I personally would just buy fewer of what I want, rather than waste the budget on a new endeavor that I may ultimately not like.
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  18. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    Thanks for the helpful suggestions.
  19. Romancollector

    Romancollector Well-Known Member

    I'm not quite sure what I can add that hasn't already been said, but I will say that I think it is very helpful to have clear objectives of what you wan't to achieve, and to determine what is realistic.

    I collect Roman coins, mostly imperial, but also some republican and provincial. Like you, I target coins in the EF/AU range. After doing extensive research, I have a complete list of every type of coin that I am looking for. In some cases, this simply means having certain denominations (i.e. denarii, sestertii) for a particular ruler, but in other cases, I am looking for a coin that refers to something specific (i.e. a building, a military victory...etc.). I definitely think my goal is ambitious, but I have narrowed it down to exactly 275 coins from a far greater number, and I may further refine my list. While that may seem like a large number, you will find that many collectors on this forum who are specialists (i.e. Flavians, Severans, LRBs...etc.) have an equal or greater number of coins from a specific period. There are also many collectors who are minimalists. Ultimately, the size and scope of your collection will depend on your personal interests.

    As a newcomer myself, I want to emphasize that patience is essential. On many occasions, I purchased coins simply because they were available. I soon realized that it is far better to wait for coins you will be 100% happy with. Since I sold most of my coins in the former category, I have a significantly smaller collection. In any case, I'm much happier with the pieces that I do have!

    Hope this helps!
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  20. savitale

    savitale Active Member

    I think this is very helpful, and is aligned with my collecting personality. I would add that upgrading is expensive, due to the transaction costs of disposing of the earlier purchases. Clearly this doesn't apply to folks who can continue to add new material without freeing up funds from the old.

    275 coins sounds like a reasonable list to me. Certainly doable over a collecting lifetime.
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