Scared about collecting ancients

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Cherd, Mar 15, 2018.

  1. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    Hello All,

    I've spent quite a few years assembling various US, Mexican, and Canadian copper type coin collections (Even started putting together a $1 US currency collection as an aside). But I've long reached a point where the remaining examples that I need either only come along once in a blue moon, or are simply out of my price range. So, I'm wanting to start a new collection that will allow me to acquire additions every once in a while (need to scratch the itch!).

    I've always been interested in ancient coins. In particular, I would love to build a "Roman Emperor" collection. I like collections that peak the interest of people that look at them. And, the stories to tell while showing this type of collection would be endless! (This one was killed by his guards, this one was made to commit suicide by that one, this one was poisoned by his soldiers, this one did unspeakable things to children, that one was killed in battle by the next one, etc, etc!!!). I prefer non-gold/silver, and bigger is always better, so my plan would be to focus on acquiring Sestertius coins. As far as I can tell, this would potentially get me from Augustus through Gallienus/Salonunus (sound right?).

    But from what I've always assumed, it's as though you need a graduate level education on the subject to really make an informed decision about purchases! My previous collections were easy. I spend a lot of time cataloging Ebay and live auction prices of previously sold NGC, PCGS, or PMG graded examples (building and filling up my spreadsheets is actually part of the enjoyment of collecting), and then use that information to determine my price-point for comparably graded examples. This approach doesn't work so well for Roman coins. Very few of the coins that I ever find for sale (or that have been sold) are certified by NGC or PCGS. So, I've resorted to pasting pictures of un-certified coins along with sale prices into my spreadsheets, fine. I've been doing this for about 6 months, and as an example, I have 23 recorded sales of Hadrian Sestertiuses, and they represent 16 different freaking coins!! Not only that, but the condition/price ratios make little sense, even when considering coins of the same design.

    And finally, the real cause of my apprehension, FAKES!! I recently felt as though I had done enough prep-work to actually start buying some coins. I was on the verge a placing bids on a handful the other night, but figured I better do some research on forgeries beforehand. I found a site with some links to "fake ebay sellers", and to a site called "Forgery Network", and both sellers and all 3 of the coins that I was about to bid on were on those sites!!

    Anyway, as much as I'd like to pursue this collection, the uncertainty about pricing, fear of fakes, and shortage of certified coins has put me in a position where I don't feel comfortable buying anything. How do you guys do it? I don't think I have a high enough burn threshold to risk it.

    Sorry, didn't mean to write a freaking book here.
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  3. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    Welcome! Don't be afraid :)

    While you're gaining the knowledge and experience needed to detect fakes, or at least when to know to proceed with caution, just buy from reputable dealers who offer a lifetime guarantee of authenticity. There are gobs of such dealers.

    After I've had coffee I'll post some resources that will help you learn about fakes, if someone else doesn't do it first.

    Shortage of certified coins? Hallelujah!

    Most people here (including me) will roll their eyes at slabbed ancients. While it's true that the people at NGC who certify the coins (David Vagi and Barry Murphy) are indeed quite experienced, slabbing/certification is generally unnecessary and a waste of your money unless you just like the way a coin looks in plastic, which seems unlikely :D.

    Infrequently there may be a need to have a coin vetted by experts. This can be done without entombing the coin in plastic.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2018
  4. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Start slowly. Before you embark on collecting Sestertii for every emperor you might acquire a few interesting and varied pieces of various eras.

    At first don’t try to score great bargains. Your eyes need to adjust before you can do that. It is OK to pay full retail at first.

    Some dealers have prices that don’t make sense. Even within the same dealer’s stock the photos and listed grade don’t tell the whole story. If you can, go to a big coin show with lots of ancients and just buy one or three coins that speak to you. If you can’t make it to a coin show, and you come from collecting slabbed coins, there is no crime in buying slabbed ancients. A good place to buy slabbed ancients online is the weekly Heritage online auction and there is one closing tonight.
  5. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ...start cheap, get your feet wet.. post your buys on here and ask for a critique on them from the members. remember, if its seems too good to be true, it usually is and some can fool even the experts. buy where you can return just in case of anything for a time and soon you'll be rubbin' shoulders with the best of the ancient collectors :)
    Cucumbor, Justin Lee, hoth2 and 2 others like this.
  6. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    Normally I tell newbies to start on eBay but to never bid more than $15 on a coin to reduce the chance of getting swindled. By tracking the final closing prices--chances are you'll be outbid if it's a nice coin--you gain an understanding of what the market is like for that particular coin in that condition.

    But in your case, wanting to begin with sestertii, you will probably get frustrated because you'll keep getting outbid and be tempted to raise your bids, increasing the chances of getting ripped off. So maybe you should start at phase two: VCoins ( Vcoins used to be the ideal place for beginners because the dealers were strictly vetted. The vetting standards have dropped in recent years, but it's still a good place for comparison shopping. You can enter a search term like "Hadrian sestertius" and get 20 or more different examples with different price tags.

    Also check out some auctions. A lot of people on this site like Frank Robinson's auctions. Our own John Anthony has weekly auctions, too. You might contact both these people and get on their mailing list. I subscribe to (VAuctions and CNG ( In fact, I just won a nice bulk lot in CNG's last electronic auction. I'll post some coins from it when it arrives.
  7. Carthago

    Carthago Does this look infected to you?

    You don’t need to keep your own spreadsheet for pricing research.

    A place to start for pricing is which gives access to auctions going back a short period of time for free or a rather expensive subscription going back to about 2000. At least the free access will give you a start.

    A much cheaper archive site is which does not (I think) give any free pricing access without a subscription but the subscription is cheaper than CoinArchives.

    You can also research sale archives for CNG sold coins on their website at CNG is one of the largest and most respected ancient coin dealers in the world.

    You have plenty to learn with ancients (you will never stop which is great!). Buy the best you can afford. DON’T start on eBay because you WILL get swindled. CNG is a safe place to start.

    Sestertii (plural for sestertius) are fabulous. Enjoy!
  8. Johnnie Black

    Johnnie Black Neither Gentleman Nor Scholar

    @Carthago nailed my only suggestion. Make sure you use those sites to check prices. Just realize that pricing isn’t always consistent with ancients as they aren’t sold as commodities like slabbed coins. It’s more about how much the bidder wanted the coin that day.

    Go slow in the beginning. The urge will be to rush but enjoy the hunt. I am also a big fan of the sestertius but I can only afford the lower grades.
  9. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    Well said!
    TypeCoin971793 and Alegandron like this.
  10. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE

    @Carthago nailed it for great research / info sites. No need to clutter yourself up with spreadsheets. You might want to use the SEARCH line on the upper right corner of the page. It is amazing how much information you can get there. A LOT of great collectors over the years have posted some super info. Many times my questions or concerns are answered through the Search line, ACSearch, CNG Research, and THEN, I feel comfortable enough to ask further questions in the Ancients Threads.

    I started a mission on just collecting a denomination or an area. However, as you begin to truly explore the world of Ancient coins, you may discover various OTHER areas of collecting that you did not know about.

    Personally, I love to collect from an Historical approach, and really do not focus on the numismatics. I enjoy the History of the Roman Republic and capture many coins from that era. Denarii are great there, but I also spread out into RR Bronzes, and Pre-Denarii coinage. With their rich History, I also explore those Cities and Empire that interacted with the Roman Republic and developed collections in Italia, Etruria, Carthage and others. I had no intention of moving off my focus, but, wow, there are so many cool Historical coins out there!

    Take your time, spend time reading the threads and seeing what other folks are doing. There are some fantastic collectors with great research or information they offer. Some collecting areas are fun to read about, yet I thought that I would never purchase. Now, I find myself dabbling in some cool coins COMPLETELY out of my wheelhouse.

    Regardless, research, absorb the comments in the threads, evolve, and HAVE FUN!

    Personally, I like to keep my comments "honest" by posting a relavent coin.

    Here is a RR Heavy Denarius prior to the Denarius Reform of 212 BCE:

    RR 234-231 BCE AR Heavy Denarius - Didrachm Apollo-Horse prancing Crawford 26-1 Sear 28.JPG
    RR 234-231 BCE AR Heavy Denarius 6.63g, 20mm - Didrachm Apollo-Horse prancing Crawford 26-1 Sear 28

    OH!!! And here is a SESTERTIUS that is PRIOR to the Bronze versions that Augustus started in the "modern" era (yeah, to me, the REAL Sestertii are SILVER!). :D

    RR AR Sestertius After 211 BCE 12mm 1.0g Rome mint Roma r IIS - Dioscuri riding stars in ex ROMA Sear 46 Craw 44-7 RSC 4
    Sestertius original meaning was semi and two or 2-1/2 Asses to the Denarius (when the Denarius was TEN Asses, not the "modern" 16 Asses)
    See the IIS on the Obverse.
    Stork, GregH, TypeCoin971793 and 16 others like this.
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    My advice to those new to ancients is to bring to the endeavor as few preconceived notions from you experience in modern coins as you possibly can. Most will cause you more trouble than they will do you good. Sestertii are great. Most we see sold are lower grade than recent modern collectors can tolerate. Silver coins are cheaper and more readily available in grades tolerable to the slab crowd. I suggest buying appealing coins that are available when they are available rather than saying "my next coin will be a Hadrian sestertius". I see no good in anything that will keep you from seeing coins you might not realize exist that might even be more appealing. After you have collected a while, you will have time to develop specialties based on a proper understanding on what they are and what specializing in them will mean. For example, a sestertius only collection will mean you will be competing with the big money collectors for nice coins of Augustus while you might be quite happy with more common asses. You will face the fact that there are no sestertii of a couple emperors before Gallienus but that is a minor matter many people face.

    I am in the minority in that I collect very generally but have, in the last 50 years, specialized in quite a number of things for a few years or decades. The one thing I consider most important is to buy coins that you like and not coins you think you need to buy because they fit some parameters which drive your collecting life but that really mean nothing to you.

    In the belief that good posts should include a photo I will show my earliest sestertius (a Caligula) and latest (Valerian).

    Best wishes for finding satisfaction in the hobby as you define it.
  12. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis

    If you're not comfortable with the fact that you might lose money on your coins then collecting ancients may not be the hobby for you, unfortunately. Collectors' interests change, hoard finds make rare types become less rare, laws change, new research casts doubt on old attributions(i.e. a coin previously thought to be Cleopatra VII might not be), all sorts of things lead coins to change in price. Sometimes coins become more valuable, other times they become less valuable. Then when you actually buy and sell coins the auction houses take fees out of both ends of the transaction, so as a buyer you pay a 10%-25% buyers fee on the hammer price and generally as a seller you will get charged a similar fee from the hammer price unless your collection is of sufficient average value and whatnot that an auction house is willing to lessen or perhaps drop the seller fees for you entirely. This isn't to say that necessarily all the money you spend on coins is flushed down the toilet but at the same time, if you buy a coin for $500 and seeing a similar one sell five years later for $400 will give you anxiety, perhaps consider another hobby or consider changing your spending habits so that if you lose money on a coin it's not going to bother you as much.

    Personally, my coin collection is simply a line item in my budget and I treat it the same as I might treat a nice dinner at a good restaurant. Price is important as it informs what I can purchase and what I cannot and because I have to look at the opportunity cost when buying but I don't really worry too much about resale value and I'd probably have skipped many of my favorite coins if I did. And if, whenever my collection goes across the auction block I or my descendants lose money on them, oh well, I enjoyed the coins for the time I owned them and even if I never see a dollar of return from my collection it was worth it.
  13. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    Hey all, thanks for all the responses and helpful advice! I appreciate the links to auction sites, sale archives, and information sources. That’s exactly what I was looking for!

    I can’t say that I prefer slabbed coins from an aesthetic standpoint, but I’ll deal with the slab if it gives me piece of mind with respect to authenticity! One thing that is important to me, however, is consistency in my collection. They either all have to be slabbed, or all have to be raw. For display purposes, a mixture of the two just doesn’t feel right.

    When I started putting together my first US type coin collection, I intentionally avoided slabs, like you, I preferred the look and feel (you can actually touch them) of raw coins. But, after I had accumulated what I thought to be a collection of high quality examples, I showed them to a local coin dealer that was interested in seeing what I had. After a lot of, “This one was stripped and artificially recolored, this one was filled, this one was whizzed, etc, etc”, I decided to start over and go the slabbed route.

    I won’t claim to be an expert by any means, but I have learned a LOT since those days. I could now probably determine most of those issues for myself if I had the coin in hand. The problem is, Ebay is pretty much my only source of purchases these days. Obviously, there is only so much that you can tell from a picture, and pictures can be intentionally misleading (especially when some sellers are willing to sell straight up fakes to begin with). All of this being the case, I’d prefer to purchase certified coins. It’s a bit of a compromise, but I think that it is worth it in the end.

    This is sound advice to be sure. But, I’m a bit of a compulsive collector, and over the years I have learned an important lesson, “Stay Focused!”. If I’m not extremely disciplined in this respect, then my collections tend to sprawl into piles of mediocre junk. In the end, I know that I’ll better appreciate a collection of 50 high quality coins as opposed to coffee cans full of random low-grade stuff.

    I might be exposing my ignorance in thinking that this price point is realistic, but I was expecting to spend an average of ~ $200 per sestertius to assemble the 50 or so coins required for a VF+, relatively problem free collection. At that average (some cheaper, some way more expensive), I should be able to afford 1-2 coins per month. This is sure to provide years of satisfaction if all goes well. But, to stay on budget, I need to avoid sidetrack purchases and sestertii that will require upgrading. I know that this is all attempted justification for skipping the “learning phase”, I suppose I’ll learn my lesson one way or another!

    Thanks a lot for the links! I will definitely make use of those!

    This probably sounds silly to most, but maintaining the spreadsheets is actually an aspect of collecting that I enjoy. By cataloging sales, I feel that I’m creating useful tools for myself and staying directly in touch with the market. Also, I incorporate what I feel to be useful auxiliary information. For instance, I make note of whether items were “Buy it now”, which usually indicates that someone over-paid, or if there was only 1 bid, in which case the valuation is based on the opinion of one possibly ill-informed buyer. Maybe the seller listed a problem in the description that is not evident in the pictures. This type of information is lost when presented by available websites.

    And thanks for the Roman grammar lesson. I had a gut feeling that "Sestertiuses" was incorrect, but I was too lazy to look it up haha.

    Had no idea that they were silver prior to Augustus, thanks for the lesson and great examples!
  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Welcome to collecting ancients. I've been collecting them on and off since I was eleven when I used the proceeds of my lawn-mowing and gardening business + paper route to fund my purchases. I got to know the noted dealer Frank L. Kovacs who kind of mentored me in the early stages of my collecting.

    At first, as a suggestion, I wouldn't restrict myself to a particular type of coin for each ruler as you can get frustrated that way. A nice sestertius of Augustus or Caligula can really set you back financially.

    I collected a variety of coins types and styles, first authorized imperials. More recently I have branched out into Roman provincial coins and those of Alexandria as I find the mythological types fascinating. It's also fun to see how the changes in artistic styles is reflected in the coinage. In the early stages of the empire up into the 260's there was a focus on realism in portraiture.

    The changes of Diocletian brought an austere, otherworldy look to the portraiture which is also reflected in the statues of that period, and also court rituals that were imposed such as proskynesis.

    A few years later and the coinage reflected another change in portrait styles which also is reflected in statuary and public works, that of the dominate, in which the emperor was addressed as lord and master and the coinage also was impacted as the prefix to the emperor's name became dominus noster (our lord) as opposed to the earlier days when imperator was used as a prefix. Portraits became even more uniform with an ethereal style which did not reflect reality, thus it can be hard to distinguish between later period rulers based simply on the portraiture, whether your coin is Theodosius, Valens, Valentinian you will notice very little difference.

    By the early fifth century, the style on the bronze coins became crude and the ethereal style was restricted to the much rarer gold and silver pieces. Eventually the eastern part of the roman empire morphed into the Byzantine empire when once again new styles of portraiture were introduced. Some folks who started out collecting strictly romans also collect Byzantines. So the point is there is a great variety of coins to choose from, periods to focus on, mintmarks to collect, and whatnot. Anyway, it is a really fun hobby to get started with and I wish you much success in your endeavor.
  15. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I like the way that you think, and I totally agree. I don't collect coins with the intention of making money, and factor in the entertainment value when considering the costs.

    What worries me about the fakes isn't predominately the money. The problem is the intense anger that I will suffer over the fact that someone stole from me by intentionally ripping me off. It's those thoughts that will keep me up at night, and that I want to avoid.
  16. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    If you opt for slabs only you will only have a fraction of available ancient coins to choose from unless you submit the coins for slabbing. Heritage, Great Collections, and few other dealers routinely slab their merchandise.

    Your other concerns
    aren't really a factor when it comes to slabbing ancient coins. Certain conditions (graffito, smoothing, etc) can be noted on the label-- they don't necessarily prevent the TPG from slabbing your coin.

    Perhaps a viable option for you that would preserve more money for coins would be to store your coins in DIY slabs, like those by Lighthouse and others. Some of our CoinTalk members use those for storage and display.

    Hmm. Well... I bet most people who have been collecting for a while have inadvertently bought a fake or two and perhaps unknowingly still have some them in their collections. Even the best auction houses and collectors are fooled occasionally. It just comes with the territory. I really hope that doesn't deter you from the hobby.

    Also, in many instances the seller is not intentionally defrauding the buyer*-- the seller was fooled too.

    *some eBay sellers are excluded from this broad statement :D
  17. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I see one major difference between ancient and modern coins that makes slabbing much more appealing for moderns. The difference between two similar specimens of modern coins is very little and may not be obvious to all who see the coin. Sealed slabs are necessary to prevent coins from being swapped out. Ancients of the same type and grade can look nothing like each other. It is unusual to find two coins that could be mistaken for one another due to minor differences in strike, centering, color pattern and a dozen other things that make each coin unique. Slabbed coins can be bought from whoever holds them whether or not the seller has any idea what they have. The only thing of importance is the price. If you bought whizzed, recolored, filled, altered, faked or otherwise 'bad' coins the problem was not the coins but the people you bought them from. That is why we say you should but ancient coins from people you trust and avoid shady looking characters on street corners who also deal in anything of perceived value. If you bought modern coins from honest and knowledgeable sellers, you would not have that problem either. If you insist on exercising your right to making bad choices when selecting people to trust, you might be better off buying slabbed coins although you have to realize that there are fake slabs, too.

    The idea that everything you buy will go up in value and you can expect to make a quick profit on every item assumes the continued inflation of prices and decreasing value of the dollar that has been the case for much of all our lives. To insure constant increase in prices, we have seen something very close to a pyramid scheme where all buyers feel it is their right to make a profit while bringing to the table no study, no work and no experience in the field. Certainly I can afford to pay twice what something is worth as long as I can find someone else dumb enough to pay me three times the value. Knowing what you need to know to make a good profit on ancient coins is a big job. Most of us collect because we like the coins and hope we are not losing every cent we spend. If what you want is investment grade securities, this is not the place for you.

    I would say I agree with red spork but I see nothing unfortunate about it. If we put the necessary work into it, perhaps we can profit more or lose less cash. We also can pay a full service dealer (my choice) or a TPG slabber (your choice?) for services which we have no rightful expectation to recover when we sell the coins. On the other hand, if we enjoy the hobby and consider the money spent in the same category and what we spent on dinner and a movie, perhaps the system as it is now is exactly the way it should be. If we buy slabs or raw coins without knowing more than how to find someone we can fool into giving us a profit, we are part of the pyramid that will crash on someone someday, maybe not fortunately but certainly not unexpectedly.
  18. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    I would say that I've made money buying and selling ancient coins, that is, beyond simple inflation. That's because I buy bulk lots, clean them if needed, ID them to the best of my abilities, put them in holders and sell them individually. I do this because when I started collecting I did not have any disposable income and, even though I'm in a much better position financially than I was 20 years ago, I still have a hard time bringing myself to spend mortgage/retirement money on coins. When I consider the value of my collection and the time I've devoted to this hobby, I figure I've averaged, oh, at least $1.50, maybe even $2.00/hr. for my efforts.

    Hard to make a living that way, but it's kind of neat to earn money pursuing such a fun and interesting hobby.
    Valentinian, Theodosius and TIF like this.
  19. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    I agree with most posts. Myself, I collect for the enjoyment it brings me. As most of you know, I have stuff that spans 26 centuries, I have it in my DNA to strive for best quality, coins with great eye appeal. To avoid "problems", I only secure coins from prominent auctions to avoid fakes, defects referred as 'details" on slabbed material. I am allowed to spend whatever $ that is left after paying the bills, to compensate that goal, I work long hours doing lawncare. Over past 12 years, after giving up my other hobby, I was able to put 100+K @ year into my first love...coins. My collection is worth today about ten times the money I spent, so all is good. I look at my coins every day, but NEVER touch them, so they remain perfect.
  20. Valentinian

    Valentinian Well-Known Member

    The choice is clear when collecting ancients: all raw.
  21. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    The most important aspect to me when purchasing coins is eye appeal. I enjoy looking at them, but more importantly, I like showing them to people. And, to non-coin people, clearly seeing the original detail of the design presented in an aesthetically pleasing surface is important. The relative rarity, and even value of the coin has no meaning to them. This is why the Liberty Cap and Flowing Hair holes in my 1/2 and Large Cent US type collection will probably never be filled. I could swing some AG/G examples to fill the holes if I really wanted to, but I simply will probably never be in a financial position to purchase coins of the quality that wouldn't look like dingy, lumpy planchets when compared to the rest of my collection.

    With this in mind, my original purchase decisions were based solely on eye appeal, and with little knowledge about what a coin "should" look like, and why some look the way they do. I know you like pictures! So here are a few examples of my early buys that demonstrate the point:

    Old Cent.jpg

    I find these coins to be aesthetically pleasing, I still get them out and look at them every once in a while because all of the original detail is there, the surfaces are appealing, and I don't have to be afraid to touch them. But, the surfaces are obviously not original, which makes them feel less authentic, and therefore, I lack a certain appreciation for them. I do not feel as though I was swindled when buying these coins, although the ebay listings from which I purchased them did not explicitly state the issues. The price points were probably appropriate for what they are.

    By contrast, here is what I've since replaced the large cent with:

    New Cent.jpg

    It's in an NGC holder, MS64BN. This coin also has great eye appeal in my opinion, I enjoy looking at it very much. But, there is a certain disconnect with the coin when it is in a holder, like looking at something in a museum that is behind a barrier. Hell, I can't even get a good picture of it behind the plastic! But, I know it's real, and I can feel as confident as possible that it is as original as could be expected. That's the trade off, and I'm cool with that.

    I hope I haven't misrepresented my concerns with this potential collection. I do not buy coins with the intention of ever selling them. I buy the coin because I want the coin. With that being said, I'm apprehensive about over-paying for coins, which is why I put so much effort into establishing price points that with which I'm comfortable. And, I'm extreeeemly apprehensive about buying something that is fake. I have a bit of disposable income to spend on my hobby, but it is definitely finite. I'm not in a position to take the occasional hit on something like that, it would artificially inflate the cost of the collection, and simply put the goal outside of my ability to afford it. I'm sure that most of us are probably in this type of situation, and can relate to these sentiments.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
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