The value of ancient coins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Valentinian, Mar 31, 2022.

  1. Valentinian

    Valentinian Well-Known Member

    What makes an ancient coin valuable? How valuable is it to you?

    I decided to write up some thoughts about the personal value of ancient coins:

    I solicit your thoughts. I'm sure my personal background influences my approach. Others may regard value differently. I'd love to hear your approach. If relevant ideas are added in this thread, my page could easily be changed to incorporate them.

    My page is intended as food for thought. It is intended to help beginners understand value and to help established collectors value and enjoy their coins even more than they do. If you have insights that might help with the goal, let us know!

    Please contribute your approach valuing ancient coins.
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  3. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    I don’t have much to add, @Valentinian . You summed it up well.
    I can add that I have spent every spare minute I’ve had since Sunday, researching a coin that I’m waiting to get in hand. So what is so exciting about this coin? It’s not in particularly good shape, there are more beautiful similar specimen that can be had, etc. But it is a coin where I can find almost no information. No reference, articles, what have you. I need to piece it together myself; do real research. So far I have done die studies of the 10 examples that the internet can offer pictures of. I have found 4 different obverse dies and 5 different reverse dies, with 2 variants in addition to the 5. Then suddenly I find out that out of 4 coins with matching obverse dies, 2 have a weight of 16.8 grams and two 14.8-15.2 grams. Hmmm... And those with similar weight have matching reverse dies. How can this be?
    I have involved my daughter (16) in this, having her examine the dies and give me a second opinion. She thinks it’s «cool» that we’re trying to solve an ancient mystery, and she is a fan of Athena.

    You see where I’m going: The coins that feed your curiosity and intellect, are the coins you end up valuing the most. If they also are beautiful, you may even love them. Just like women, mountains and guitars. I’m falling in love with a coin that I haven’t even met. Oh, this numismatic internet dating....
    thejewk, Curtis, Orielensis and 14 others like this.
  4. Broucheion

    Broucheion Well-Known Member

    Hi @svessien,

    I don't think I see this in your inventory: CNG "Unpublished Abydos Drachm"

    I see Naiville Numismatics had 5 in one sale, obviously a hoard being dispersed. I didn't check the date sold with the CNG, HJB and Gadoury examples to see if they might be part of the same hoard. They don't all have the same look (dull gray vs shiny (cleaned?)).

    By any chance, would the eagle have a connection with Ptolemy Keraunos? I thought his staters used a lion's head as a badge. Sorry if this is a dumb question but I know almost nothing of Lysimachus' coins.

    - Broucheion
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  5. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    A great set of thoughts. Another factor for me as a minimalist collector is: how much does a coin contribute to the narrative I'm trying to tell with my collection? If I already have a coin representing a region, ruler, or artistic style, another example of a related type might be "worth less" to me as it provides less net-new content.

    This is, of course, entirely arbitrary and can change on an hourly basis at times. However, it provides another filter which is useful to balance the desire to purchase a new coin on a whim.

    I'm constantly assessing what types would broaden the story I'm trying to convey which, with millions of possible types from which to choose, represents a non-trivial effort.

    It's the curse of being a generalist: I've ended up needing to specialize in how to generalize.
    FrizzyAntoine, Fugio1, Curtis and 7 others like this.
  6. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    All great points! I am fascinated with history, and you learn so much when forming a collection. With every passing year, I appreciate the hobby more and more:)
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  7. Alegandron

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

    I always enjoy reading @Valentinian ’s site.
    panzerman likes this.
  8. Valentinian

    Valentinian Well-Known Member

    That is a very good observation, well-stated. I think the thought applies to most of us. We are trying to fill out a narrative, at least in our own minds.

    I have a long-time collecting friend who still struggles with what he is trying to do with his collection. After many years he has still not articulated any "theme," so he has a hard time deciding what to buy and he rarely bids high enough to win anything nice by his standards. Maybe this is because the lack of a story he is trying to convey (maybe just to himself) means few coins have that additional "personal value" him which might cause him to bid higher and win.
    Curtis and panzerman like this.
  9. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    I have several factors when determining personal value. A big one is whether the item fits into one of my many subcollections, such as my Antonine women collection, my CONSTANTINOPOLIS/VRBS ROMA collection, my Trebonianus/Volusian collection, my Gallienus zoo collection, my Severan women collection, and so on. I have a good idea how often certain sought-after items for these collections appear and I put a lot of value on coins that I don't already have and which appear only infrequently on the market. Often, these are varieties of coins that I am seeking for the sake of "completeness" in a subcollection and they go unappreciated by other collectors. Because I "have to have it," I bid quite aggressively at auction for them -- often without regard to condition.

    For more general coins -- and I have never quite dropped the "magpie collector" attitude -- I may be attracted to a certain type because its reverse depicts something interesting from mythology or history. I like mythology on coins and will pay a premium for a coin depicting a scene from a known myth.

    Sometimes, I pick up coins simply because they were part of a group lot or otherwise a "good deal." I don't put much value on these because they are typically coins that are common and easily acquired at any time, so there's "no hurry" to buy them. I can take or leave them and they have to be pretty cheap to devote a part of my coin budget to them because the more I spend on common, less interesting coins, the less money will be available to buy coins on my want list.

    I NEVER am attracted to a coin simply because of grade/condition. In fact, I don't think its a good use of my money to buy a superb example of a particular Faustina I sestertius for $2000, when I could buy the same particular type in gF for $80 and have $1920 left over to buy more coins. Chances are high, anyway, that that "high grade" sestertius has been tooled and smoothed and repatinated. I don't seek out coins in slabs and I'm not impressed by EF or MS.

    This approach -- buying rare but low-demand coins in whatever condition I can find them and purposely avoiding high-grade but common coins means my collection will never have the resale value it would have had if my collecting philosophy were to only acquire a limited number of extremely high grade coins in high demand. But I have more fun with the hundreds of coins I do have than I ever would with a slabbed set of 12-Caesars denarii in chEF.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2022
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  10. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    Thank you for the input, Broucheion. I looked at the drachm too, until it crossed my mind that the others were tetradrachms. :) I’ll keep the Ptolemy Keraunos tip as a possible lead to follow, but Otto Mørkholm describes the eagle as a mint mark of Abydus. (I’ll probably make my own thread out of this, instead of disrupting Valentinians.)
    panzerman and Broucheion like this.
  11. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    To me the value of a coin is rather subjective. I have been both a buyer and a seller of coins. Recently I was asked to place an insurance value on a group of coins I was sending to auction. I did so and i was curious as to how close my estimations would be to the final hammer price. All I can say is in most cases I wasn't even close. The coins appeared to either go beyond all my expectations or crash and burn. Less than half were anywhere near what I thought they might bring. This brings up an interesting point. I based my evaluations on the prices realized of similar coins from previous auctions. In most cases (but not always) I agreed with those evaluations and I use the same technique when attempting to ascertain what I should pay for a coin that I find interesting.
    However what would make a coin valuable to me? The simple answer would be how well does it fit in my immediate or long term collecting goals. My collection is not large, I currently have slightly more than six hundred ancient coins. One of my aims is to create a collection that can be used to explain Greek and Roman coinages to students who are not collectors. So I tend to look for coins that are important either Politically, economically or as a milestone in the history of numismatic art. This means I tend to concentrate on certain types of coins. I am more likely to pic up a coin from the mint of Taras, a city with a long history of coinage and one that I already have a number of examples of than a coin of a city that is more obscure. Last January I purchased two sestertii of Trajan an emperor that is already well represented in my collection. I would rather buy yet more coins of someone like Trajan than I would an Emperor whom I believe to be more obscure.
    A coin Seleukos I Nikator Ar Tetradrachm Seleukia in Pieria 200-281 BC. inspired by the types of Alexander the Great Obv. Head of beardless Herakles in lions skin headdress. Rv Zeus Nikphoros seated left holding Nike SC 29 1b HGC 16d Le Rider 27 A4/P13 This coin illustrated. 16.96 grms 25 mm Photo by W. Hansen SKseleukosI-4.jpg So why did I purchase this coin? This coin was minted at a pivotal point in history as the various generals of Alexander's army are fighting each other for control of all or parts of his vast empire. It is interesting that at this time there was a reluctance to part with legacy of the coin types created during the reign of Alexander. Some like Antipater and Kassander changed almost nothing. Others like Ptolemy adopted new types. This coin of Seleukos on the whole resembles those minted for Alexander. The obverse is all but indistinguishable. The crossed legged image of Zeus has already been seen on the coins minted at Sidon in 325 BC and later at Tyre (323 BC). However this coin does exhibit some novel; features. For one the name of Alexander has been replaced with that of Seleukos, Furthermore the eagle seen held by Zeus on all the previous issues has been replaced by Nike. When the Seleukid kings began minting their own types, this image of Zeus was replaced by an image of a seated Apollo. However by the middle of the second century BC the image Zeus Nikphoros was restored and remained one of the standard reverse types even after the kingdom was dissolved becoming the Roman Province of Syria.
  12. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    That is a very interesting set of thoughts.

    Economists have battled with the concept of "value" for most of the 19th century. Classical economists, including David Ricardo and Karl Marx believed that the value of a good is determined by the costs incured in making the good (labor theory of value).

    It was only in the mid-19th century when Prussian economist and statistician Heinrich Gossen first discovered the concept of "marginal utility". That means Gossen realized that a good's value was not determined by anything that went into its production, but by the utility derived from the last marginal addition of this good.

    Gossen's findings were elaborated on by Carl Menger in Austria and William Stanley Jevons in the UK and Leon Walras in Switzerland. The upshot of marginal value/utility theory is that: 1. value is subjective (depends on subjective preferences) and 2. scarcity determines value. The precondition is that the good is an economic good, i.e. it is scarce and useful. (Nuclear waste is scarce, but not useful. Air is useful, but not scarce and hence both are not economic goods).

    What does that mean for ancient coins?
    1. Ancient coins are economic goods, because they are scarce and useful (for academic research, as collecting items etc.) This may not be the case for completely eroded coins, they may have seized to be economic goods.

    2. The valuation of coins is subjective; an objective valuation is impossible. Subjective valuation depends on the preferences of the buyers. Value is not the same as monetary price. A collector buys a coin if his subjective valuation (in terms of utility that he expects to derive from the coin) exceeds his valuation of the monetary price.
    This is a big difference between collectors and investors. The former derive value from a coin while they have it in possession. The latter derive value only after they have sold it again.

    3. The valuation of every coin depends on scarcity (of type, condition, historical significance, etc. ) and buyers' preference.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2022
  13. KSorbo

    KSorbo Well-Known Member

    I don’t own a large number of ancient coins, but I have learned something new every time I have purchased one. Usually more so than for my US coin purchases. That is a big factor adding to the value of ancients in my opinion. Also it’s a lot of fun to post coins in this forum and see everyone’s responses.
    Carl Wilmont, sand and panzerman like this.
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