Featured Why I Switched From Collecting U.S. Coins To Ancient Coins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Al Kowsky, Dec 24, 2018.

  1. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    I began collecting U.S. coins in the 1950s when stamp collecting was more popular than coin collecting. I bought a copy of the "Red Book" & the "Blue Book" along with a number of blue Whitman folders that showed only one side of the coin. In those days it was possible to find scarce, rare, & old coins in circulation. All my spare time was spent learning about U.S. coins & searching through circulated coinage. I had one big advantage most kids didn't have, my mother worked as a bank teller & every week would bring home rolls of coins for me to inspect. I was amazed at what could be found with a little searching; Liberty V nickels, Barber dimes & quarters, commemorative half dollars, & even Indian head pennies. Over several years I managed to fill most of the holes in those Whitman folders except for the key dates, & even built a complete collection of Peace dollars except of the 1921. With an allowance of $1.00 a week & a part time summer job of selling balloons, cotton candy, & souvenirs at parades & county fairs I still couldn't afford to fill those few remaining holes in the Whitman folders. In 1963 I began high school & took an interest in ancient history, especially Roman history. I went to as many local coin shows as possible with my father & started looking closer at ancient Roman coins. I was amazed to see late Roman bronze coins larger than Lincoln pennies in near mint condition for as little as $2.00 each. My first purchase was three of those $2.00 coins. The dealer I bought them from had a mint state denarius of Septimius Severus for $15.00 that I fell in love with. I asked the dealer if he would hold the coin until I had enough money to buy it & he said yes. When we got home my father presented the coin to me along with more work responsibilities around the house, I was elated. From that day on Roman coins took priority over all other coins.

    Over the years U.S. coins have escalated in value to absurd highs, especially with the advent of 3rd party grading companies in the 1980s. Key date U.S. coins in choice "mint state" condition are untouchable except for very wealthy collectors & investment consortium's. Last night Great Collections Co. auctioned a 1925 Peace dollar in a PCGS slab, graded MS67+ with a "green bean" sticker for $30,661.88, see photos below. There were 10,198,000 Peace dollars minted in 1925, & PCGS has graded a total of three coins graded MS67+ with one example graded higher. Their value guide for this grade is $30,000.00, & for a MS65+ they value at $180.00. The difference between a MS65+ & a MS67+ is so slight many collectors would struggle to see the difference! Is the price spread between these two grades rational? About a year ago I sold a group of ancient Roman coins at a Heritage auction. One coin pictured below in a NGC slab graded Ch XF, Strike 5/5, Surface 3/5, is an extremely rare tetradrachm picturing Volusian, with only three examples known of this coin it sold for $109.00. That's why I prefer ancient Roman coins over U.S. coins. ;)

    603820-1.jpg 603820-2.jpg McAlee 1187f.jpg
    Michael Stolt, NSP, serafino and 58 others like this.
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  3. Theodosius

    Theodosius Unrepentant Fine Style Freak! Supporter

    Great story, Al!

    I started about 20 years after you, and could only find wheat cents and the occasional war nickel in change. I did find a dozen or so silver coins in the years I looked, not at all as systematic as people who CRH do now.

    Lets hope the investment weenies don't discover ancient coins and come in and (temporarily) drive up ancient coin prices. I doubt they will because ancient coin types are so numerous and variable that they don't lend themselves to "grey sheet" weekly pricing mentality.

  4. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    Great story. Many collectors eventually gravitate to ancients as they become advanced and interested in history.

    I see your point. That $100 ancient coin in top condition with three known would have sold for over $1,000,000 if it had been minted in the US!! :D
    wxcoin, 1916D10C, NSP and 11 others like this.
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    My story is very similar. I collected US coins in the early 70s -- mostly from circulation but also from coin shops and Christmas gifts. But I was always collecting something -- rocks and minerals, comic books, military antiques, stamps and so on. For much of my teenage and early adult years, stamp collecting was my major pursuit. But my stamp collection grew so much that I lacked only key sets that cost hundreds of dollars and I was a student on a limited budget. The brick and mortar coin and stamp store I frequented had an ancient coin section (overpriced, I now know) along with a large US coin selection, which bored me to tears. I realized I hadn't as much added a single coin to my collection since the seventh grade.

    I fell in love with a tribute penny -- the one in my avatar -- admittedly for its biblical association and because it was going on 2000 years old! And I could hold it in my hand. Back in those days, the melt value of silver was crazy and I sold most of my old US coin collection to the dealer and bought the tribute penny. Did I lose on the deal? Who knows? My US collection consisted of well-circulated 20th century coins, most worth no more than melt value, I suppose, with a handful of Indian head cents, a large cent in fine and a bust half dollar with problems. I lost all of my records when a computer crashed many years ago and I can't remember what I paid for the tribute penny. It's probably best that I don't. :)

    Tiberius Denarius.jpg

    I don't really miss my US coins. I still have a few that I kept for sentimental reasons -- the 1964 Kennedy half dollar my mother waited in line to get at the bank when it first was issued, a couple of 1921 Morgan dollars my grandmother gave to me when I was a kid, and some commemorative halves I received as Christmas gifts: George Washington Carver, Lexington-Concord, and Stone Mountain. I occasionally buy US coins at shows if I see something that grabs me. I bought the breast cancer set this past fall for personal reasons (loved ones with breast cancer). But I'm turned off by all the slabs in US coin collecting nowadays.

    I liked holding the large cent and the bust half as a kid, marveling at how they were more than 150 years old. I get the same feeling when I hold a sestertius, its heft filling my palm, and I imagine how its surfaces contain traces of lamp oil, pagan altar smoke, centurion sweat and gladiator blood. Did it buy wine? Almost certainly. Did it buy a pair of sandals for a five-year-old girl to wear to a festival? Could be! It bought food and wine and clothing and knickknacks and entertainment for thousands of people in antiquity. And that's just a really cool thing to think about!

    Antoninus Pius Annona Sestertius.jpg
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Just a guy making his way in the universe

    I started collecting in earnest when I was 11. I lived in Hawaii at the time and a local coin store at the mall had a proprietor interested in ancients. My first coin was a GLORIA EXERCITVS type of Constantius II which was small, but had a beautiful patina and I couldn't believe the fact that the coin was over 1700 years old and depicted a couple of Roman soldiers - how cool was that?

    I kept on collecting using funds from my $.75 weekly allowance plus my lawn mowing business, which was pretty extensive. I could pretty much buy 1 coin per week. My second coin was a Gordian III and my 3rd was a Phillip the Arab sestertius, it goes on and on. I moved to the Bay Area at 13 and finding only one dealer in ancients in the phone book I went to see Frank L. Kovacs at his office on Post Street in San Francisco. We developed kind of a mentoring relationship where he would put aside coins that fit my budget. Then I used funds from my paper route to keep buying coins.

    I stopped collecting at 18 when I went to college. Then I got married and went to grad school for an MBA, followed by a Ph.D. I didn't start again until my kids were 20 and 18 and had less use for their Dad. That was in 2016. I bought three uncleaned hoards and attributed them, then I one day found this Forum - April 28, 2017 based on a google search and I joined. I switched to collecting individual coins and have bought 60 coins so far.

    My interest in US coins was slight. I did find an Indian-head cent once in my change as well as a Sitting Bull nickel plus a couple of pre 1964 quarters when they had silver in them. As for world coins I had a lot of these plus currency from other countries because my Dad was in the Navy and would give me whatever coins he had gathered in his voyages around the world.
  7. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    I first started with set collecting as with just about everybody else, but I quickly got bored of that since having a bunch of the same coin (albeit embossed slightly differently) is not interesting. I sold most of my sets to help fund my US type set, which I did find interesting for several years. It was nearly complete per 7070 standards, but given my budget I could not really afford to fill the last hole or upgrade the coins.

    Thus I started trolling eBay to get these on the cheap, as well as other coins which I could flip for a profit to pay for the ones I wanted to keep. This turned out to be very successful, and I was upgrading my collection. But the more I did this, the more boring several of the types became, and I had little motivation to pay up to upgrade them. With this I stopped pursuing my type set. I was also starting to collect ancient coins a little more at this time, and I was coming to the impasse of “do I was to spend $$$ on a single US coin for my collection, or a bunch of ancient coins?” Increasingly the ancient coins won out as US coins became more boring.

    When I started dealing quite seriously this past summer, I realized that the only US coins that I found interesting were those not struck in collars (pre-1836) because they had hand-made character and were not boring mass-produced copies. But these in any decent grades are extremely expensive (with the exception of capped bust halves), prices where I could buy several historic and iconic ancient coin types in great condition. Since I prefer to collect stories rather than money (investment is not my concern), I naturally leaned toward the cheaper, more-historic options offered by ancient/medieval coins.

    The last straw was my frustration with the US coin market. The coins themselves don’t matter as much as the plastic tombs in which they are housed, so raw coins are relatively worthless compared to their slabbed counterparts. And when you submit coins to the TPGs, their value was completely dictated by the grades assigned, correct or not. This makes US coins a commodity more than a collectible. And then of course you have constantly-moving goalposts which keep you from knowing what grades you are going to get. I decided to hell with it all, and so I moved to collecting coins where I do not have to constantly worry about what some anonymous grader would say about it. Plus ancient/medieval coins are not commoditized because they are each unique and cannot be commoditized.
  8. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    Man, I totally get it. I been collecting US coins since the 1970's. I am just jaw dropping dumbfounded by exactly the scenario you described. There was a thread not long ago about a Franklin half that traded for over 100k. Never in a million years in my book will any Franklin be worth even four figures unless it is doing the laundry and figuring my taxes or something. Don't get me wrong... I love a strong strike as much as the next guy. But the price points these days are simply absurd.

    I love the history connection I feel with my coins so I tried to dabble in ancients for the same reasons. Problem is, I believe my brain cells are full. I can recite cigarette jingles from the 1960's, but I can't remember what I had for dinner last night. Until I can find the delete button that will let me get rid of the garbage my brain cells are storing, I don't believe I can wrap myself around gaining a whole new set of knowledge that comes with ancients.

    I reckon I'll just play around with my affordable US coins and leave the crazy priced pieces to those with much more disposable income than me.
  9. John Skelton

    John Skelton Morgan man!

    There will come a time when I will be looking at ancients, but for now I'll stick with moderns. I'm not interested in slabs, but in the history behind the coin. Of course I know there's more history behind ancients, but in time I'll get to them.
    Johnnie Black, TIF, dadams and 2 others like this.
  10. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    I still have a like for various U.S. coins, mainly Early Copper and Seated Liberty. But I agree the slab world is what drove me away from U.S. coins when I got back into collecting, and the high prices.

    Thanks to this board, I am glad to have gotten into ancients and Medieval. Much cheaper, historical & fun all around.

    My Volusian Tet.

    Volusian (251 - 253 A.D.)
    SYRIA, Seleucis and Pieria. Antioch
    AR Tetradrachm
    O: AYTOK K G AFIN GAL OYEND OYOLOYCCIANOC CEB Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right; three pellets below.
    R: DHMAPX EXOUCIAC, eagle standing facing, head turned left, wreath in beak; Γ between legs.
    Prieur 698
  11. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    I agree, but here is the irony...

  12. QuintupleSovereign

    QuintupleSovereign Active Member

    I had a similar experience, except that I switched from US to world coins. In many cases, I've found some amazing coins with tiny mintages by US standards (i.e. commemorative 2 kroner coins from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, Mexico silver 50 centavos, etc.) and have been able to get some nearly complete sets that way.

    Also, long term, I'm concerned about the durability of the values of the low-grade US material, even for semi-key and key dates. I pray that I'm wrong, but I just don't see the collector base regenerating itself fast enough to replace boomers who are selling out or passing away.
    dadams and Plumbata like this.
  13. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    I tried collecting Canadian coins as a kid. I would on occasion find a interesting coin in pocket change. I also collected foreign coins and with so many vets from World War II around I would get some neat stuff. The problem was; when I was short for some money to buy a chocolate bar or some pop, the Canadian collection got raided but the foreign coins stayed.I soon gave up on collecting Canadian and eventually found my way into ancient coins.
  14. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    I think the main reason why low-grade key date values are falling is that the internet has shown just how common these “rare” coins are. Gone are the days where your dealer had just one and you had to be the first to pay his price if you wanted to fill the hole. Now are the days where you lose out on one, there are a couple hundred others right there.
    serafino, Valentinian, TIF and 2 others like this.
  15. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    GUESS IT IS A POP 4 now. :)
  16. alde

    alde Always Learning

    All these stories ring so true with me. I started collecting US coins around 1972 when my parents gave me a cardboard box of coins they had accumulated over the years. There were a dozen Morgan dollars, some Walking Liberty's, Standing Liberty Quarters and a bunch of other stuff. I became good friends with the local coin shop and would spend hours there learning. I also did the coin roll hunting for Wheaties and Buffalo Nickels and found a fair amount.

    Early on I became obsessed with the Walking Liberty Half Dollars and Standing Liberty Quarters and started building a set each. I eventually ended up with 2 complete sets of WLH's and an almost complete set of SLQ's minus the 1916 all very fine or better with full sharp dates. As I upgraded coins and started working on sets of earlier coins I realized that every coin in the set is exactly the same as the last except for the date and mint mark.

    I have always had a love for history and when I discovered that ancient, medieval and early European coins were affordable I was hooked.
  17. Plumbata

    Plumbata Well-Known Member

    My father and grandfather got me started collecting US coins when I was 5, around when my dad bought a White's metal detector which was heavy for me but well-worth the effort it took to wield, as we were in an old rich part of Maryland and sweet old coins were plentiful. I remember he took me out of Kindergarten class the day he got it so we could go try it out! My grandpa had a keen eye and was always pulling rarities from circulation. He won a 1955 DDO Cent in a penny-poker game in 1960 (passed down to me), found the 42/1 Merc, and plenty of other really cool coins. Down his street was a hardcore old-timer collector who had a full roll of MS 1931-S cents, a copper 1943 cent, and piles of other rarities. Really got my gears turning.

    I was a sponge for information and soaked up a great deal pouring through the coin books, and at the Baltimore coin show in '93 bought my first 2 ancients for a buck apiece when I was 6. The dealers found it amusing that a little kid was so interested and I accrued plentiful discounts back when I was still cute :D. Maybe it was one of you who sold them to me and planted those "ancient" seeds 25 years ago?

    By 4th grade I had expanded to world silver coins as I couldn't afford the remaining US types, and the vast variety of cool affordable pieces available was way too fascinating to ignore.

    At 13 I bought my first "Roman Iron Spearhead" (probably Medieval, heh) and have been permanently hooked on antiquities and ancient coinage ever since, with the hook sinking deeper by the day. It's a beautiful life and a beautiful hobby! :)
  18. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    Great post.
  19. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Victor, as I've stated in previous threads I'm not totally adverse to getting coins slabbed, weather they are ancient or modern, in fact I believe some coins should be slabbed for a variety of reasons. Over the years I've had hundreds of coins slabbed by the four major 3rd party grading companies. Some of my ancients were in such extraordinary condition I didn't want them handled or exposed to a toxic environment, hence they got slabbed. In other cases some of my coins that exceeded $5,000.00 in value got slabbed for the assurance they weren't fake, altered, or over-cleaned. Most of the ancient coins I had auctioned with a value of $250.00 or more got slabbed because they usually fetch higher prices than raw coins. I personally feel large handsome ancient bronze coins shouldn't be slabbed because it detracts from their appearance & you also loose that tactile sensation of handling them. I also believe slabbing ancient coins less than $250.00 in value is a waste of money.
    kaparthy likes this.
  20. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Mat, your Volusian Tet is a well struck, well centered coin with a handsome portrait despite being over-cleaned & slightly porous. I also believe you have it misattributed; your coin is not Prieur #698, but Prieur #697, a much rarer coin with only 2 examples cited by Prieur. McAlee lists your coin as #1187c, & extremely rare. The two coins are virtually identical, however the rarer variety has the eagle head facing to the left, not the right. Expose your coin to the open air for a few years, handle on occasion & it will tone up nicely. ;)
  21. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    It was in an NGC slab and I took it out, was graded VF & thanks for the extra info.

    Pics suck, looks better in hand and not overcleaned.
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