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How does one become a collector of ancient coins? Must I buy many reference books and how expensive are ancient coins? This all seems rather overwhelming.
These are reasonable questions for anyone thinking about collecting ancient coins. This page will try to answer them, and give you an idea of what is involved in becoming a collector.

Basic Concepts

  1. No one will ever have a complete collection of ancient coins.

    Because dies were made by hand, there are many more varieties of ancient coins than modern coins. Even the greatest museum collections aren't complete because there are many unique ancient coins in private hands, and new varieties are constantly being discovered, so you don't have to try to fill every hole in an album - there aren't any Whitman books for ancient coins.


  2. Most ancient coin collectors are specialists.

    Because there are so many varieties of ancient coins, most collectors select one area that interests them, focusing their collection on that topic. Many standard references are catalogues of such collections, for example the Vlasto collection of Greek coins from Taras. You can choose coins of a city or area that interests you, designs such as animals or ships, or part of the Roman series -- the Roman Republic, the Twelve Caesars, the Severan dynasty or the Constantinian dynasty. In the Persian series, you could specialize in Parthian coins, or provide a needed standard reference by forming a comprehensive collection of Sasanian coins, which no one has yet done.

  3. Collecting ancient coins can be done on a modest budget.

    You don't have to be a millionaire to acquire a fine collection of ancient coins. Many collectors began with a few coins that particularly interested them, adding to the collection as time and finances allowed, eventually amassing an excellent collection from a modest annual expenditure. Collections of this type are great investments compared to most other types of recreation -- they don't cost any more while you are an active collector, and then at the end you have the collection which may well realize a nice profit when sold.

  4. Ancient coins are not necessarily expensive.

    Some prospective collectors think all ancient coins must be museum pieces worth thousands of dollars. Although some ancientcoins are very valuable, many ancient coins are available in nice condition for quite modest prices. Some series not as widely collected as others, for example Sasanian coins, Greek Imperial coins, and Byzantine coins, sell at very reasonable prices, even when scarce. An interesting and complex area that can be seriously collected on a small budget is Roman bronze coins of the Constantinian period. Each of these series is a world of its own that can offer many fascinating years of study.

  5. You don't need a big library to get started.

    A beginning collector will do very well with one or two of David Sear's handbooks covering topics of interest, while Wayne Sayles' books will broaden the collecting experience and provide many helpful tips. As collecting interests develop, more books can be acquired as needed; one or two books per year is a reasonable budget for references. You may eventually acquire an impressive library, but you don't have to start with one, and your library can also be a very good investment. Numismatic reference books have been appreciating even faster than the coins.

Starting your collection

Pick an area that interests you: perhaps you studied Latin and find Roman coins interesting. Roman coins are a very popular choice for beginning collectors, because their legends are easily read, and the Roman series has a logical structure similar to collecting modern coins by date and mintmark. Perhaps you are intrigued by Celtic coins, love the artistic appeal of Greek coins, or find the exotic appearance of Persian coins fascinating. Then set out to learn about the area you have selected.

Get the appropriate handbook(s) by Sear and Sayles (see our Book page) and study them. Zander Klawans' handbook would also be a good investment at this point. Spend some time browsing this site (the "Overview" branch of our Introduction page would be an excellent starting point) and other Internet resources, such as the American Numismatic Society. Your investment in this preliminary study will be richly rewarded when you start collecting. Now it's time to select a topic that you want to specialize in while you are getting started.

Perhaps you would choose Republican coins of the Roman series, Celtic coins of Britain or Iberia, Greek coins of Athens or Sasanian coins of Persia. Any of these would be a good theme for a fine collection that you can spend many enjoyable years building. If you like Roman coins and have a small budget, bronze coins of the Constantinian dynasty would be an excellent starting point.

Begin acquiring some coins. You may be nervous because you aren't familiar with the coins. Start with nice quality, attractive common ancient coins that are reasonably priced; you will need to acquire them eventually, and there's very little risk if you buy from reputable dealers who guarantee their coins.

Study your ancient coins, get to know them, and compare them to examples in books and images available on the Internet. Perhaps you will find an example that is nearly the same, possibly struck from the same die. As you study your coins and these examples, you will start to understand both the coins and the collecting area you have chosen, and your collecting interests will progress. You will develop a sense of which ancient coins you want to acquire next, and how to build your collection. You are no longer a beginner, you have become a collector.


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