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Ancient Coins

Ancient coins are the subject of wide historical, artistic and intrinsic interest.

Greek bronze ancient coins are among the most highly-prized today. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Greek bronze ancient coins are among the most highly-prized today.

Ancient Coins

Numastics or coin collecting is a time-honored hobby that can include the study and collection of ancient coins. Ancient coins, namely those of the Greeks and Romans, are metallic time capsules that offer a glimpse at a world long past, as well as the evolution of money through the ages.

Collecting Historic Coins

The study and collecting of ancient coins gives the individual an opportunity to enjoy a classic hobby, as well as learn about the ancient world. Coins can be time machines to another world and country. For those who have a penchant for history, coins are a way of studying chronology and progression and provide insight into the monetary systems of the past. Some ancient coins depict famous rulers, others depict animals or ancient language systems providing enough variety that an individual can spend a long time on one specific type of coin.

Ancient Roman Coins

At one time, barter was the preferred currency in the ancient Roman world, with people paying for goods and services in crops and livestock. Like ancient Greece, early metal currency consisted of bronze bars, both cast and uncast. After developing bronze coins, the Roman Empire was introduced to silver coins from the Greeks.

The Roman Empire was a mix of emperors and senators and they both made their mark on the coins of their time. The link between power and money was well established during this time period. Throughout the length of the Empire, Rome produced a number of different currencies and denomination of coin. Early coins included the aureaus produced in gold, denarius in silver, sestertius, dupondius and the as all produced in bronze (copper alloy). All coins were updated with the arrival of each new emperor.

The rarest Roman coin, as of 2009, is of Judean origin and features an unknown emperor on one side and a figure symbolizing justice on the other. Only two known examples exist.

Coins of the Ancient Greeks

Before coins, the ancient Greeks traded bronze bars for goods. After contact with the Turks, who are often considered among the first to use coins, the Greeks began producing silver coins based on a weights and measure system developed during the eighth century B.C.. The system valued one bronze bar as the same as one silver coin called an obol. A drachm was six times the value of an obol and a decadrachm was twelve times the value of an obol. Bronze coins became popular during 3rd and 4th centuries as the amount of available silver waned. The coins were handmade and the images punched on by hammer and press. A motivation for producing coins and expanding the monetary system was military funding. Silver, bronze and gold coins were produced and the metals were eventually ranked in value.

As time passed, the quality of Greek coins improved and each city state had its own regional coinage. Considered one of the best examples of Greek coin, the silver decadrachm of Syracuse, Italy produced in approximately 400 B.C. is both rare and of a high quality with most examples available for viewing in museums.

Viewing Notable Ancients

Some of the most interesting ancient coins are held in museum collections. A number of exhibit floors devote space to the world of money that include:

  • The Money Museum in Colorado Springs, CO which houses both ancient European, as well as antique American coins
  • The Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri, is home to a fine assortment of Greek and provincial Roman coins
  • The National Numismatics Museum at the Smithsonian displays 450,000 coins from around the globe and across time
  • The American Numismatics Society in New York, NY holds a collection of 800,000 coins and is considered one of the most significant collections in the nation

Many regional museums have a number of ancient coins in their collection, usually received by donation. Coin enthusiasts should contact their local museum to find out what is available for viewing in their area.

Valuing Ancient Coins

Getting an exact value for ancient coins can be difficult because like any market, prices can change with the popularity of the item. The American Numismatic Association offers a number of valuation books on their site, as well as a lot of information on how to put a price tag on any coin collection.

Another great resource for evaluating items in a coin collection is the Internet at large. Browsing coin auction sites and finding relative values will give collectors an idea of their collections current value. The Virtual Coin Show is a Web site for coin collectors that covers a range of coin types and acts as a hub for coin dealers, making it a great place for a valuation.

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