Brad's Introduction to Ancient Coins

Introduction Brief History Roman Coins Buying and Storage
Fakes and Authentification Identification Roman Coin Denominations Grading
Coin of the Month

This page will briefly discuss how to buy ancient Roman coins. I have only a few coins for sale. Click here for my sale list.

If you have never purchased a Roman coin before, you are likely to think that Roman coins, being roughly two-thousand years old, are rare, expensive, and not available for purchase. If so, you would be wrong for the most part. A wide variety of Roman coins are available for purchase for under one hundred dollars, with many nice examples in the ten to fifty dollar range. There certainly are Roman and other ancient coins in many museums, and rare coins that are very expensive, but there are hundres of varieties of ancient coins that cost less than dinner for two at a nice restaurant (though telling your spouse that you'd want to buy an ancient coin rather than go out for dinner is not recommended).

You might also think that any Roman coins that you are offered are counterfeit. While this is a concern, it is not a large one if you stick with long-time coin dealers that specialize in ancient coins. While you may not be an expert in detecting forgeries, they are, and those with a bad reputation do not last long. To give you more confidence, however, I have a page covering a little information on Fakes and Authentification.

The most likely place that you would be offered a forgery for sale is near archeological sites in Europe or Asia. Many of the countries near these sites prohibit the sale or export of authentic ancient coins, but the sale of forgeries is not prosecuted, so many unsuspecting tourists are taken in, thinking they have purchased a great rarity for little (or perhaps much) money. They may also have trouble with customs while leaving the country. So rule number one is "don't purchase ancient coins from outside of the country you live in unless you are knowledgeable of the relevant laws of all the countries you will be traveling through before you arrive back home."

There are also some forgeries for sale on Internet auction sites. Again, you must know the reputation and experience of the person you are buying from. This brings us to rule number two, "if you don't know your ancients coins well, know your ancient coin dealer."

Most ancient coin dealers sell through coin shows, the Internet, or the mail, so you are unlikely to find an ancient coin dealer with a storefront in your area. So how do you find them? A good, and free place to start is buy subscribing to the NUMISM-L e-mail (mailing) list. To subscribe, send an e-mail Here and in the body of the e-mail, put a single line with "subscribe NUMISM-L first-name last-name" (no quotes, and put your first and last name in). Be sure to read the mailing list rules thoroughly. I would recommend just reading the five or more e-mail messages you will receive daily for a month or two before even thinking about posting your own question, if you have one. There is also an archive of NUMISM-L postings, but it only goes through April, 1999, unfortunately. Many dealers will occasionally post links to their web sites, and by listening in on the questions and answers, you will learn more about the hobby.

Many collectors begin with ancient coins by buying a number of uncleaned ancient coins. These are appearing in incredible numbers in recent years due to the need for cash in the countries of Eastern Europe, and the widespread availability of metal detectors. Most of these are real, but very poor (and dirty) examples of the later Roman Imperial coins. If you have the skill and patience to clean them, which often takes over a year, you will most often have a very worn common coin that is worth a couple dollars, if you haven't ruined it in the process. After doing this once, I decided that I'd rather spend twenty dollars or so for the same coin already professionally cleaned, and in nicer condition.

So what do you need to know to buy a Roman coin?

  1. You need to find a dealer that sells the area you are looking to purchase. Some dealers only sell the rarer coins that go for hundreds or thousands of dollars. These would not be good if you are intending to purchase one or two common coins. Other dealers may specialize in Greek or Eastern empires. Some dealers sell off fixed priced lists, and others at auction. Find one that has a good reputation and matches your interests and has coins in your price range.

  2. If you want to have a rough idea if you are getting a fair deal, you must know how to identify and grade the coins you purchase. I have separate pages that introduce these subjects, though these skills take quite a long time to develop fully.

Handling and Storage of Ancient Coins

If you don't want to ruin coins once you have purchased them, you should know how to handle them properly. Hold them only by the edges, and when your hands are clean and dry. Do not clean them in any way unless you know the proper techniques for cleaning ancients, and how to know if a particular coin should even be cleaned at all.

Flip Flip Two of the most popular ways to store ancient coins are mylar (non-PVC) containers ("flips") or acid-free small paper envelopes. I use flips because it allows for easier viewing of the coin, and the insertion of a printed label giving identification and other information about the coin. The two sides of a flip, shown opened up, are at left and right. When folded back up, these two inch by two inch flips can be store in a plastic page that holds 20 of them, and these pages are made to fit in a three-ring binder. I find this very convenient all around.

I think both flips and paper envelopes are for sale by Brooklyn Gallery, but be sure to check that what you buy is safe for the long term. I have not purchased from them, so do not consider this a personal recommendation.

Continue to Fakes and Authentification.

If you have any questions or comments, please send e-mail to me at .

Last updated February 2, 2001.
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