Start­ing a Ro­man Coin Col­lec­tion – Part 1

Montreal Times - - Front Page - By Michael Jof­fre mtl­times.ca

Some­thing very spe­cial hap­pens when you place a 2,000 year old coin in some­ones hand...es­pe­cially if that per­son has never seen such an item.To be able to hold and han­dle some­thing with so much his­tory is quite re­mark­able. This is the joy of col­lect­ing Ro­man coins.

The first ques­tion I usu­ally get asked about an­cient coins is...how can they still ex­ist? Af­ter all they are so old. Most Ro­man coins that we have to­day we dis­cov­ered hid­den in the ground. Con­sider that no banks ex­isted to make de­posits...so the best way to store your wealth was to hide it. Large Ro­man armies were trav­el­ling with trea­suries of freshly minted coins. Likely, many were hid­den be­fore bat­tles..and some re­mained so for 2,000 years. Other hoards may have been hid­den in the brick­work of homes, other groups in the for­est, etc. Since the in­ven­tion of the metal de­tec­tor we have had the plea­sure of re-dis­cov­er­ing th­ese fas­ci­nat­ing groups.

Ro­man coins are the eas­i­est to col­lect of the an­cient so­ci­eties for many rea­sons. Firstly they are usu­ally avail­able in quan­tity, and in all bud­gets (very used bronzes can some­times be had for a few dol­lars). Se­condly since all of the writ­ing on them is in Latin, they are easy to de­ci­pher even for those not flu­ent in this lan­guage. Thirdly, the coins fol­low a sim­i­lar pat­tern to our mod­ern coins. Most have a ruler on one side and a de­sign on the other. For rea­sons I will ex­plain in a fu­ture ar­ti­cle, they are also easy to date, thus we can fig­ure out the ex­act year the coin was minted.

Like most coin col­lect­ing en­deav­ours the best way to start is with a lit­tle read­ing.The stan­dard mod­ern ref­er­ence on Ro­man coins is – Ro­man Coins & Their Val­ues – Au­thored by David Sear. Each of the many vol­umes (there are four now) cov­ers a dif­fer­ent pe­riod in his­tory. For ex­am­ple Vol­ume one deals with the Ro­man Repub­lic to the end of the Twelve Cae­sars (roughly 280 BC to AD 96). I would also sug­gest some gen­eral ref­er­ence books, or web­sites on Ro­man his­tory.Th­ese books can be found on­line or at a coin dealer spe­cial­iz­ing in this sub­ject.

There are so many ways to go about a col­lec­tion it is hard to be­gin. One thing I would not sug­gest is to try to get ev­ery Ro­man coin (this is im­pos­si­ble any­ways). Fo­cus on some­thing that in­ter­ests you. Many col­lec­tors will put to­gether a set (al­though vir­tu­ally none will fin­ish it) of each Ro­man ruler. Most are ob­tain­able, and some are not.This is a fun way to start be­cause you will see a wide range of types, and it is fun to learn about each ruler as you go.A shorter but still chal­leng­ing set would be of each of the fa­mous 12 Cae­sars.

Per­son­ally, I like to fo­cus on a ruler or dy­nasty (in the case where the ruler’s sons took over) and try to get as many dif­fer­ent coins as pos­si­ble. Of­ten the ruler’s wives, and sons ap­pear as well. I know a col­lec­tor who does the same for a spe­cific Cae­sar and has hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent coins, which he as­sem­ble over the last decade.

Con­sider that coins were pro­duced in bronze, sil­ver, and gold. The lat­ter be­ing the most ex­pen­sive and gen­er­ally the most dif­fi­cult to ob­tain. Coins, es­pe­cially bronzes do come in a wide as­sort­ment of de­nom­i­na­tions (sizes) as well. Just try­ing to get one of each coin size in all met­als would be quite an in­ter­est­ing group.

An­other theme to con­sider is his­tor­i­cal re­verses (the side of the coin op­po­site to the one with the rulers bust). Coins were is­sued to com­mem­o­rate ma­jor his­tor­i­cal events...mostly mil­i­tary. The cap­ture of Bri­tain, Ar­me­nia, Judea, etc.

Ro­man gods are promi­nently fea­tured on many coins, as well as in­ter­est­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, and an­i­mals as well. Imag­ine a cul­ture that ex­isted for about 800 years...there is a lot here to col­lect.

The same rules of col­lect­ing ap­ply to an­cients as to mod­ern coins .... get the best qual­ity pos­si­ble. Orig­i­nal coins have a great amount of de­tail, and new con­di­tion ex­am­ples look ex­tra­or­di­nary. Most of what is of­fered to col­lec­tors are very cruddy look­ing lit­tle bronze coins...be care­ful...not only are th­ese hard to iden­tify (al­though some folks like the chal­lenge!), but de­spite their vin­tage they are not de­sired by col­lec­tors, and there­fore not valu­able.

Coun­ter­feits do ex­ist, and so please be very care­ful buy­ing items as a tourist over­seas, or on­line. Best to con­sult a well known col­lec­tor, or dealer when you start to make sure you are buy­ing the real thing.

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