Ancient Coin Collecting
Ancient Coin Collection Introduction
Ancient coin collecting can be a special addition to a coin collector’s interest. These coins are different, which can make for a nice expansion. How many of your friends can show an actual image of a Caesar of Rome made while he was still alive? And what a story these coins can tell, literally. Viewing ancient coins is like viewing a history book that was written at the time the events were current.
Of course, the coins tell a slanted version of history as told by the person who ordered the minting of the coins. Coins were a way of sending messages such as the accomplishments of an army. These were to convey to the people events of their leader, and to their enemies how great an army was. Were the messages embellished? Many were. So, we take coins as historical, but view that history with a critical eye.
History on Coins
Well, after an image of the leader is placed on the obverse of a coin, the question comes regarding the reverse of the coin. What image should be there? In ancient times a leader remained a leader by might, so showing great victories or accomplishments on a coin spoke to the people of the region. Of course only battles won made the coins. And, they were often exaggerated. History is often distorted by the person telling the story. This especially spoke volumes to conquered people, it was the way of getting the message across that the people who were vanquished once could be dealt with again if an insurrection occurred.
Many coin collectors say the thrill is in getting a piece of history, and sometimes they will imagine who might have held a coin when it circulated. Not only might a coin have been held by a person alive just after it was minted, but the events that inspired the coin were news of the day in the case of ancient coins.
Some coins do not have a person depicted on either side. In Rome, and there are other ancient coins, not just the Roman ones, Julius Caesar broke with the tradition of using an image of a god of Rome on the coin. This caused a problem for him, since many people thought this to be an insult to the gods. His solution was to declare himself a god. No one would challenge him unless they were prepared to overthrow him or die.
Dating Ancient Coins
Many ancient coins predate our calendar, and had no date added when they were minted. They are dated, sometimes crudely, by the person and the event depicted. Historians know when battles occurred, so dating the coin showing a battle can have the earliest date the minting was possible, but how much time after the event passed while the same image was still in use? Probably shortly after the leader died or left office the coin bearing his image would cease being produced. Yet often there is a date range over which the minting could have been made.
Dating Hebrew or Chinese ancient coins is easier, the Hebrew calendar and the Chinese calendar both existed long ago. But neither calendar uses the same date for New Years, so we can get coins dated by a different calendar to a narrow two year range. Unfortunately, we cannot say definitively which of those two years of our calendar was the actual date a coin was minted.
Crude Coin Making
Ancient coins were made before modern minting techniques were used. There were no machines that could deliver great pressure to the blank piece of metal. The pressure was often applied by a person with a hammer. This limited the metals used, since there needed to be a certain malleable nature of the metal of choice. Gold and silver were used, but sparingly, and base metals soft enough to be imprinted when struck were common. Often alloys were used to have a soft enough metal.
Some coins were made under strange conditions. Armies needed to be paid, and no leader wanted an army turning on him. Paying the troops was a high priority. But shipping coins to an army on a regular basis risked having the carrier robbed. One solution was to have portable mints make the coins at the location of the army. As the army marched, so did the portable mint move. Metal seized from a conquered people could be re-purposed as coins.
Because of the hammering out of coins, and the conditions under which they were often made, nice round, well defined coins simply did not happen, at least not often. An ancient coin in too good of condition could be counterfeit.
Counterfeit Ancient Coins Are Out There
Because of the crude nature of the coins, they are easily counterfeited. Buying an ancient coin can be a problem for the collector. However, experts can tell if an ancient coin is genuine. Buy only from someone you trust and believe to have the skill to detect counterfeit coins, or buy ancient coins that are certified from a respected third party grading service. Yes, ancient coins can be certified.
Clumps of Ancient Coins
Ancient coins are often found in clumps, fused together by years of exposure to water and the chemicals in the soil. There is a reason they are often found in clumps. Soldiers had no banks as they marched into battle, no great place to deposit their pay. Each man had to carry his coins with him, and if he was untrusting he might bury his coins in the ground. If he did not survive the battle, or was too seriously injured to go retrieve his property, his coins would remain buried where he left them. Indeed, if a battle was lost and a soldier fled, he might lose his coins, being unable to retrieve them. Years later, perhaps thousands of years later, the coins might have been found. Of course many are simply disks of metal when found, rendering the coin impossible to identify.
Different Coin Groups
A coin collector does not have to go full speed at acquiring everything. Too wide of a scope of collecting can cause one to lose interest, as the task of getting a meaningful group of coins together is daunting. Even in the interesting ancient coins there are subgroups that one might concentrate on. Roman coins are in three groups, depending on the evolution of the Roman Empire and where the coin was to be used. Another group of ancient coins is Celtic coins. Certainly there are Greek, Hebrew, Byzantine, and Chinese coins.
One group of coins that attracts many collectors is the Biblical coin group. People want to see the widow’s mite, a small coin, or the silver coins similar to those paid to Judas. Others just want coins of the days of Jesus from the Holy Land and from Rome.
Remember, the price is always depending on supply and demand. Having others interested in your collecting interest makes it more expensive to acquire additions to your coin collection, but also keeps the value higher should you ever decide to sell that collection.
As a rule, coins should not be cleaned. Ancient coins can be an exception to the rule, you simply must get the heavy dirt off to even identify the coins. However, do clean coins properly, never with an abrasive like cleanser. Do as little damage as possible when cleaning ancient coins. If you are uncertain how to go about this, ask a professional. And remember, some lead may have been used to soften the metal, so be careful when handling and disposing any liquid used in the cleaning process.
Ancient Coins Are Different
By now, if you have digested what is here, you should have the idea that as an artifact of history, ancient coins are the richest of all coins. Yet as a type of coins that is difficult to collect ancient coins have their special quirks that must be mastered.
Ancient coin collecting can be fascinating to anyone interested in history, and well worth considering as a new interest by coin collectors.
Ancient Coin Art
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The introduction image is of our own.