In 2020, I published in Coin Update a two-part series on identifying (Part 1) and slabbing (Part 2) ancient coins. If you are interested in collecting these historical marvels, you should read those articles as the basis of your new hobby interest.
You also might want to bone up on “junk” ancient coins — fragments, shards, pitted, and common Roman and Greek coins. Just because it is millennia old doesn’t mean it is rare or valuable. Forum Ancient Coins has a nifty post about 12 types of common late Roman coins.
Learn from it.
It is one thing to identify ancient coins and another to bid successfully on them whether raw or holdered on eBay or in online estate auctions on Hibid.com and other venues. And by success, I do not mean winning the coins but placing reasonable bids so as not to lose money on a fake or common lot.
I have seen outrageous bids on common ancient coins. That tells me the bidder didn’t know about the genre and lost hobbyist dollars.
Let’s deal with the fake or replica coins first, to get those out of the way. Cast coinage involves melted metal poured into a mold. Most ancient coins are not cast but struck, involving a hammer hitting a punch to impress upon a flan its select design underneath.
Cheaply made cast ancients look like the coin on the left below, with tiny bubbles on the surface. Stuck coins lack those telltale marks and often have sharper features (compare eyes on both lots).
Increasingly, online auctioneers do not know ancient numismatics and just offer what the collector or their family has consigned. In these cases, it is up to you to differentiate, especially when the market contains plated museum and souvenir pieces. Here’s an example of a real struck and plated cast Gordian gold aureus.
However, the copy was posted on HiBid like this:
You can buy plated Roman coins for as little as $16.80. Here’s one on Etsy:
Often you can find decent ancients without identification. Again, check my posts on how to identify ancient coins. Here’s an example of a double denarius offered on Bauer Auctions, one of my favorite venues:
You can see that I was outbid on this lot. First, I identified it as the Roman Emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98 to 117. Then I searched eBay, Heritage, and GreatCollections for a slabbed Trajan coin, to see what they typically went for in very fine condition. I found this one:
That’s why I only bid $65 and lost. When you add the buyer’s fee and mailing from Bauer, plus the slabbing fee of another $45, this just wasn’t worth a higher bid.
Sometimes lots come in flips with dealer values suggesting value, as in this lot:
Again, this is a common Roman coin. But is $125 a reasonable price? A quick search on eBay indicates it isn’t, as I could get a better-condition example for $77 with free mailing and no buyer’s fee.
Doing these searches also turns up interesting situations. Here is an excellent example of Herennia Cupressenia Etruscilla, a Roman empress and the wife of Emperor Decius:
In searching for a price value, I found this online:
As you can see, it is the same coin. It was passed. Ouch. On Hibid you can never tell if the auctioneer can see maximum bids or suggest afterwards that it was “bought onsite” … only for the lot to reappear in a future auction. So this rather dampened my desire to waste time bidding on this lot or in the future in this auction. That’s my choice. You can bid as you desire, but beware of these hidden obstacles.
In conclusion, just take care if you are into ancients, as I am. And read about them, too. There is so much to learn! But the beauty of these coins and the history that they represent are undeniable.
This is my favorite book:
Share your ancient collecting hobby in the comment section below. Tell us why you collect ancients and whether you bid on them in online auctions.