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The average coin collector of the 21st century is likely to be interested mainly in modern or classic coins from the United States or other countries that were issued in the past couple hundred years. They often don’t pay very much attention to ancient coins because they think they are too expensive or difficult to collect.
The reality paints a stark contrast. There are many ancient coins in the marketplace today, and many of them are actually very affordable. Moreover, collecting ancient coins today is less challenging than in the past because of all the information available online. You can see other useful resources for collectors discussed in a previous article I authored, Ancient Coins Offer Great Potential.
In recent years, while some segments of the coin market and numismatic hobby have remained sluggish, interest in ancient coins has grown substantially, according to experts. Part of this newfound popularity can actually be attributed to the growth of certified ancient coins.
This professional grading and certification of ancient coins, which began only in 2010 with the establishment of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation’s (NGC) Ancient coin division, offers the buyer important assurance of the coins condition. It also helps to protect the coin against mishandling and environmental damage, thanks to hard plastic encapsulation. Finally, the identification and grading is provided by one of the foremost experts on ancient coins in the world, David Vagi, allowing any certified ancient coin to have the finest backing.
As ancient coin expert Harlan Berk notes, ancient coins were the world’s only currency for a very long period stretching from 600 B.C. to A.D. 400. For that thousand-year period, they were the only money that existed, and millions of coins were made. Today, he estimates that only around “…one-tenth of one percent survive.” While that is a very small fraction, there were so many coins struck in ancient times that a surprising amount of them are still around today.
It should be added that, while high-grade and hard to find pieces can be very expensive, many ancient coins are actually considered common and are very affordable. This presents the beginner to the ancient coin field with the opportunity to acquire some fine pieces without spending a lot of money.
Berk and other ancient coin specialists explain that the main appeal of this field is the direct link between the coins themselves and history. They provide a tangible connection to a distant period when commerce and trade were in their infancy. Moreover, many ancient coins sport gorgeous designs and marvelous craftsmanship – so much so that many (including former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt) consider them to be works of art! Since these coins were made by hand, each one is unique and different from the others, unlike modern coins struck precisely by machines.
To help new collectors on their path to greatness, ModernCoinMart (MCM) has identified the following five ancient coins, for their exemplary stories and marvelous pricing, as a great place to start a collection:
One of MCM's favorite offerings are the “Widow’s Mite” Prutah. As the account goes, Jesus sat by the temple treasury and watched people put in their tithe. While many wealthy put in much, a poor widow put in all that she had – two bronzes “mites,” or prutah.
These coins were the lowest denomination of the time, and while the widow’s giving had less monetary value than that as the wealthy, the fact that she did give all she had was an important lesson Jesus was showing to his disciples.
While the coins currently found at MCM are most likely not the very same coins the widow brought to the temple, they are the same type, issued at the same time as those she handled. It's a truly remarkable piece to own, in any collection.
The Great Silk Road stretched over 7,000 miles through deserts of the Middle East to the mountains of China. Used primarily for the trade of luxuries, it earned its name from the amazing fabric silks brought from China to the bustling City of Constantinople.
Because of this extensive trade, many coins were circulated along the road. A coin often found in the purses of traders was the Silver Hemidrachm from the lush province of Tabaristan! A common stopping place along the route, no collection of coins from the Silk Road would be complete without this find!
Azes was the last king of the Scythians from a part of Western Pakistan. He is believed to have sent a representative to see the newborn king, Jesus, as one of the wise men spoken of in the Bible. This representative traveled a long way to see the new king, following a bright star in the sky. His trip, ordered by the King, would have been funded by Silver Drachm just like these!
While the likelihood that some of these coins were carried by this wise man as he went to see the baby Jesus is not great, it does remain a possibility with any coins of this type. Moreover, the fact that coins of the same type played such a pivotal role in history makes this Silver Drachm of Azes a real conversation piece!
Few coins have carried as much influence in ancient times as the types of Alexander the Great. First issued during the epic conquests of Alexander III in his quest to unite all the known world, these coins depict Heracles on their obverse and Zeus on the reverse. Clear depictions of power, these designs were perfect for this young ruler who was never truly defeated in battle.
These coins became so popular that, after his death, the Diadochi (close friends and generals looking to take over the empire) struck many of their coins with the same designs. This lasted for decades after Alexander died! While these coins can certainly carry a large price tag, a many low-grade example are available at excellent prices.
For more information about coins that feature Alexander the Great, read this Info-Vault article.
Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect of the province of Judaea and served under Roman Emperor Tiberius from A.D. 26-36. He is most famous for having sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. Like previous Roman rulers, Pontius Pilate issued Jewish coin denominations in his name - Bronze Prutah. These are the last coins from Judea struck before the death of Jesus, and today they serve as a fascinating connection to this important period of history and, as some call it, the most important trial in history - the trial of Jesus!
Any one of these five coins, available at MCM, offer a great way for you to begin an ancient coin collection. For a relatively modest price, you can begin assembling a historically and numismatically significant group of such coins that spans a wide period of history and different parts of the world. In the process, you are sure to learn more about different cultures and periods of history than you knew before you began.
Many of these options are available in special StoryVault holders, which houses encapsulated coins with a small card telling its story. Browse MCM’s full selection of ancient coins to find these examples and many more, certified by NGC Ancients and now available at a great price!
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|