Ancient coins were invented around 630 BC in part of the Greek Empire in what is today western Turkey. Before that, people weighed out silver or gold on balance scales to pay for goods. The major types of ancient coins are from the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Empires.
Ancient coins were invented around 630 BC in part of the Greek Empire in what is today western Turkey. Before that, people weighed out silver or gold on balance scales to pay for goods. Bartering was also a common form of commerce – perhaps trading sheep for wheat. Coins in the first 50 years were made out of electrum – a natural alloy of silver and gold. It was King Kroisos who minted the first gold and silver coins around 550 BC. The major types of ancient coins are from the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Empires. For the most part, these empires followed one another, making it easier for us to understand their history. Although there is some overlap, this chart shows the approximate dates of the ancient coins.
Greek 650-50 BC
Roman 50 BC – 400 AD
Byzantine 400 – 1400 AD
Most people think that ancient coins are found only in museums. The opposite is true. People used coins during this 2000-year period of history as the only method of exchange. Millions of coins were minted during this time. Although many were melted down to produce new coins, tens of thousands were lost or buried for safe-keeping but never recovered – making it possible for everyone to own ancient coins today.
And each coin has a story. We can hold a piece of history in our hands and think about the people who held this coin 2000 years ago. Due to the enormous demand for coins, most cities had a mint and marked the coins with their mint mark and often their particular style. Some coins were in circulation for years and are completely worn down, while others were used for a very short time and are in perfect condition.
The value of ancient coins is determined in the same way as modern coins. These four factors affect the demand (and hence the value) of ancient coins today:
Scarcity, Condition, Story, and Beauty. Over the past 5 years, a fifth factor, Pedigree (what famous collections was this coin in and where was it published), has become important to collectors, thereby increasing demand for these coins.
Some coins in very poor condition, but with a great story, can be found for around $20 since thousands of these coins have been found. A great example is the famous “Widow’s Mite” coin from the story in the Bible. Other extremely rare coins in perfect condition can only be found for thousands of dollars. Yet for the most part, as with U.S. coins, it is the scarcity of a coin that drives demand.
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