Pricing and Grading- ancient coins


ERIC The Encyclopedia of Roman Imperial Coins
by Rasiel Suarez

Almost every coin collector is interested, if not obsessed, with the worth of their coins. Despite the occasional, overly-serious numismatist admonishing the newer hobbyist in playing this down in favor of just learning and studying the coins the truth is that it is an integral part of the fun of collecting. The collector therefore desperately needs a pricing guide to know what to expect when adding or selling pieces from the collection.
I can’t do that.

There are no shortage of pricing guides out there for ancient coins but the bitter truth is that they’re all laughably inaccurate and in the end up confusing more than giving real-world use. There are several reasons for this. Unlike the case with modern coins there are no “population reports” to indicate how rare or common each coin type is in an absolute sense. Over time, coins that were previously rare become less so thanks to new hoard discoveries and sometimes coins that are temporarily plentiful vanish from the marketplace. Then there is the issue of where you buy and sell coins. An exclusive dealer may list a given coin for several hundred dollars while another can offer the very same type for a $100 and you could spot the same on eBay for $50. It happens ALL the time.

In light of this there is little point in taking the trouble to give even a rough price range for each coin catalogued. Depending on your personal level to stomach risk and how much research you want done on your behalf you will feel comfortable shopping in a venue where prices should be more or less stable for that tier. This ultimately will be the true learning grounds. However, this book at least notes general trends for each emperor and where possible further broken down by the major denominations. This should hopefully be enough to spur the collector to do a little comparative research to identify what is a bargain and what is clearly overpriced.

Every coin book geared towards the collector will repeat the mantra about grading and conservation and I will be pedantic enough to repeat it here. It is an unwavering truism that conservation beats rarity in all but the most extreme cases. Unless you have come across a major rarity assume that the worth of your coin will very largely depend on its visual appeal. An ancient gold coin will in most cases look mint state or nearly so because it likely traded hands infrequently until it was lost. Bronzes on the other hand range from the abominable to strikingly well preserved (but should never look coppery like modern, untoned copper coins. This is an unequivocal indication of harsh cleaning!). Silver coins tend to be fairly well preserved but will show the most wear since many of them traded for many decades.

A mint state coin will command a premium. The rule of thumb is that in coins beauty sells and rarity is only a secondary factor in determining value. Of course, this “rule” applies only in a general sense. A rare coin be it for type or ruler WILL be marketable assuming a decent state of preservation and the rarest types/rulers will still be very sought even when poorly preserved. However, a poorly preserved rather common coin will find almost no interest among your fellow collectors.

So what are the grading standards? Just as is the case with modern coins ancients are graded along much the same lines. One can even get an ancient coin slabbed just like a modern coin and will carry a grade using the American grading standard… a practice that finds quite little support among die-hard ancient coin enthusiasts. But this book does not concern itself with grades for the simple reason that nowadays grading ancient coins is largely irrelevant. Unlike the mail order catalogs of years gone by one typically buys a coin from a well-photographed coin today in a glossy color catalog, the internet or on site at a coin show. There is therefore little need for a grade as such since the visual confirmation of what you would be getting is infinitely more useful than the information conveyed by an assigned grade of questionable value.

For what it’s worth, let’s examine what the general consensus is regarding grading:

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Rather than waste time with an euphemistic grades of AG, G or VG, the lowest rung of collectible ancient Roman coins are thankfully just described imperfect as they are. In most cases wear as such won‟t be the major issue with these coins
but rather unsightly toning, die cracks and/or other structural problems, or a bad case of corrosion. Coins with any but a small partbroken off are hardly ever worth anything on the market.

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Those coins graded “fine” will be found to be essentially intact in terms of overall design but with a considerable portion of its initial detail worn off or obscured by corrosion. This represents the bulk of ancient coins available today.

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You would expect a Roman coin in Very Fine or VF condition to be overall problem-free and with all its major features visible. Some wear and/or small imperfections are to be expected including coins that are slightly off-center.

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An EF (extremely fine) coin is in practice the highest grade coin you can hope to come across. Excepting coins given the holy-grail grade of FDC, see next, which probably no universal body of numismatists will agree on by the way, the EF coin is as good as it gets. To achieve this grade it should have only a touch of wear (if not outright mint state), be well centered, struck from new dies, be whole in every way and basically say “Hey, I’m beautiful and perfect. Buy me”. It will be rare to find a bona fide EF bronze.

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FDC is French for Fleur de Coin, the ne plus ultra of the numismatic world. It’s a term unfortunately much abused by both the inexperienced and those of shaky morals who will indiscriminately give any coin the grade without a second thought, often adding a few seemingly pre-requisite + or ! signs to drive home the point. Sigh. A real FDC coin needs no such gimmicky hype for it should be instantly breathtaking and considered the very paradigm of that type. In fact, a purist will say that by definition this excludes all bronzes by mere reason of their toning which, however attractive, has degraded them from perfection. Whatever. It‟s ok to ignore any coin marketed as FDC that does not instantly dazzle.


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