Ancient Coin

IN A NUTSHELL: The ancient coin marketplace is diverse, consisting of a number of different types of dealers, from the tony to the cheap, with risks and rewards for each type.












Cherronesos hemidrachms, c. 400-350 BC













Sometimes one or two items can shed interesting light on an entire marketplace, as with the above two ancient Greek coins.

Both coins are very similar. Both are common, inexpensive hemidrachms from Cherronesos, Thrace, minted c. 400-350 BC (Sear Greek 1602-1606).

Both coins grade VF (and were graded that way by their respective sellers). Both have slight, nondistracting scratches from circulation, the top coin in front of the lion's head, the bottom coin on the lion's head (the bottom coin also has a small corrosion spot in front of the lion's head).

Both coins have slight corrosion, often euphemistically called porosity or granularity, the bottom coin slightly more than the top, though in neither case is it distracting for a VF coin.

Both coins have similar test cuts on their reverse (the sellers in both cases neglected to mention this in their descriptions, but it's apparent of course from the photos). The test cut in the first coin is slightly less noticeable, tucked in among the pedals of the flower.

Both coins are attractively styled, though the styling of the bottom coin is slightly more aesthetic, if less natural, than the top, with the lion's body curved to match the roundness of the coin.

Both coins suffer a tad from less-than-perfect execution of their designs. With the top coin, there are subtle extraneous lines to the right of the vertical incuse square line, and the flower symbol is rendered a bit too flatly. With the bottom coin, more of a concern, the area around the lion's mouth and nose is muddled.

Both coins have similar flans and fabrics and are also less than perfect in this respect. The top coin is slightly elliptical is shape, while the bottom coin has a slight edge protrusion at 8 o'clock on the obverse.

Both coins are well centered for this type, though the bottom coin is slightly better centered than the top.

Both coins are within the correct weight and diameter parameters for these coins, and there's no indication that either coin isn't perfectly authentic.

Both coins sold just days apart, the top coin for $32, the bottom coin for $95. The top coin was sold on eBay by a reputable direct seller who buys coins in volume in Europe. The bottom coin was sold by a top-name auction house, which buys some of its material from direct sellers.

The Marketplace

Before the age of eBay, direct sellers typically didn't sell directly to collectors but only to dealers. Today, through eBay and other online auction sites, you can buy not only from ancient coin wholesalers like this but also from fellow collectors. This type of "disintermediation" -- elimination of the middleman -- isn't of course isn't limited to numismatics. But is has opened up a new world for coin collectors, and new risks and new rewards.

It's typically safer to buy from top-name dealers and auction houses, which almost always have greater expertise with both authenticity (no small concern) and attribution. It's typically less expensive to buy from direct sellers, who are closer to the source. One worthwhile piece of advice is to be more careful with direct sellers unless you have some expertise yourself, and to shop elsewhere if you value dependability above all else, particularly with pricier specimens.

The ancient coin "sweet spot" may be numismatist/dealers who have recently gone out on their own or who otherwise don't have a lot of overhead, are hungry to build a client base and offer attractive pricing, and have the kind of numismatic expertise to provide peace of mind. But, as with all transactions, it still pays to get a lifetime guarantee of authenticity in a case the coin later turns out to be false, which though it's not likely can happen with even the most expert dealers.

The ancient numismatic marketplace is diverse, and it can make sense to buy from different types of sellers, from large and prestigious U.S. and European auction houses and small boutique dealers for whom quality and service are paramount to volume direct sellers, other bargain dealers, and fellow collectors, depending on the coin, the coin type, the coin quality, your level of expertise, your comfort level, your budget, and the particular phase of the moon.


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© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.