I'm glad you care about cost. It is easy to pay too much for any collectible. Coins are no exception.
I hesitate to give advice about buying coins. This website (go
to the main page) was up for a year before I added an answer
how to buy coins. Now it is years later, in 2013, and buying
wisely is more
complicated than ever.
Why do you say it is complicated?
Well, eBay is
the cheapest place to buy, but it is riddled with fakes offered by
criminals. Many of the superficially attractive expensive pieces are
fakes. (I have a page about avoiding fakes.)
On the other hand, most eBay coins are genuine and realize
prices that are favorable for the buyer. Almost all their
inexpensive (say, under $20) coins are genuine. Most experienced
collectors still buy on eBay, but are somewhat worried about fakes.
eBay has become the "retail" market for coins
under $100. You can find common coins in
condition on eBay, and at good prices. Before you buy on eBay, read this page about eBay auctions.
alternative to eBay is buying from specialist
ancient-coin dealers. (I am not a dealer, that's just a fact.)
are numerous dealers in the US who specialize in ancient coins.
The premier site for buying fixed-price ancient coins
on the web is vcoins.com
. It as an
ancient coin "mall" with over 100 dealers. It has an excellent feature
that allows you to "search all stores" and compare conditions and
prices on 120,000 (yes!) ancient coins. There are numerous other
on the web, but I will not list them here. 100 dealers is enough
to get you started! If you want to see more, there is a large European site for ancient coin dealers called MA-Shops and a second "mall" called NumisMall.
These sites have the great advantage that their coins are almost
certainly genuine. Any fakes that are spotted (and very very few are)
are immediately removed.
Is that all there is to know -- go to eBay or vcoins.com ?
Of course there are other alternatives that are better for
some collectors. Where you buy will depend upon your circumstances.
How can I know what a coin is worth?
This is much easier than it used to be. Use on-line references. For
any type, you can look it up. I will discuss five methods.
1) Look it up on vcoins.com
. Use "Search all stores" to look for similar coins using the
usual descriptive terms (ruler's name, Greek city, etc.)
2) Look it up on wildwinds.com .
You can select "Roman" or "Greek" and search by the usual descriptive
terms. This is most suitable for low-end and moderately priced coins.
Many of the listings come from completed eBay auctions.
3) Look it up at CoinArchives.com . This site tracks prices at major auctions. It is suitable only for high-end coins and only covers the most-recent six months. Inexpensive coins will not be listed here.4) Look it up at acsearch.info . This site tracks prices at major auctions. It is suitable only for high-end coins. Inexpensive coins will not be listed here.
5) Keep track of eBay prices of similar coins. This is much
more difficult, because it requires bookmarking coins and coming back
after they close to see what they sold for. Many coins double or
in price in the last few seconds, so the current price of any on-going
auction is emphatically not a
good indicator of what it will sell for. You can know what the coin is
"worth" only after the auction
Principles of Value. In
general, cost is related to 1) issuing authority (ruler or city
state), 2) denomination, and 3) condition. Note
well: So-called "rarity" is NOT on this list. It plays a role, but that
misrepresented. Learn about the three major factors first.
Condition is the tricky factor. The same ruler in the same denomination can cost 10 or 50 times as much in super grade as in very worn or corroded condition. I suppose I could write a web page on "condition," but I won't now. Just be aware that "a coin of Nero" is NOT a description precise enough to say much about price. Even if you knew it was a silver denarius, it could still be worth from $20 to $2000, depending upon how nice it is. You need to study up on "condition" (which is a lot like "grade," but more encompassing. For example, irritating off-centering or ugly surfaces may drastically lower the condition without lowering the grade, because "grade" is defined to be a statement about wear alone).
Doug Smith has an excellent webpage illustrating the factors that affect condition. However, you must be aware that many dealers grade coins more loosely than Doug -- that is to say, his "Very Fine" will probably be nicer than the "Very Fine" of some coin on eBay. However, his grades are what the better dealers use--if they use grades at all. Now, with a good picture, there is little need to be concerned about the name given to the grade of a coin.
I buy lots of coins that are overgraded -- I don't buy the grade, I
buy the coin. Of course, this requires seeing the coin or at least a
of the coin. Most of my friends never buy unpictured coins because
know that a grade, say, "VF," does not and can not descibe the
of a coin to you. As for me, if the price is right for the coin and I
it, it does not matter what the grade was called. If you go to a coin
most ancient coins will not be graded at all. There is just the coin
its price. The coin stands on its own merits. See Doug's fine page to
about the factors that affect the condition of a coin. You will see
are too many factors for a coin to be described by a single grade.
what YOU like.
Do you have any additional advice?
If you got a glossy flyer in the mail from a mass marketer with a
ancient coins offered among many other coins or artifacts, buy from
else. They are almost sure to be vastly overpriced. If you see ancient
coins offered for sale in a glossy mass-circulation magazine (maybe on
archaeology or biblical studies) they are
almost sure to be very overpriced.
Buy coins because you like them and because they interest you, but not because you think you will make money. Ancient coins are a great hobby, but probably not a great investment. If you get deeply involved, you will probably preserve your money, but most "investors" do not make money in coins. Here is a joke with a kernel of truth: What is the best way to make a small fortune in rare coins? Answer: Start with a large fortune!
Any more advice?
Yes! Please do not fall for hype! If you don't already know a coin, don't ever buy it because it is advertised as "scarce" or "rare" or "less than 10 known." Sellers on eBay regularly lie (yes, lie) about the rarity of their coins. Zillions (hyperbole) of ancient coins fall into those categories and their value is not based on rarity, but ruler, denomination, and condition.
Do not fall for hype! There are zillions of genuine ancient coins out there and the chances are nil that any one you see now is so special that you will not have an equal chance at another as good or better. I guarantee you another interesting coin will come along to tempt you to part with your money! Have patience! Do not let yourself feel pressure to buy any particular coin because of hype.
Do not assume that a coin marked way down is a good deal. I could
a $10 coin and mark it $125 (would you know it was a $10 coin?) and
mark it "way down" to $45. That doesn't make it a good deal. This type
of pricing happens. Learn a bit first, then buy.
This week (when I wrote this paragraph in 2008) I found coin on eBay
I wanted. The
seller said a reference book listed its value as "up to $400." I
won it. My cost? $16.21 including postage! Do not believe the
price estimates on eBay!
Never buy from sellers on
eBay who have "private auctions" to "protect the ID" (a lie!) of the
These are part of a scam used by criminals to sell fake coins.
Legimate sellers do not use private auctions. I have more advice on my page about fakes.
See if any books on ancient topics are in your local library. Ask a local coin dealer if he can introduce you to anyone who already knows about ancient coins. The collector would have to be a specialist in ancient coins to be of much help in this subject. US coin collectors and ancient coin collectors have little in common.
Enjoy! Ancient coins are a GREAT hobby!
Now, go to a page on how auctions work and buying on eBay.
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