Revised Sept. 17, 2010

I have some ancient coins I'd like to sell. What are they worth and how should I sell them?

I hesitate to try to answer this. It is not easy to turn unwanted coins into good money, and it can be a slow process taking months. There is no simple answer (Sorry!).

First of all, do not clean your coins in any way. Do not rub them, shine them, wash them, polish them, or "just clean them up a bit." Leave then as they are. Cleaning ruins their value.

Further down this page I will suggest you consider selling your coins on eBay. Coins sold with eBay usually bring about the right price if they have a good image of both sides.

Please note:  Almost every ancient coin of substantial value (say, $10 or more) comes inside a "flip" or envelope with detailed information about it, naming the Roman emperor or Greek city that issued it. Then it can be looked up on, say, vcoins.com , using the key words for a search.  However, if you have a loose coin that looks ancient, the odds are very high that it is really a museum reproduction or tourist souvenir of no value at all. I used to accept images and value coins for readers such as you, but the last dozen were all modern fakes and I got tired of delivering the bad news. Good coins are not kept loose and unidentified!

If you want to learn for yourself how to value ancient coins, expect to take years of (enjoyable) work. If you do not know much about ancient coins, nothing on the web can help more than searching for comparable pieces at vcoins.com .  Expect your coin, if genuine and in very nice condition, to be worth to you about half the prices you see listed. If your coin is in poor condition, it will have very little value, and dealers won't want it.

Much of the value of a coin is in its condition, not just its type. A well-preserved example can be worth ten to a hundred times what a mediocre example is worth. If you see the price of a coin like yours, but in better condition, your coin will be worth less --  and often very much less. It is quite possible for a $500 coin type to be worth only $25, or less, if the particular coin is unattractive.  It is very common for a type worth $25 in excellent condition to be worth less than $2 in poor condition.

Here are three good sources for valuing coins:

1)  Go to vcoins.com and search for your type.  http://vcoins.com/
Vcoins.com  is a large ancient-coin "mall."  In the upper right of the screen you can you can "search all stores" at once. Search for your type and see what it sells for, retail. If you want to turn a coin into money, remember than dealers must make a profit to survive and their prices are probably double what they would pay you.

2)  Go to wildwinds.com and look for your type.
http://wildwinds.com/coins/index.html 
Wildwinds.com has compiled the results of many coin sales (mostly eBay auctions) and made them easy to find if you know the usual references for your type. Then you can search to see pictures and prices for coins that sold on eBay.

3)  Go to eBay.com in the "coin, ancient" section, and "search" for your coin type using their search engine.
If you find something similar, bookmark it and look again after it has closed. Prices on eBay are not meaningful until after the auction  has closed. Many coins have all the bidding happen in the last minute. After it has closed, you will know about what similar coins will sell for.

If you think you found your coin type, do not ignore the role of condition (preservation). A worn coin is worth very much less than a nicer example!

What about selling to a dealer?

I could easily imagine selling to an ancient-coin dealer. You could write any of the dealers at vcoins.com. Pick one that sell coins similar to yours. However, do not expect to sell worn coins or coins worth only $20. They can be bought by the hundred at coins shows for extremely low prices. If, and only if, you have something very nice, they may make an offer. Expect it to be no more than half what you find out it is "worth".

Do not sell ancient coins to your local coin dealer. He does not have the clientelle to resell the coins at retail, and it is unlikely he knows what retail prices are. So he will have to offer you a low price and then he will probably just turn around and do what I told you to do -- sell to an ancient coin dealer!

But, I have some very valuable coins! 

Most people who think this are simply wrong!  Ancient coins are common and usually not valuable. However, if you have some gold ancient coins, or a fine collection put together by an experienced collecter (not just from your grandfather's visit to Italy), then you should contact a dealer for possible auction. High-value coins from a real collection assembled by an expert probably should be sold with major dealers. But I have responded to over a hundred people with coins they thought had value and all of them had either
1) modern fakes (about two-thirds), or
2) coins that would sell fine on eBay (and 3/4 of these were of very low value, often only a dollar or two. There are vast numbers of extremely low-value ancient coins that are out there somewhere, but not desired by collectors.)
and they would get more money for them that way (at the cost of some work). However, if you don't want the hassle of selling individual coins yourself, the convenience of selling a whole group at once to a dealer can be worth it.

Could I call someone to ask about the value of my coins?

No. Do not expect any quote or estimate of value over the phone. Coins must be seen and handled to be valued, although viewing a good scan or photo (in focus!) is very helpful. No one can judge their authenticity or condition over the phone, and even good scans are not always enough to judge authenticity. I have seen a lot of out-of-focus photos and they are of little use.

It helps if you know precisely what you have. Can you identify your coins by the usual types of descriptions and major reference book numbers? Do you know from whom they were bought, how much was paid, and when this was? Do you know typical retail prices of similar coins in similar condition?

What about selling with eBay?

I think many coins sell for about the right price on eBay, and the seller gets over 90% of the sale price. If you sell to a dealer, he needs a big markup to make a profit so he cannot offer you a high percentage of retail value.
To sell a coin well on eBay, you need a good picture of both sides, but you don't need to describe it well! The buyers know coins and will probably bid it to about the "right price" even it you don't know precisely what you have. I have seen coins described by the tag line "I don't know what this is" (!) and they sold just fine. Of course, a good description helps some, but do not think it is essential. Of course, if you sell on eBay you will have to post scans, deal with buyers and the postoffice, and respond to lots of e-mail.

I have some excellent, valuable, genuine, ancient coins. Your advice does not address my case. How should I sell really good coins?

You might consign them to vauctions.com or to CNG (Classical Numismatic Group, the largest US dealer) at cngcoins.com.  Go to those sites and see if your coins look like theirs. Quality is critical. At vauctions click on "Help" and it will tell what to do. It is virtually no work on your part. All you really have to do is send them the coins. They do the rest. The only trick is your coins must be very good-- they don't auction low-value coins.

How can I identify my coin?

If you don't have it in an envelope where it is already identified, it is most likely a modern museum reproduction, tourist souvenier, or worthless piece in uncollectable condition. If it is in nice condition, you could use vcoins.com to look for for similar coins. It is a great resource. If you do have it identifed, go to the sites I mentioned above and search for similar coins using a key word search.

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