Ancient coins.

A different kind of ancient text.

For the casual collector of ancient coins there is no easier coin source than eBay. The section of eBay dedicated to ancient coins (eBay category 4733) is quite busy, and at any given time there may be several thousand ancient coin auctions running. Other online auction sites (such as Yahoo! Auctions) have ancient coins, but not nearly as much variety. The brute fact is that eBay is the key online venue for ancient coin collectors and dealers.

Caution, however, is in order. Frauds, scams, and hucksters are not uncommon on eBay. Furthermore, an ancient coin does not come new in a box with tags and a model or serial number, so pricing can be tricky; you do not want to pay too much for a coin. Education is required, and is in fact the purpose of this page.

Tips for buying ancient coins on eBay.

  1. Know your coin. I recommend buying a coin guide before bidding on any ancient coin on eBay. Not only will you learn a lot about ancient coinage in general but you will also be in a position to identify your prospective coin and know what you are getting. Many good coin books are available on eBay itself.
  2. Avoid private coin auctions. Running a private auction in the mature audiences category is understandable. But for a coin? The real reason may be fraud. The more experienced coin specialists on eBay are ever on the alert for frauds, and when they spot somebody peddling a fake coin they will often email less experienced bidders, who can then retract their bids and notify eBay. Scamsters know that this can happen, so they sometimes run the auction privately. With a private auction no one knows who the bidders are, so no one can warn them.
  3. Rarity rarely matters. Do not bid on the rarity of an ancient coin. Rarity really does not matter without a closed set or series available for collecting. There are simply too many kinds of each ancient coin variety to aim at collecting a complete set of anything. What matters most to the price of an ancient coin is its condition, especially its grade. Other important factors, of course, will be the issuing ruler or city-state and the denomination, including its metal.

  1. Do not expect too much from uncleaned coins. There is nothing wrong with buying uncleaned coins and cleaning them yourself. But I would not hold out hope of finding any gold or very much silver. Uncleaned coin lots are often advertised as unsearched on eBay, but I doubt that such a thing really exists west of the Atlantic. There are just too many middlemen in the process of importing the coins. And even east of the Atlantic I would guess that genuinely unsearched coins are quite rare. Cleaning coins yourself can be a good experience... if you are fond of bronze.
  2. Be careful about cleaning coins. It is usually best not to clean an ancient coin unless it is caked heavily with grime. Cleaning can remove the patina, the layer of oxidization that accumulates on a coin over the centuries. Many collectors will not buy a coin stripped of its patina. Nota bene: The patina is not dirt.
  3. Never buy a coin without a photo. Grading a coin bears a degree of subjectivity, and you especially cannot expect sellers to grade their own merchandise objectively. Also, do not believe any statement to the effect that the actual coin looks better than the photo or scan.
  4. Look up the value of the coin. Some coin books are only guides to the coins themselves; others are also price guides. Online you can access the actual prices for which certain coins have sold in recent auctions, including eBay, at Wildwinds.

Ancient coin grades.

Coin grades are levels of good or bad coin condition. The clearer and sharper the image and inscription on the coin, the higher the grade. The coin grades are as follows:

mint state (MS)
extremely fine (EF or XF)
very fine (VF)
fine (F)
very good (VG)
good (G)
fair (FA or FR)
poor (P)

I would not recommend buying coins below the fine level, and coins of the mint state level, while pretty common for modern coinage, are almost unheard of for ancient coinage.

Ancient coin denominations and issuing authorities.

Coin denominations and issuing authorities depend, of course, on the type, or culture, of ancient coinage. My own principal interests lie with the following types of ancient coinage, in no particular order: