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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
very good (VG)
fair (FA or FR)
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
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: