I want to start an ancient coin collection. How do I begin?

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Discovery of these historical time capsules is an exciting experience for the uninitiated. A new and fascinating world is opened to them - but it is also a bewilering world filled with strange names and places. New collectors can suffer from "Robinson Crusoe syndrome". That is, they often feel alone on a vast uncharted island.

Ancient Coin Collecting, Wayne G. Sayles, 1996

The old collecting adage “buy the book before the coin” is especially true when it comes to the complex world of ancients, expressing the general truth that it is always best to read and study any field as much as possible before rushing into buying. Enthusiastic beginners, myself included, are often tempted to quickly spend their hard-earned money on the first Roman coin they see on an auction website; as a result, they tend to make poor choices, pay overinflated prices or worse still fall victim to fakery. 

 

Those looking to collect ancient coins should first take the time to read widely around the history of the ancient world; not only will this add to the enjoyment and appreciation of your first coins but it will help to define your key areas of interest. Ancient coinage was struck by numerous empires over a span of more than a thousand years and no collector can collect it all, therefore it is helpful to identify what eras, dynasties and rulers most capture your imagination. Ancient coins have the wonderful ability to cross over into other intellectual fields of interest which may provide you with an imaginative theme for your collecting; for example, you could build a fascinating collection of coins with astronomical imagery, musical instruments, equally coins that depict monuments, deities or animals.

Every beginner should try and handle as many genuine ancient coins as possible. Coin shows are the perfect place for this and dealers are usually very happy to answer questions and let you inspect coins by hand. Ancient coins were made to be held and unless they are the world's finest specimens, should still be enjoyed in hand. Over time you will build your awareness and intuition of an ancient coin’s weight, wear, style, toning, metal quality, and all the elements you would expect in the fabric of a genuine coin struck by hand millennia ago. 

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Soon you will be ready to buy your first coin. Avoid online auction websites like eBay or local online marketplaces. These may have a few real experts offering genuine coins but it is a minefield for a beginner and any potential positives are outweighed by the fakers, scammers, ignorant and unethical. The ideal purchase would be in person at a recognised coin fair, from a reputable dealer with whom you have built a personal relationship. In Britain, the British Numismatic Trade Association (BTNA) oversees the long-running London Coin Fair and annual Coinex event which brings together expert dealers from around the globe. All good dealers will offer a lifetime guarantee of authenticity on any coin purchased. If you can’t make it to a coin show, there are safer internet marketplaces that a beginner might consider. VCoins offers an “online coin show” that brings together the stock of reputable international dealers under a Code of Ethics and with every purchase guaranteed for life. Here you can browse and compare a vast number of ancient coins at your own leisure, ensuring your first purchases are carefully considered. 

 

Returning to the “buy the book” maxim, as part of your wider reading in ancient coins it will also be beneficial to build your own small personal library of the most relevant ancient numismatics texts. While you will undoubtedly consult the internet often in your collecting, it is fair to conclude that “the internet has become a place of big data and big info, but not a place of knowledge and wisdom.” Books will often provide a quicker and more easily-navigable reference, while at the same time providing a much deeper dive into even the most niche collecting categories. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”; building a personal library of any size empowers the collector, providing them with the on-hand information with which they can make new discoveries, make better deals and ultimately make collecting all the more enjoyable.