A common question I get is whether my ancient Roman and Greek coins are genuine and, if so, how I can possibly sell them at the prices I do. The disconnect comes from the assumption that very old things must be expensive. In fact, rarity is what controls price, and very old coins are still not necessarily rare.
Rome Was Big
It comes down to a question of numbers. At its height, the Roman Empire covered the entire Mediterranean, including Greece, Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East. It also included all of Western Europe. In total, it was populated by 50 million people. The Empire existed in the West for 500 years: it begins in 27 BCE and ends in roughly 476 CE. (In the East, it lasts another 1000 years and is commonly referred to as the Byzantine Empire.) Mints were churning out thousands of coins every day. At any one time, billions of coins were in circulation.
Less than 1% of these coins have survived. However, that still amounts to millions upon millions of them, and that can make them affordable.
(My Greek coins are older than the Roman ones, dating between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE. This is the time after Alexander the Great has spread Greek culture across a large amount of area, including the Balkans, Egypt and the Middle East. They are a little more rare and cost a bit more.)
Where Do They Come From?
Wealthy Romans sometimes buried their money, and they didn’t always come back for it. This is particularly the case in the later part of the Empire when there was a lot of disruption. When we find Roman coins, we find them in hoards, sitting underground for 1600+ years waiting to be discovered.
They come out of the ground in a variety of states. Most wore down through use, but many bronze coins have also corroded. I’ve had a couple coins with beautiful patinas which have shattered during cleaning because the metal underneath had broken down. I buy many of my coins uncleaned, and what I find varies from awesomely detailed to featureless slug.
If you hover your cursor over a product image, it will zoom in. If you’re wanting to know the exact quality of detail in a particular piece, that’s the best way of finding out.
Reign of Emperors
Another factor is how long an emperor reigned. I’ve had reasonable luck finding coins of Emperor Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire. No imperial Roman coin is older than his, yet I find them with relative ease, because he ruled for 41 years and, thus, minted a damn lot of coins. Caligula, known mostly for being bat-shit crazy, only lasted four years before his own guards murdered him. I’ve yet to find an affordable coin of his. Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, ruled for 24 years, and I have more of his than I know what to do with. Probably 25% of my 4th century coins are his.
By the way, if you’re looking for someone specific, contact me and I’ll see what I can do. I’ve had several people specifically ask for Constantine. I can accommodate many such requests. Having a budget in mind is helpful. Constantine I can get pretty easily; Nero gets pricier.
I also carry silver coins. If nothing else, fans of the Dresden Files series of books like silver denarii as they are referenced in association with a group of really nasty beings. I’ve sold several pieces due to that geeky reference.
They’re more expensive than bronze, but still within the budget of most. A simple bronze coin on a chain starts at $29. A denarius on a chain is $59.
So, that’s some of the reasons my coins are reasonably priced. I started this project in the hope I could get these pieces of history into more people’s hands, and that means affordable prices.