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How I Became Interested in Ancient Coins


In late 2012 I became seriously interested in coins--- mostly US classics.  I grew up around piles and piles of those coins.   My grandparents collected old coins from their drugstore cash register in the 1930s-1970 plus my grandfather was an avid trader and hoarder.  As a child, visiting my grandparent's house meant playing with endless cigar boxes piled full of strange old coins.  Some looked the same as modern coins, others were already obsolete.


Growing up, I knew a few things basic things about coins but a serious numismatic interest didn't take hold.  That's a shame; it would have pleased my grandfather greatly.  When he died, most of the valuable coins were sold for a song.  Tens of thousands of mostly well-circulated coins remained though, divided between my mom and uncle who weren't terribly interested in them.  The boxes remained under beds for a few more decades.


In late 2012 my mom decided to sell her half.  I went home to help.  There was only one coin store in the area and I didn't feel very comfortable or confident in them. Still not knowing much about numismatics, when the dealer kept talking about "melt value", I took that literally.  I came close to bypassing the middleman and sending them directly to the refiner myself!


Fortunately, within days I came to my senses.  Then full-blown coin fever set in. I found PCGS's site, bought books, joined forums, and spent every spare moment sorting and cataloguing coins.  Date and mintmark?  Not deep enough.  Microscopic exam!  Doubled dies!  RPMs!  Rick Snow's books!  VAMming!  Spreadsheets!  I couldn't get enough. 


I became active on a coin forum.  Then another.   And another.  Once or twice I looked at the Ancients sections but it was so vast and confusing.  Those people must study ancient coins for decades to be able to have such discussions, I thought. 


One day I read a CoinCommunity ancients thread in which people posted cropped pictures of emperors and the game was to be the first with a correct ID.  It seemed impossible.  Loving a challenge, I tried to play.  In doing so I must've looked at thousands of coin pictures every day for a month or two, trying very hard to be the first to identify an emperor correctly.  It was an unusual way to begin learning about ancient coins-- not very systematic-- but it really did jumpstart my ancient education.  Within a week of playing that dangerous game, the sorting and cataloguing of my grandfather's coins ground to a halt as my attention became riveted to ancients.


Still though, buying a coin?  Please.  Coins are something you get in change.   If it happens to be worth more than face value someday... lucky you.


Snort. I'm not going to buy a coin.  Who does that??  On the other hand, I'm not going to find an ancient coin in change...


Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to buy some gnarly uncleaned coins.  That might be fun.  Clean them up, study them, identify them.  Maybe I'll find something super duper rare! Plus, it will educational.  How can it be wrong if it is educational? 


I bought several batches.  They didn't clean up very well at all.  It was unsatisfying.


Maybe I could buy just one already-cleaned ancient coin.  Nothing wrong with that.  It's not excessive, not too indulgent.  Pontius Pilate issued coins?  Hmm.  I'll buy one for a dear friend.  He's very religious; it would mean a lot to him.  Hmm, Heritage has one but it is part of a lot of 9.  That's okay, it's for my dear friend.  Of course he deserves the gift, who cares if I have to buy a few more coins than I need...


...I guess I could keep one for myself... 


...Maybe I'll just keep all but one Pontius Pilate.


A year later I still haven't given him the coin.


Look, a flying horse!  Well, every girl should have a Pegasus, right?  I've seen those around.  There are many jewelry stores around here with those coins set in gold.  If I were going to buy just one nice ancient coin, that's what I'd choose.  I should buy one very nice ancient coin.  Everybody should have one nice ancient coin, right?

Ooooh, Heritage has a gorgeous Corinth stater-- some disheveled bearded guy doing an ancient photobomb behind Athena's head.  Must have.  Mine mine mine!

The auction was very exciting.  My heart was about to break out of my chest when I won.  I was embarrassed to have spent that much money on a coin.  I bid on and won another in that same auction (shh, don't tell!).  I was just being practical.  I saved on shipping, right? 

Crack?  Heroin?  Gambling?  Hah. They've got nothing on ancient coin collecting.  Individual coins weren't enough.  I bought many large mixed lots.  It was more exciting if they were unphotographed and minimally described.  Since there are no ancient coins lurking in the ground where I live, it's the closest I can come to the thrill of discovery.  Searching out the attribution and historical information is loads of fun.


Never in my life have I had I been interested in history… now I love reading about the ancient world as it relates to each coin.  If only my grade school teachers had shown actual artifacts to match the topics…


I still enjoy the thrill of large lots but lately have been trying to not to buy every coin that catches my eye, instead focusing on fewer coins of higher quality.  It's hard.


The fever has settled into a slow and delicious burn.  I'm having so much fun not only learning about the coins and their history but in meeting other collectors.  The interesting people, the friendships made... this may be the real treasure the hobby has unearthed. 


So, that's the gist of my ancient coin collecting history.   Life is good.

I didn't tell my family what I'd done.  Coins are something you get in change. 

I wanted to buy more.

Another rationalization was in order. 

A themed collection. Yeah!  I'll only buy coins for a certain theme-- a collection which hasn't been done before.  If it hasn't been done before, someone should do it.  I'll have to step up.  It's my duty.

Several months later, I accumulated enough coins to fully represent the theme although I will undoubtedly add more and upgrade some over time.   (Click the turntable picture for a fancy presentation.)

CORINTHIA, Corinth.  345-307 BC.  AR stater, 8.65 gm.  Obv: Pegasus flying left, qoppa below.  Rev: helmeted head of Athena left wearing necklace; head of Silenus behind.  Ref: Ravel 1046. Calciati 408. Scarce variety.  From Heritage Auctions, June 2013.  This scarce variety was chosen to represent Corinth staters, #23 in Harlan J. Berk's book, "100 Greatest Ancient Coins". 

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