Coin collecting is a hobby of questions and answers

How much is any given coin worth?  Some coins have their value determined by the spot price of gold or silver. I have seen, in the past year, slabbed MS64 US $20 gold pieces being sold at only 6.5% over their gold bullion value, not counting the slab! A Roman denarius has about $3 worth of silver but is worth a lot more than $3. Why? What motivates a "numismatic" premium?

Is the coin at the upper right worth a little or a lot?  (This particular coin is considered near the end of this page). 

What is the value of a coin?  There are at least two different meanings of "value": 
1) typical commercial value (at auction or at a fixed-price source),
2) personal value to you (because of your personal knowledge about it, your desire to own it in light of your collecting goals, and your finances).

The commercial value, retail and wholesale, is, of course, related to supply and demand. Demand is the result of the personal values assigned to it by many collectors. Dealers must emphasize commercial value in order to make a living. However, you, as a collector, pick and choose what you like enough to actually buy. It is important to realize you choose not to buy almost all coins on offer. Almost all coins have personal value to you which is less than their cost, so you don't buy them. This web page asks you to think about what makes the value of an ancient coin high enough--to you--to make it worth more than its cost. 

Of course, personal value to you and commercial value are in a feedback loop. The commercial value is determined by personal values of many collectors which are influenced by commercial values. For example, if you think a particular coin which is offered at $50 is worth $100 commercially, you might buy it just because it is a "good deal." For another example, a beginner might be willing to pay, say, $300 for a lifetime portrait piece of Julius Caesar. However, as he learns more about its commercial value (which is higher than $300), he might significantly increase his personal value for that type (or he might decide he won't buy one). Your judgement of value is, of course, influenced by the market in which you participate.

So, undoubtably, commercial value is very important. This webpage emphasizes how "personal value" is related to the questions that you can answer about the coin.

Goals.  You can't buy them all, so you will develop criteria for buying. Maybe your first ancient coin was bought merely because "It's so old!"  However, eventually you will develop collecting goals that help you describe to yourself what you seek. I started a CoinTalk thread on value and got numerous interesting responses about collecting goals, some of which I reproduce (with permission) below. The number of potential goals is huge (Some are discussed here).  "Personal value" is a concept that can help you select a goal that makes your coins worth--to you--more than they cost. 

Contributions to personal value. You get a small jolt of pleasure when you know the answer to a question. (That makes it fun to follow Jeopardy.)  There are very many questions that can be asked and answered about ancient coins, and a coin of yours will provide pleasure as you answer the questions that come to mind. Who is the ruler? When was it issued? What is the metal and denomination? What is its commercial value? Is the coin very nice for the type? Is it related to some historical event? 

Each answer you know adds a small positive feeling that increases the personal value of the coin to you, but not to someone who doesn't know the answer, or possibly even the question! Show a Roman denarius to a US-coin collector and he will note it is small and silver and he will inspect it for wear (because that matters a lot for US coins). He might wonder what he is supposed to be looking at and how he is supposed to make sense of it. He will wonder about its commercial value. He might not know the standard questions an experienced ancient-coin collector would ask and answer. It is likely there is so much about ancient coins that he doesn't know that he can't begin to appreciate the coin "for what it is." You need a trained mind to appreciate the numismatic premium of a coin. 

That explains one of the reasons a US-coin collector will probably not buy a $100-dollar ancient coin, even for $50, because he doesn't know enough to appreciate it. He doesn't know the questions and answers that give it personal value.  

There are reasons why a coin type was minted at a particular time with its particular design. If you don't know the reasons, those bits of pleasure are denied to you and the coin is worth less to you.  

It would be nice if we knew "everything" about our coins. Some things we might know are more interesting than others, but every little bit adds up and can be appreciated again and again whenever you look at the coin. As you become more experienced with ancient coins, your list of questions and answers gets longer and your potential for enjoying the coin increases. 

The basic questions:
1)  Who?  (It's a coin of a Roman emperor! It origin. Its issuing authority--Greek city, king, emperor, or provincial city.)
2)  What?  (Denomination--currency unit--and metal.)
3)  When?  (It's old! How old is it? When was it minted? The precise year is sometimes obtainable, but often a date range must suffice.)
4)  Where?  (Where was the mint?  Where did the type circulate?)
5)  Why?  (What is its story? Why was it issued? This question has many levels to be discussed more below.)
6)  How much is it worth? (This webpage discusses how this question has many levels.)

Additional numismatic questions:
What is a reference-work ID number for it?
A key for personal value is:
Does it fit your collecting goals? Does it fit some theme (topic) or mini-theme you would like to collect? (Collecting goals are discussed more below.)  Do you "need" it for your collection?  [US-coin collectors often seek "sets" such as all the types of Indian Head cents. The set is well-defined and finite. Eventually they will "need" the ones they don't have. Ancient coins are different. There are not many well-defined "sets" in ancient coins. "Themes" is a word that better describes how ancient-coin collectors collect.] 
Is it artistically attractive?
What is its "condition"? (Learn not to conflate "grade" and "condition". This is an issue with many considerations. I have a webpage on it.)
What factors influence the condition and how important are they?  (Wear, surfaces, patina, cleaning, corrosion, nicks and dings, test cuts, tooling, etc.)
Is it common or rare?
How does the condition compare to other coins of the type? (Is it good "for type"?)
Is it genuine?  (How can you be sure it is not fake? How can you detect fakes?)
   (The list goes on, but that's enough for now.)

Why?  Why was your coin issued with that design at that time? Maybe there was some event that provoked it. That would be interesting to know. If it is an imperial Roman coin it names the emperor (which is interesting in itself. There is a lot to know about each emperor). You can get pleasure from answering the question "What does the type refer to?" Maybe you don't know, but often a short search will find the answer. Maybe you can find out if you read more widely. (Some of my collecting friends began knowing nothing about ancient coins and have advanced to the published-research stage of answering such questions.) If you do find out an answer, every time you think about owning the coin you get a bit more pleasure than without that knowledge. The coin's value is greater to you.

Your ancient-coin would not exist without a reason. That reason may be related to something in the historical record. If so, the coin is "better" (can provide more enjoyment) than types which cannot be related to history. You can read about Trajan's wars in Dacia (modern Romania and Moldova, with bits of other countries) which motivated this bragging type: 

Roman  emperor Trajan who reigned 98-117 AD.
A silver denarius celebrating his victory over Dacia.

What is on the coin? (You will appreciate it far more if you can answer this question.)
What is the obverse legend and what does it mean?  (It has his name "TRAIANO"  at 7:00 and includes "DAC" at 1:00 abbreviating his new title "Dacicus" = Victor over Dacia.) But it includes more. Can you answer what is there and why it is there?
The reverse has a mourning Dacia (personified) seated on a pile of arms from the war. 
DAC CAP abbreviates Dacia Capta (captured).
I have a webpage on Trajan's historical types

You can be proud if you can understand the legends and type. You get a positive feeling from answering the questions. If you don't know the history and how to read the legends, your pleasure will be less and the value of the coin to you will be less. It requires some study, but studying will be fun and will certainly pay off in enjoyment. 

Themes. There are many potential themes (and mini-themes--collections are not restricted to just one theme). (Some are on my page "What should I collect?") The above coin of Trajan would fit a number of "themes" you could emphasize:
The portrait series of Roman emperors
The "five good emperors" (of the second century)
Types of Trajan, portrait styles of Trajan, one coin of each denomination issued by Trajan
Historical types
Types related to particular wars
Trajan's Dacian war types
Arms and armor 
References to geographical regions.
    You will value it more highly if it helps fulfill your own particular collecting goal(s). You might value it more highly because you realize that its commercial value is higher because it fits interesting collecting goals that other collectors have.

Collecting goals. Goals create personal value and demand. Here is some descriptions of goals as described by members of the CoinTalk forum in this thread:
Some extracts are reproduced here:

AncientJoe wrote:  "Another factor for me as a minimalist collector is: how much does a coin contribute to the narrative I'm trying to tell with my collection? If I already have a coin representing a region, ruler, or artistic style, another example of a related type might be "worth less" to me as it provides less net-new content."  ...  "I'm constantly assessing what types would broaden the story I'm trying to convey which, with millions of possible types from which to choose, represents a non-trivial effort."

Roman Collector wrote: "I have several factors when determining personal value. A big one is whether the item fits into one of my many subcollections, such as my Antonine women collection, my CONSTANTINOPOLIS/VRBS ROMA collection, my Trebonianus/Volusian collection, my Gallienus zoo collection, my Severan women collection, and so on. I have a good idea how often certain sought-after items for these collection appear and I put a lot of value on coins that I don't already have and which appear only infrequently on the market."  ... "For more general coins -- and I have never quite dropped the "magpie collector" attitude -- I may be attracted to a certain type because its reverse depicts something interesting from mythology or history. I like mythology on coins and will pay a premium for a coin depicting a scene from a known myth."  ... "I NEVER am attracted to a coin simply because of grade/condition."

Terence Cheesman wrote: "What would make a coin valuable to me? The simple answer would be how well does it fit in my immediate or long term collecting goals."  ... "One of my aims is to create a collection that can be used to explain Greek and Roman coinages to students who are not collectors. So I tend to look for coins that are important either politically, economically or as a milestone in the history of numismatic art." 

Tejas (an economist) wrote, "... The valuation of coins is subjective; an objective valuation is impossible. Subjective valuation depends on the preferences of the buyers. Value is not the same as monetary price. A collector buys a coin if his subjective valuation (in terms of utility that he expects to derive from the coin) exceeds his valuation of the monetary price. This is a big difference between collectors and investors. The former derive value from a coin while they have it in possession. The latter derive value only after they have sold it again."  


Conclusion.  Every question with an answer adds to your enjoyment of a coin. Questions without answers can be frustrating and that can discourage beginners. Nevertheless, most questions you can think of are answerable and you will enjoy the process of finding the answers. In some collecting areas (say, Roman imperial coins) it is easier to get answers and that makes the area more popular.

The pleasure of knowing things encourages you to study your coins and the types you might acquire. The more you know, the more questions you can ask and the more you can answer, increasing your pleasure with what you already have as well as with what you will acquire. Keep learning and the value of your collection will increase to you, even if you don't buy more coins! You can see from my webpages that I study ancient coins! I've been collecting for 50 years and love it more and more.


*  The coin at the top right of this page is a pleasing example of a very common type that celebrates the city of Rome at the time of the founding of "New Rome"--the city of Constantinople. The type is the second type on this page:  
Key factors in its price are (1)  It refers to the city of Rome and has the famous wolf-and-twins symbol of the city, (2) It was issued under the important emperor Constantine c. 330 AD upon the occasion of the founding of Constantinople, so it is historically connected, (3) It is in pleasing condition and very easy to see, [So far, it has characteristics of a valuable coin] (4) It is copper and small at only 17 mm, and, (5) It is extremely common so everyone who wants one can have as many as they want for not much money.  As I write there are about 250 examples offered for sale on and 75 examples on eBay. At a coin show nice examples might be, say, $20, or $10 each in large lots. That particular one might be $50 on a retail site. The coin type has a great story, but it is too common to be worth a lot. If you know a lot about the type (and there is a lot to know), its personal value might be higher than its commercial value, so you might find one to buy at a price you are happy with. 


Go to a similar article comparing collecting ancient coins to collecting US coins

Some random thoughts on collecting

Go to the page about "learning more" for begining ancient-coin collectors

Go to the main Table of Contents page of this entire site. 

                                                                 Page created March 22, 2022. Revised March 28, 2022. Revised April 1, 2022.