Some Thoughts on Coin Collecting

Roy Ladell

I have frequently got the impression, by talking to various club members, that most people collect modern English coins because they feel that they are on safe ground as regards reference books and availability of coins. Also, perhaps, they feel comfortable in that they follow the general trend. I do not for one moment say not to collect English coins, but a large part of the enjoyment of collecting comes from investigating new fields. If we do decide to collect English then let us be wholehearted about it and start from 1066 or earlier. One coin for each monarch since then is just as great a challenge, and I would say far more rewarding, than collecting a date set of a modern coin. Then if we fill in some of the reigns by getting a type set of all coins issued, we are on our way to getting a very comprehensive collection of English coins. In this fashion I believe one learns more about the coinage and history of our own country than by the current fashion of modern date sets.

Despite price increases in the 1960s and 1970s and recent changes in demand, it is still possible to build up a reasonable collection of ancient coins if one concentrates on the more affordable series. A common Roman denarius can be purchased for £20-30, a Byzantine follis for £25, and a Greek bronze for as little as £10-20 (all in Good Fine condition). Obviously, the scarcer or higher grade examples may be beyond many collectors, and this should be borne in mind when deciding on which series to specialise in.

One possibility is to collect one coin from the reign of each Roman emperor, concentrating on getting a good portrait. This would cover the period of 20 BC to circa 400 AD. If one concentrates on the 3rd and 4th century coins and focusses on the many reverse designs of that period, coins in VF or even EF can be obtained for under £10. Roman history is well documented and such a series would add a lot of interest to any coin collection.

Byzantine coins are available at very reasonable prices, not least because the series - starting from the reign of Anastasius I in AD 490 and lasting until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks - is under collected in this country. A gold hyperpyron from the late empire can be found for well under £100, a silver hexagram for £50, and the average price for a bronze follis is £20 (all prices VF). Obviously, rarer and higher grade examples can cost substantially more.

Greek coins offer no similar pattern, but a small collection from one selected area or era would be a good place to start. I collected coins of the Macedonian kings, a very interesting series of coins of Athens or other Greek states. Silver drachms of Alexander the Great 336-323 BC are widely available at £60 in VF, but small bronze coins can be found for about £20 in the same condition.

If foreign coins are of interest, most people would settle for coins of the old Commonwealth, which covers a very large area of the world and is a very interesting series. One way to collect foreign coins is to collect those from certain countries. It is certainly interesting to find just how many countries have existed, especially with all the small European principalities etc. This gives quite an interesting look a world geography and history, and it is amazing to find out who occupied who, or who owned certain countries during their history. Both world wars caused several countries to vanish and give birth to new nations. I would add a note of caution to the new collector, however. Collecting medieval coins from anything other than the English or Scottish series does present a problem in that books and other information may be either hard to come by, prohibitively expensive, or in a foreign language. As the series is very complex in the multiplicity of small principalities and kingdoms issuing coins, I feel that this series is best left to the serious student or the more experienced numismatist.

As someone who has attempted to collect most of the above at some time - indeed it is the broad outline on which I have collected coins for many years - I now find that I have a very comprehensive and many-faceted collection that gives me great pleasure and enjoyment, and which is a stimulus to further study.