The Other Coin: My Favorite Coin(s)

June has been "My Favorite Coin and Pizza Night" for many years. We finally
figured out it was easier to have the pizza (and soda delivered), but will argue from
where at the meeting tonight as we discuss moving back to the Episcopal Church
on 7th St. I usually bring my Alexander the Great tetradrachm, minted in Babylon
during his lifetime, with a portrait that has his broken nose (he was a boxer). A
coin I got from a bullion dealer, who sold it for about 20% of its value because it
has a dent in it. (One nice things about ancients is that they supposed to be banged
up, cleaned, and worn--no MS). This time I'm bringing a wooden case I got from
Larry filled with about 20 of my favorite ancient coins along with a guide that
identifies them.
So, how did I get started collecting ancient coins? In the early 1960's my
grandmother had all her grandchildren scouring change for silver coins as the
sandwich coins took their place. We were near enough to San Francisco that she
took her silver certificates and coins to exchange for small bars of silver. Looking
for silver coins I began collecting US coins in the blue folders, occasionally buying
coins in neighborhood coin stores.
In the late 1960's or early 1970s I saw an advertisement in Biblical Archaeological
Review for a coin of Constantine the Great for "only" $35 plus shipping. I still
wear the coin around by neck. That purchase put me on a few mailing lists and
searching coin shows in California and New York I began slowly accumulating
coins of ancient Rome, Greece, and Byzantium trying to get a coin of each ruler
and region. I would pick one ruler to try and get all the denom- inations and mints
(Constantine, Justinian the Great, Alexander the Great). I concentrated on bronzes
and inexpensive silver, so most coins cost about $20 and rarities in lower grade
went for $100 or a little more. I found mentors in Marx, Katich, Lindgren and
other, put together a library to identify unidentified or cleaned coins.
With the internet websites developed like Wildwinds ( and
Coin Archives ( to identify coins; and, in my case, copy
images of beautiful specimens to show what my lower grade coin was supposed
to look like. This was also true for the tiny denomination bronze and silver coins I
bought, especially when the larger denominations were much more expensive.
Thus my 1/48 stater of Croesus (the first coin ever minted is accompanied by a
picture of a perfect stater). I joined chat rooms of Ancient Coin Market, Ancient
Peddler, and Moneta as well as Ancient Forum (
where I put up my fairly complete collection of Byzantine bronze coins along with
Golden Horde and medieval Russian coins
( . I translated
several numismatics texts from Russian and French to aid others in identifying
coins. The ANA Library will loan you any book on coins, and you can scan and
copy them if they are too expensive to buy. More and more books are available on
line now as well. Various people put up coins to be identified as a sort of game or
challenge. I joined the Sacramento Ancient Coin Society and the San Francisco
Ancient Coin Society, attending the twice yearly ancient coin show in San
Francisco. Now, of course, ancients are readily available on ebay and
Ancient coins come with their history. One of the early series I completed was the
generals of Alexander the Great, his descendants, then the descendants of the
generals who set up kingdoms. A coin from every city Paul visited, a coin of every
ancient Jewish and Roman ruler in the Holy Land, etc. I am also fond of griffins
and Pegasi as well as coins from famous battles and figures of the ancient world. I
got a collection of all the Olympian deities.
The Golden Age of Ancient coin collecting may be coming to a close. For almost
20 years coins from the Balkans and Middle East have flooded the market as well
as France and Britain metal detectorist adding to mountains of coins. Now Italy,
China, Cyprus, Turkey have put export restrictions on ancient coins. Collectors
have increased from about 100,000 to a million and prices are slowly rising after
being at rock bottom--bags of ancient coins for 30 cents a piece in lots of a
thousand. I have begun to collect ancient Arabic, Chinese, and Indian coins after I
finally got the basic texts from ANA. They still sell for a few dollars and I am
learning a whole new ancient history. Ancient coins are still much cheaper (and
more fun I think) to collect ancient that US coins, however.

Numismatically Yours, David Elliott