03 September 2018
Collector and Coin Collector magazine contributor Ed Archer provides a first-hand account of his explorations of Greek coins and explains how you can form a collection without spending thousands
Collecting Greek coins has been an interest of mine for many years spurred on by visiting Greece as a teenager and then working as an assistant courier for two summers first on the island of Mykonos and then taking tourists around Greece and Western Turkey the following year.
It was, however, while I was studying Ancient and Medieval History and Archaeology at University that I began to take an interest in collecting Greek coins. Being a student my budget was rather limited so I concentrated on Greek bronzes as they were in my budget range and I would encourage anybody starting out collecting Greek coins to do the same.
Prior to selecting any coins, I would suggest reading Collecting Greek Coins by John Antony. Copies of the paperback, published in 1983 by Longmans, can be found on the internet. Another useful source of information is the two-volume set Greek Coins and Their Values.
Greek bronzes are relatively cheap even now since they are often in a fairly worn condition and the writing is often a challenge to collectors, who instead choose another country’s coinage. However, it is best to save up to get one relatively good coin rather than buy half a dozen very worn specimens.
Where to start?
Hellenistic Greek coins are a great place to start for the collector on a tight budget. Of these, the most commonly available are those from the Seleucid section of the Empire. The Seleucid family ruled over modern-day Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, one of the richest regions in the Hellenistic world.
A collector with a small budget should also be able to afford some of the Macedonian bronzes even those of Philip of Macedon who was the Father of Alexander the Great. Ptolemaic Egypt also is an area worth looking at, however do not expect to acquire a cheap example of a bronze of Cleopatra VII, Anthony’s mistress, as these command much higher prices.
Other areas for collecting Greek bronzes on a shoestring include Bactria – modern Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. This Hellenistic province became separated from the rest of the Hellenistic Empire by the resurgence of an Iranian empire led by the Parthians. Bactria issued Greek style coins into the first century BC.
Many of the Roman provinces in the East issued coins with Greek inscriptions on them and many of these can be acquired at reasonable prices, especially the billon tetradrachms of Alexandria.
Collecting Greek coins in silver is a more of a challenge but nevertheless an interesting collection can be built up for a reasonably modest price, with most coins priced at between £30 and £40. Occasionally, very tiny Greek coins can be acquired for less, some of these are of particular interest and would make an intriguing addition to a collection, as they are only the size of a pinhead.
Classical silver is out of the question, but coins from some of the colonies of the Greek city states are reasonable. For example, a drachm of Naples can cost around £40, a very reasonable price for a coin of the Classical period. Silver drachms of the Hellenistic period are not expensive, especially those of Alexander the Great, as these were struck in large numbers.
Coin hoards have helped collectors to secure examples of Greek silver coins both from Asia Minor and the Black Sea area. I have seen one from Pontos, modern-day Crimea, going for about £35. Similar prices can be paid for those from Cappadocia. If a collector wants to spend about £200 then some very nice silver tetradracms of the Seleucid Kingdom can be purchased. They are certainly worth saving up for but are more suited to an established collection, rather than being something for beginners.
Where should one go to purchase coins?
Coin fairs are an excellent place for a beginner to get some idea of what is available and the event can be treated as a fact-finding trip with no pressure to buy a coin right away. Looking around is vital, and there is also the opportunity to ask dealers questions. Antique and collectors fairs are similarly useful as coin dealers also attend some of these events.
Finally there is the internet. Auction sites such as ebay and delcampe have a wealth of material on offer, but the beginner should proceed with caution, as forgeries do appear on many auciton sites. Don’t rush in, and if a deal seems too good to be true, then perhaps it is. Instead, attend coin fairs, read up on teh subject, speak to knowledgeable dealers and get your Greek coin collection started with a few of the cheaper pieces.
A didrachm – two drachma piece from Neapolis – modern day Naples.
Naples was a colony founded by the city state of Rhodes. This coin was struck about 430 B.C – the Classical period of Greek history. The reverse shows a bull with a human face with a nymph flying overhead. Part of the inscription of the name Neapolis is between the bull’s legs. The obverse shows the head of a nymph. Note that the quality of the silver has been tested at some time as there is a cut underneath the nymph’s head.
COST c. £40
A silver drachm of Alexander the Great. The reverse shows Zeus enthroned with hand outstretched holding an eagle while holding a sceptre in the other hand. The inscription behind the throne is ‘Alexandros’, the Greek for Alexander. On the obverse is the deified head of Alexander as the god Zeus Ammon, connecting Alexander with the Egyptian god Ammon, better known as Amun Ra.
COST: c. £35