Friday, March 03, 2006

Life as an Ancient Coin Dealer

The profession of ancient coin dealer is among the more unusual and interesting ways to earn a living. Offering ancient coins for sale is certainly one of the most exclusive professions. In all the world there may not be as many as two hundred ancient coin dealers, and they are a rather interesting group.

The greatest benefit of dealing in ancient coins is that this is such a fascinating field. Unlike modern coins, all struck alike on high speed machinery, ancient coins were struck with hammers impacting hand held dies at the rate of one every second or two. This created innumerable variations between individual coins struck from the same dies, and since dies were all engraved by hand, no two ancient coin dies are exactly alike. Every ancient coin is to some extent unique and different.

Offering Greek and Roman coins for sale to collectors is a challenge when approached as a business, not a hobby. A large and costly numismatic library is essential to an ancient coin dealer. That of Classical Coins ( took ten years to acquire, and hasn't yet been fully inventoried, but 1000 titles and $50,000 invested are milestones passed long ago. Another capital intensive aspect of providing ancient coins for sale to collectors is coin inventory. Collectors demand a large selection of attractive ancient coins to choose from. Being extremely value conscious, they then expect bargain prices. There is a constant struggle to maintain an attractive, balanced inventory of nice ancient Greek coins for sale, for example, since many issues sell rapidly while others may take more than a year to find the right collector.

Dealers are essential to the economic cycle of coin collecting. Few collectors give this aspect of their avocation much thought, but dealers are the key to providing attractive coins for acquisition and a market for collections when the time has come to sell. Dealers make the market. They even things out, providing pricing continuity at auction sales in much the same way as stock specialists do on the New York Stock Exchange.

The life of a coin dealer is hard for collectors to visualize. Much painstaking research must be done, in authenticating, attributing and cataloguing coins offered for sale. Homework for acquisitions is equally important, and a dealer who does not pay attention to this will not be in business long. When Classical Coins bids on a coin at an auction, or makes an offer for a collection, the selling price has already been accurately established and as many as a dozen price comparisons per coin may have been involved.

Processing orders is time consuming, painstaking detail work in which absolute accuracy is essential. When an order is received, the coin(s) are first retrieved from the vault. Each order is entered into the accounting system, an invoice is prepared, funds are captured by depositing a check or money order, or billing a credit card, and then the order is packaged and shipped. More than a dozen individual steps occur before the package is taken to the post office. An accountant is a heavy financial burden for a small business, so David fills that role at Classical Coins as well as that of webmaster. The task of developing a major website such as Classical Coins has to be experienced to be believed.


Blogger maja100 said...

Hi David,

I've been hanging out in RCC for several years. The recent barrage of filth and vulgarity at the beginning of this year almost drove me away for good. However, I have since returned to the group, albeit with a different screen name.

I appreciate you sharing about yourself, your education, and your coin business in this manner. I've really enjoyed reading about all that you do as a dealer, and I send you best wishes for much prosperity and personal satisfaction in your work.


4:34 AM  
Blogger Wayne G. Sayles said...


As I enter my 40th year as a professional numismatist (which merely means that I sell coins for profit - hopefully), I find that my ability to see things in retrospect is getting much sharper than my ability to see what lies before me. There have been substantial changes in the hobby and in the nature of the business. In some ways, it seems that we face extraordinary challenges today, but thinking back on it, there have always been challenges of one kind or another. On the whole (even though I admit to a personal tendency toward cynicism), I believe that the hobby is very healthy today. With all of the modern tools of analysis at our disposal, amateur numismatists are more productive and contribute more to society than at any time in history. I look forward to reading your insights and will check in from time to time.

With best regards,

Wayne G. Sayles

6:51 AM  
Blogger ancientcointraders said...

Dear David,

As a relative newcomer to ancient numismatics, it is extremely interesting and thought-provoking to read your thoughts on the hobby from a dealer's perspective.

I believe that there is no field in numismatics more fascinating than ancient coins. From a young age, my greek values were forged, and among those values, was a revered respect for greek historical figures of ancient greece such as the and only Alexander III "The Great" and of course (being Spartan myself) the great Leonides, the King of Sparta.

As I began my studies in Latin in high-school, I began to develop a fascination for Roman History. Though prejudicially focused on the works of Caesar, I began to understand what a powerful and important influence the Roman empire has had on the world.

Today, I gaze upon my ancient coin collection with constant disbelief, viewing images of the figures and scenes I learned about growing up. To think that these coins are readily available, and in many cases cheaper than modern coins (you can buy 50 post-constaninian Ae3 bronzes for the price of one Australian Yearly proof set) is unfathomable. No wonder one usually states in disbelief "aren't they all in museums" when they hear that ancient coins are available for sale.

In this internet era, the barriers of communication are no longer limited by geography. That is true for the supply of ancient coins. 20 years ago, I don't think purchasing an ancient coin in Australia would have been an easy affair.

Anyway, I wish you all the best in your business. I have visited your site on many occasions.

Kind Regards,


My Ancient Greek Coins Website

1:24 AM  

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