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Grading and Quality Of Ancient Coins

Robert Kokotailo

tiberius denarius in very fine

Ancient coin price guides appear straight forward, providing prices in two or more grades. When you see several examples of a type all the same grade but at various prices, things can be a little confusing. David Sear's Volume 1 of Roman Coins and Their values (Spink, AD 2000) lists number 1763 as a Tiberius denarius of the tribute penny type at $440.00 in a grade of VF. In the market as it existed in 2000, one could find VF examples from $200 to $800, all priced correctly for their quality.

What follows is a discussion of what determines the quality of an ancient coin and how quality determines price. Grade is just one aspect of quality so grade alone is not the determining factor. What I discuss here applies to all coins, but the handmade nature of ancient coins complicates things compared to modern machine made coins.

Topics to be discussed are:

  1. Style - artistic skill of the celator (die engraver) who cut the dies.

  2. Centering - how much of the designs are off the edge.

  3. Strike - how strongly the designs were impressed.

  4. Flan - how carefully the blank flan was made, and how it deformed during striking.

  5. Patina - changes to a coin's surface metal over time, including surface deposits.

  6. Damage - things that happen to coins, other than wear and patina.

  7. Grade - physical wear.

If this is your first visit to this site, I recommend reading these topics in the order I intended using the next page links at the bottom of each page. At any time you can go to any specific page using the menu in the upper left.

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