Coin collecting – a historical perspective (part 1)

Ken Marich

Coin collecting is a hobby that is fun, educational and rewarding. It can be enjoyed by both young and old and can be started with as little as pocket change. You can collect modern and/or ancient coins, civil war tokens, hard times tokens, commemorative coins, U.S. coins or foreign coins or all of the above. As a numismatist (coin collector) you will join millions of other collectors in a fascinating hunt for special and valuable coins for your collection.

Let’s take a look at where coinage began. It is documented that the earliest coins came from Lydia in Asia Minor about 640 B.C. These ancient coins are called Staters and were minted by King Alyattes in Sardis, Lydia (present day Turkey) and made of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver. The lion is a symbol of kingly authority. These coins are pricey ($1K-$2K range) due to their historical value.

The Greeks learned about coinage from the Lydians and began producing their own coins. Ancient Greece was not a unified country and it was divided into more than 100 self-governing city-states each with different laws, standards and customs. More than half of the city-states issued their own coins. While all round in appearance and silver composition, all featured different pictures and symbols that would have been relevant to each city-state. The first Greek coinage was minted on the island of Aegina around 600 B.C. The first coins featured a turtle on each coin. This monetary standard was the prevailing influence for the rest of the Aegean, prompting the mintage of coins throughout Greece. Around 510 B.C. Athens began minting silver coins, the tetradrachm, featuring an owl, the symbol of Athena. Later Greek coins depicted Greek gods and goddesses, animals and other objects relevant to their society. As the Greek civilization declined, so did its coinage.

This era was followed by the emergence of Roman coins. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans loved to place images of their rulers on their coins. The Romans also used their coins as propaganda pieces to tout their military victories and record important events. One of the most famous Roman coins is the denarius. Made of silver and about the size of a dime, it became the backbone of Roman economics. The Roman Empire eventually fell to be replaced in the West by the Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople. More on the history of Byzantine coins will follow in Part Two of this series. The SaddleBrooke Coin Club meets the second Thursday of each month in the Sonoran Room in the MountainView Clubhouse from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. For more information contact Ken at [email protected].