How do I buy ancient (<1000 AD) gold coins (in Los Angeles)?
June 23, 2015 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to buy an ancient, byzantine or early middle ages gold coin as a gift for someone who likes ancient civilization and the idea of having a gold coin. Neither of us know anything about buying gold or coins or ancient things. I'd like advice on how to make this purchase without being taken for a ride.

I've looked around online but most of the information seems to be tied to coin dealers' websites, and I'm hesitant about taking that advice at (lol, sorry) face value. There's also this AskMe from 2004 but my question is a little different and I imagine things have changed since then.

I'd like to get a genuine solid gold coin from an ancient civilization or empire (Greek, Persian, Tang Dynasty, etc) for around $1000. My questions, specifically, are: is this possible? If not, what parts aren't possible? (My budget could go up if that's necessary. I have no idea what this should cost.) What do I look for to determine the authenticity of the coin? How do I know whether I can trust the dealer? Is there a particular type of coin I should aim to get in particular for a gift for a non-coin collector? And finally, are there any dealers online or in Los Angeles that you'd recommend?
posted by tyrantkitty to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could contact the Ancient Coin Club of Los Angeles.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:53 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I once bought a Marcus Aurelius actual Roman coin for a historian boyfriend at VC Coins. I keep being tempted to go back for some Roman jewelry for myself!
posted by chatongriffes at 1:55 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd avoid buying genuine ancient coins unless you're really confident in their provenance. They're heavily trafficked and looted from archaeological sites and finance all sorts of criminal enterprises.
posted by Small Dollar at 2:00 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

I bought my wife a meteorite necklace from Ferbers.

They also sell jewelry made from ancient coins. May not be gold.
posted by gnutron at 2:11 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Remember, these aren't objects designed to be collected by enthusiasts, they're historical artifacts belonging to a specific context, which is lost if they're sold without proper documents and study. These things rarely appear on the market through proper archaeological channels, and even programs like Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme are really problematic in terms of respecting cultural property.

The author of that series of articles, Paul Barford, is an archaeologist with a longstanding concern about the portable antiquities market. I'd highly recommend reading more of his blog to really appreciate its scope and impact.
posted by Small Dollar at 2:22 PM on June 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Small Dollar - thank you, I didn't realize trafficking/looting was a concern too (I was mainly thinking of verification as a way to avoid being personally scammed). I'll add that to my stipulations! Do you have any advice on avoiding such coins?

On preview, I'm increasingly concerned about the legitimacy of getting an ancient coin. I don't want to participate in anything predatory or deleterious to the preservation of artifacts--I had no idea these were real concerns and am glad I asked.

To pivot the question a bit, are there any other types of more legit gold ancient items available for purchase by regular folk like me?

(What I would really like to get is an ancient gold item, and I thought a coin would be the easiest/simplest way to go. Perhaps that's not the case.)
posted by tyrantkitty at 2:23 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Piggybacking--what if I don't need it to be ancient? I, too, like the idea of having a gold coin (not for investment purposes), and have $1000 to spend. It doesn't need to be a perfect Krugerrand, either, could be old and worn and not worth much more than its weight in gold--where would I get that?
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:26 PM on June 23, 2015

posted by Small Dollar at 2:27 PM on June 23, 2015

Or a local coin shop, they sell gold and silver coins in non-collectible condition for the spot (market) price of the precious metal in the piece plus a small markup.
posted by Small Dollar at 2:31 PM on June 23, 2015

You might ask the Antique Coin Club. Also, Huntington Rare Coins in Pasadena.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:45 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

MrMoonPie, current gold coins are produced by the US Mint. So if you really wanted to be sure of its provenance, you could go to the source.
posted by clone boulevard at 5:50 PM on June 23, 2015

In the U.S. coin collecting market, Roman and U.S. coins are much more popular than coins from other eras. If you look for coins that aren't Roman, you'll pay much less, but you may also have to hunt for dealers.

For what it's worth, $1000 sounds like a high budget to me. You can buy a nice medieval silver coin in good condition for under $100. Gold coins were much rarer, but there's not a lot of metal in them.

One reputable dealer in medieval coins is Allen Berman. His website is kind of vintage '90s, but I'm guessing he'll be happy to chat with you by email or phone. If you want to browse other types of historic finds, check out the Antiquities section of Gaukler Medieval Wares.
posted by yarntheory at 6:13 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The actual coin nerd in my family thinks I was unduly optimistic on the price front for gold, and advises that specifically gold coins are going to be tough to find because they weren't manufactured much in the post-classical period. In the classical period you're dealing with the Roman markup, but you might be able to get a comparatively good deal on something Visigothic.
posted by yarntheory at 6:38 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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