Coins have been used as currency since ancient times, with some of the oldest known coins dating back to 700-1100 BC. Many of these earliest pieces were from the Asian dynasties and often made in bronze or copper. Not always round, many of these earliest coins were small ingots, rings or rods. Ancient Greek and Roman coins appeared in first century BC, and many of these original coins can still be found in private collections throughout the world. Originally these coins were made by using a hammer and anvil to strike two engraved dies; "modern" coin pressing techniques did not flourish until the early 18th century.
Collecting ancient coins can offer a fascinating look at history, and can provide a peek into the hidden lives of the private person in these long-lost cultures. They can also offer the thrill of knowing that these very coins may have been used by the very pillars of Western civilization. Names like Plato and Socrates often come to mind when handling coins from the glorious Greek ages, connecting the collector to the great minds of the ancient past.
Enthusiasts of ancient coins claim that, aside from the historical value, these pieces of antiquity are more beautiful from an aesthetic point of view than modern coins. Personal preference, surely, but the attraction is undeniable to those in the know. Gods and goddesses, political greats and military heroes all grace these coins, and the variety is stunning.
You might think that these ancient coins are rare; in reality, more coins are unearthed every year as construction projects and archaeological digs unearth them by the handfuls. Their value comes in their historical authenticity, and not necessarily their rarity.
There are a number of different types of ancient coins; websites and dealers specialize in each of these types of coins. Biblical coins are generally considered to by Jewish or Roman coinage struck in the Holy Land during the time of the Bible. Greek and Roman coins are also popular among collectors, as are Byzantine and Persian coins. Greek coins are often referred to the first coined money, although historians disagree whether this claim should go to Asia Minor.
If you are just starting out collecting ancient coins, you may want to consider Roman coins as a good place to begin. There are plenty of resources out there to help you identify Roman coins and understand the history of the coins and the cultures they represent. Byzantine coins, on the other hand, present more a challenge for the novice collector. Byzantine coins are typically divided into one of several eras, running from 498 AD to the Arab-Byzantine era beginning in the mid-15th century. Another fascinating era in coin collection comes from the Persian coinage, divided into Parthian Persian coins (238 BC 224 AD) and Sasania Persian ((224 AD 649 AD).
If you are serious about pursuing the art of ancient coins, you may want to connect with the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. According to their website, their mission is to "promote the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity." The organization has something for everyone, including programs for kids, information on legislation that impacts the coin industry, and valuable resources. Membership starts at $35/year.
Long called a "hobby of kings," ancient coin collecting doesn't necessarily take a king's ransom to begin. Many beautiful and historical coins can be purchased for $10-20 dollars, and it's generally easy to find coins to add to your collection. Visit coin shows, coin shops, estate auctions, or search online for ancient coin dealers. You'll soon be immersed in the fascinating world of ancient and historic coins.