The Hobby Of Kings
Coin collecting dates back to around 650 B.C. Before coins, gold and silver ingots were used as legal tender. While coin collecting has been around almost as long as coins themselves have existed, many experts trace modern coin collecting back to Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), also known as the father of the Renaissance. Petrarch was a collector and promoter of coins and wrote frequently about his coin collections.
During that time in history, the popularity of coin collecting increased. In particular, popes and nobility took up the hobby with historical and artistic interests. This is the time when coin collecting adopted the nickname, "The Hobby of Kings." While coins were originally gathered for their monetary value, the artistic worth of individual coins was eventually a greater focus. Some believe that the Roman emperors were avid coin collectors, however it is unclear of whether they were actually collecting the coins or hoarding them as a result of their intrinsic value.
Collecting Greek and Roman coins during the Renaissance became so popular that a booming counterfeit business was established. Ironically, even those counterfeits are quite valuable today as a result of their age, quality, and historical value.
Throughout the ages, "The Hobby of Kings," has begun to draw an even greater amount of interest. In the 1800s two coin organizations were established: The American Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association. Both organizations help maintain and increase interest in coin collecting. The United States Mint has also catered to the increased interest in the hobby with the most recent releases of quarters representing each of the fifty states.
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.
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.