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Ancient coin collecting

Numismatics is the name for a scientific of currency and its history. Before the advent of coins the system of exchange was barter. During difficult days even in modern times cigarettes were used as barter in prison. Others used goats, horses and sheepskins. But the nearest relations to coins were conch shells or cowries used in India till recently and precious metals as well as gems.

Today a coin has two values – the currency value and the collector’s value. For anything to be a coin or money it must be rare. That is why gold and silver still retain their position as a token of exchange which none will refuse.

From ancient times coin collectors have been there. The Roman Emperors were great collectors. It was termed the Hobby of Kings. During the time of the Renaissance collecting ancient coins became a craze – especially among the nobility. Roman Emperor Augustus and Julius were collectors of Greek coins. Pope Boniface VIII, Italian muse Petrarch, Emperor Maximilian (Holy Roman Empire), France’s Louis XIV and Henry IV, Ferdinand I as well as Joachim II of Brandenburg were also enthusiastic collectors among innumerable others.

The 19th century was the time for national collections and publication of catalogues. Theodor Mommsen set into motion the idea of compiling a general filing of all Greek coins found so far. The idea still remains incomplete. The British Academy encouraged the plan of sylloge – that is methodical publications of individual collections detailing mints and having illustrations. Till date hundreds of volumes have come out. The idea was a brought forward from the plans of medieval English scholars who were also interested in Islamic coinage and numismatics. After World War II Germany joined the fray – ‘Fundmünzen der Antike or Coins Finds of the Classical Period. Every coin found in Germany was registered. Other countries too took up this cudgel.

Modern numismatics deals with the time of machine made coins – that is from the middle of the 17th to the present century. It concerns mainly with production changes and technicalities and records.

Studying ancient coins also branches off to analysis and collection of medals and tokens. This branch of study is known as exonumia. These were often used as legal tender or to mark an event. This ancient coin collection consists of long coins, coins that have been encased, medallions, tags, counter stamped coins, and even wooden nickels. Exonumists are specialized ancient coin collectors.

An avid coin collector may not be a numismatic specialist. King Farouk collected for the sake of collection but he was not in the numismatic discipline. Walter Breen was a combination of both – a numismatic scholar and a collector. Those who really know what coins are where are the coin dealers. They can sniff out with unerring instinct the hidden treasures. All they need is a hint. They certify the authenticity of the coin and grade these. Dealers have made great contribution to the coin collecting and are often consulted by historians, museum directors and also archaeologists.

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