Ancient Coins

Below you will find answers to many commonly asked numismatic questions that we receive on a regular basis. If you have a question that does not appear below or for more information about the American Numismatic Association, please contact us at ana@money.org or call 1-800-367-9723. Our museum and library staff will be happy to assist you as you discover and explore the world of money.

Depending upon the extent of the research necessary to answer individual questions, a research fee may be required. If a fee is required, our staff will provide you with a cost estimate before conducting research on your behalf.

  • Where were the first coins used?

    While mediums of exchange have existed for all time, the first coins, as we know them, were struck under King Ardys, (652-615 B.C.) ruler of Lydia; located in modern-day Turkey. The coins were struck from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver that was found in quantity in the mountains and streams of the country. The obverse design was incuse, or sunk into the coin, and the reverse was left blank.

    King Croesus of Lydia (561-456 B.C.) produced "standardized" gold coinage bearing an obverse design of the royal symbol of two facing lions, and a bull on the reverse. Surprisingly, the coins of Croesus were of 98 percent pure gold, an amazing feat given the primitive means available to process precious metal at the time.

    Ptolemy I (323-285B.C.) of Egypt was the first ruler to place his own image on the coins issued under his authority, a practice that continues to present day.

  • Do all ancient coins hold collector value?

    The same rules of numismatics govern ancient coins as well. Collector value is based on rarity, condition and market factors; age does not contribute to value. Since mintage figures are unknown, there is a relative amount of uncertainty involved in collecting ancients. A valuable coin previously believed to be rare can have its value usurped by the discovery of a hoard of the same type of coin. There are many sources specific to the study of ancients. Some publications can be found in public libraries that can help you identify and evaluate your ancient coins.