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Thoughts about quality, condition, and cost


Valentinian
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I recently bought this coin at an auction:
SabinaFine.jpg.efce3344785b3f985fa8fdc83eccee4e.jpg
 

It is a denarius of Sabina, wife of Hadrian who reigned 117-138.

With a search I found some better examples and wrote a short web page about how condition affects price.


http://augustuscoins.com/ed/quality/condition.html

Take a look. I hope it is food for thought.

Let's make this a thread on how NF members balance the competing factors of condition and cost. What are your thoughts?

Edited by Valentinian
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My main area of interest is Syracusean tets from roughly 490BC to 400BC. For them the range from acceptable to truly exceptional (roughly following the 3 examples you show) is $700 to $12k on average but with the middle being 2 to 3k and not halfway in-between at all.

There are outliers of course though auction fights and for rarer earlier coins and even stranger there are often  discounts for rare coins that are not in the “official” Boehringer lists but that I can reference in various hoard docs.

As my main interest is in the evolving styling of the coins as well as finding unrecorded examples this can easily be achieved at the bottom end of the range.

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For me, it depends on my budget. If a coin is above my budget, then I won't buy the coin, no matter how good the condition is (unless I blow my budget, which I try not to do).

For each coin type, I try to buy the best example, that I can afford.

I look for eye appeal, rather than condition. Eye appeal is a combination of flan shape, die design style, craftsmanship of the die, die wear, strike, condition, and patina or tone.

I have a monthly budget, for coins and coin books. I try not to exceed that budget (often I fail). Sometimes, I'll blow my entire monthly budget, on a single coin. Sometimes, I'll buy multiple less expensive coins in a month.

For me, there is usually a "sweet spot" of eye appeal versus cost. I try to buy coins, that have nice eye appeal, before the cost starts to accelerate with increasing eye appeal.

In general, I'd rather have a large number of coins with nice eye appeal, than a small number of coins with outstanding eye appeal, or a huge number of coins with poor or mediocre eye appeal.

Eye appeal is a big factor, when I shop for ancient and medieval coins. Other factors are the history that the coin represents, the culture that the coin represents, how interesting the design is, and the spiritual significance of the coin.

Edited by sand
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My collecting goal at the moment -- and it changes from time to time -- is to obtain one of every silver and bronze imperial issue for Faustina I and II and as many provincial coins as I can featuring this mother-daughter pair. This means I have several hundred to acquire, many of which are known from only a handful of examples. My budget to achieve this goal precludes an attempt to obtain the finest known examples of each. I think it's crazy to spend nine times more for an EF example than for a VF specimen. With the price differential, I could acquire eight more specimens for my collection. I call people who pay exorbitant prices for common coins in exceptional grade "condition cranks." In my collection, a typical denarius grades VF and a typical bronze coin grades F (including the provincials). I care far more about surfaces and patina than I do about circulation wear.

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I like to get the finest condition I can afford. I have no specialized collecting interest so this varies considerably - for early Roman empire the best I can afford is usually around VF, but for late Roman bronze coins I can afford EF+. Ancient Greek coins, maybe F - VF.

Like @sand, eye appeal is the big factor in making a purchase, and condition is just one part of that equation. Strike, tone, patina, flan condition, and style are all important, each factor carrying different weight depending on what purpose the coin is to fill in my collection.

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I liked the article. And for my tastes and budget, I would pick the Fine one without blinking.

My collection doesn't have too many pristine coins. I do not intend to resell my coins (not on a medium term anyway) so I don't care too much about the profit I would get for selling them.

What I care is the eye appeal that needs to be a compromise between the price and the pleasure of owning the coin. For me. And of course, the importance of the coin. If a coin that is in XF condition would cost 200 euros, I would prefer a VF with 80-100.

Here is a practical example of my tactics

image.png.7c35b8ae9d43d8e0e817d95bfcae0724.png

Is this coin appealing? for me, yes, probably others will disagree. Crystallization, lion details are not perfect. But what I was after when searching for an example of this type - details to be at least acceptable, especially for the scorpion. I  got it for 34 euros + fees

Superior examples

image.png.a1ef94cea5244fd281ab1583b355da83.png

image.png.3f34c1e83328d38c2e8db151790cc6e7.png

 

These hammered for 110 and 150 euros (+fees). Both superior. I kinda liked the last one because the oblong flan and the better scorpion. The second has a nice lion. But for me the best quality/price ratio is for the coin I got.

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Thanks for the article, I liked reading it. To answer your question, I echo the words of @sand, above. What's the reason for me to buy a coin? Is it because of the reverse, that makes me want it? Or is the emperor I'm after quite rare, and difficult to obtain? Or am I looking for the best portrait I can get within my budget? I will settle for a horrible denarius of Claudius, with a must-have reverse, simply because a better example is unafforable.

Another thought entered my head. There are many variables that influence the price of a coin, and many of those a very unpredictable. For example, I wonder what if the third coin you list was not offered by NAC, but by al lesser renowned German auction house? Would that make it sell for less? Or what if it was slabbed, and offered via Heritage? Would that increase the price? And there's ofcourse the possibility of two Sabina fanatics entering into a bidding war... Basically, what I'm trying to say is, that although generally speaking a better coin is worth more, the better coin is not always worth the price. (Does this make sense??)

Edited by Limes
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1 hour ago, Limes said:

 I will settle for a horrible denarius of Claudius, with a must-have reverse, simply because a better example is unafforable.

 

Looks quite nice to me! If you want a really horrible Claudius denarius you should have bid on this one. 😉 

biddr - Savoca Coins, Blue | 137th Blue Auction, lot 743. Claudius AD 41-54. Rome Denarius AR 19 mm, 3,12 g fine

I think I bid about 50 euros for it, but there's a case of a coin being just too bad (despite the rarity and usual high prices) for my taste.

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It's a more complicated question than I first thought.

I have collecting goals. I can't afford to buy everything at once, but I don't have a deadline. So in theory, the 'budget' in my head is a lot bigger than the budget I have at any given moment. If I live another 30 years, I have 30 x 12 x my monthly budget, which should be able to buy most of the coins I want in nice condition. Let's say, the very fine price level with a few at extremely fine.

But, there are other considerations. Some coins I want because they fit my collecting goals, but are not the most attractive designs. You can pay more for better, but the best you can get isn't spectacular, so I don't mind if these come worn. I'm unlikely to pay above the minimum needed to get an acceptable coin (like your good fine). I might upgrade later, but only if I can cheaply. A lot of Roman denarii/antoniniani fit into this category.

Others are rare. They don't come up often. If I have the money and one comes up that isn't terrible, I will probably buy it. Otherwise, I might have to wait a long time, and I might not have the money when another appears. Celtic and Saxon coins often fall into this category, or rare emperors.

Then there are those on my list that are more common, but do look much better at higher grades, or are such interesting coins that I want a nice example. For these, I wait for a coin to come up that is both high grade and not hugely expensive. I might pay 5+ times as much as VF for those. I pass on hundreds of coins like this every month, most of which would probably be perfectly ok in my collection. But when I do buy one, it's at multiples higher than was strictly necessary.

Edited by John Conduitt
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Get the best you can for the price you can afford  and the quality will follow.  I have a collection where the quality  goes from EF to good fine ! I takes what I got! And some coins are sooo rare that  what was on sale was what ever I was ever going to get  and not going to be improved upon! 

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8 hours ago, CPK said:

Looks quite nice to me! If you want a really horrible Claudius denarius you should have bid on this one. 😉 

biddr - Savoca Coins, Blue | 137th Blue Auction, lot 743. Claudius AD 41-54. Rome Denarius AR 19 mm, 3,12 g fine

I think I bid about 50 euros for it, but there's a case of a coin being just too bad (despite the rarity and usual high prices) for my taste.

Haha, thanks! 

And I hope that the person who got the Claudius denarius, is happy with it. It does raise another question: how 'low' quality does one find acceptable. Claudius is a very difficult emperor to get in silver. But I dont think I would add that coin to my collection. 

I held this coin in hand, in May this year. I was in doubt whether to go for it or not. In the end I did not, because it did not appeal to me enough, because of the wear and pitting, even though many details were visible. I dont regret it (well, maybe just a tiny bit...). I draw a line sometimes, I guess.... Would others have done the same?

Edited by Limes
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Very interesting thread. As a new collector of ancients, most of my time in this hobby is researching and learning and enjoying the amazing depth of knowledge of the membership here as well as the images of coins on display. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a batch of 3 coins from a VCoins dealer. The dealer photos left a lot to be desired but were three emperors I did not have. I was not expecting much as the total cost was 15 Euros, so quality, condition and cost were not really applicable. They also were not accompanied by any attribution or references so I thought them a perfectly acceptable project for me to catalogue them myself.

I have to say, after a soak in acetone to remove some gunky deposits, I was pleasantly surprised.

Constantine I/Sol Ric VI Treveri 899

20221025_230536__2_-removebg-preview-side.png.f72c1c890e8b9bb33db7b89885ad1084.png

Constantine II/Two soldiers and two banners. Ric VII Antioch 87s

20221025_205743__2_-removebg-preview-side.png.1effc9f41d06a0323054cb7e8fbc67d3.png

Constantius II/Fallen horseman Ric VIII Rome 257 with the scarcer Z mintmark

20221025_181050__2_-removebg-preview-side.png.06648c38103c0b5062ce021fb7264c4c.png

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Good article and interesting thread. 

One piece of advice that I heard a lot when I first started was "buy the best coin you can afford." 

I am not too fond of this advice for a few reasons:

  • One, it ignores the nuance described in @Valentinian's article - i.e. the tradeoff between quality and cost is different for every time period, collecting niche, and even between specific issues. I don't always want the "best" if mid-grade coins are readily available and much cheaper. Other times I do.
  • As many have said here, the individual collector's definition of "best" is often different from the consensus view of "best condition". I have a Marcus Aurelius denarius that is not by conventional standards a high-grade coin... I got it for $60. But it has a very attractive portait, perfectly centered, high relief, complete, clear legends and beautiful toning. It's just worn in places so doesn't grade as "best", but I like it better than most every $150 MA denarius I see. It just looks cool and has that eye appeal. 
  • How do you define what you can afford? I think many ancient coin collectors are 25-30+ years old and either in prime earning years or already have significant savings. The theoretical limit of what one can "afford" is a lot different than what one is really comfortable spending on coins. Thus, the definition becomes kind of circular: if I set a huge budget, I can afford everything in XF; if I set a more moderate budget, I can't "afford" it. But the budget I set depends on my own value judgement about the importance of condition and what quality of coins are available within the budget I determine. 

Ultimately there is a sort of spirit inherent in "buy the best you can afford" I agree with, which is more like:

"Don't be penny wise and pound foolish by buying coins that you'll eventually be unhappy with just to save a few bucks now. Better to think hard about the cost/quality tradeoff for the specific type you're looking at, figure out what the sweet spot is for you, and then buy a coin in that sweet spot when you get a good opportunity."

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On 11/8/2022 at 2:48 AM, Deinomenid said:

 

As my main interest is in the evolving styling of the coins as well as finding unrecorded examples this can easily be achieved at the bottom end of the range.

I'd be curious to know if you have found any ?

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A handful though most  "unrecorded ones" for sale can be found  in and  I presume from the Randazzo hoard. The biggest problem is constant misattribution even by the top  houses, as I'm sure you know. This can work well or leave me feeling sorry for the purchasers. 2 highlighted coins (as especially rate) in a major UK and a major Swiss auction  just this last  month.

I'm hoping to update the Wildwinds/Forum Boehringer/Tudeer doc as there are quite a few gaps and errors that should help a lot when addressed but I can't locate the original author.

 

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Buy the best you can afford goes very well in areas like LRB where the offer is plenty in all states and conditions and one can still find great FH specimens on ebay for like 20$. In this case it makes no sense to buy grotty 2$ coins if a conspicuously superior spec is there and the difference is as trivial as 18$ (unless you find grotty Ambianum or Treverorum specs and then yes, a 2$ bargain is excellent, please post it).

In areas like medieval or 'provincial' Roman you can only go by "buy whenever the occasion arises" otherwise you will miss that type (possibly for years). Is it something that you want? Well then get it when you can. And if the condition is bad enough as in the examples I posted, you'll likely get it 'cheap' -- except for the Guerau de Cabrera, that horrible little coin was 90EUR 3years ago (but I've never seen another before or after).

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For me, there is a minimum threshold for each coin by type which is a combination of availability and price increase. If a coin is common, I'll wait for a truly exceptional example because I know there will statistically be one eventually. If a coin is very rare, I'll buy what I can and perhaps upgrade if the opportunity arises.

As for the price difference between F/VF/EF: I think this is fine in most cases but I truly hope ancients never become what US coins are. Microscopic squabbling over MS66/MS67 resulting in a 30x price difference based on something that can't be seen without a 10x loupe is ridiculous.

However, I can absolutely justify paying 30x more for < 1 square millimeter of superior artistry. We're all crazy.

 

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