Getting Started with Celtic Coins - Collecting Celtic Coins

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Getting Started with Celtic Coins
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If you have read the previous sections and made it this far then there’s a good chance that you might want to purchase your first Celtic coin and start your collection. This section has some suggestions about what to collect, and takes you through some practicalities you might want to consider before starting your collection.

Collection Ideas

The Celts created many different types of coins, with over a thousand types known from Britain alone. A very small number of these can be tied to historical events, or people, but in the main Celtic coins are really all about the art. Unless you already have a particular affinity to something Celtic, such as the Iceni tribe, or king Commios, then your best way of starting a collection is to look through books, auction catalogues and dealer’s websites, and just find what catches your eye. The standard advice of “collect what calls to you” is particularly good when it comes to Celtic coins.

Buying every pretty coin that comes up for sale can become prohibitively expensive and lead to an incoherent mish-mash of coins rather than a collection, so one or more collecting themes might be a good idea. You may find the following ideas useful in staving off bankruptcy induced by coin collecting.

Serial Imagery

I discussed “Serial Imagery” in an earlier section, whereby an image was subtly abstracted over time until it bore little resemblance to the original image. This can make a fascinating collection, and you can easily control the size of it by picking coins from just a few points in the process. For example, the following coins show a nice sequence of change and were all available in the same auction for not a huge amount of money:

These two were also available in the same auction, albeit for quite a bit more:

Serial imagery lets you form “mini collections” which can be fun to research and put together, safe in the knowledge that you will be able to complete them and probably still have enough money left to start another. Of course, you can set yourself a grander goal and try and fill in all major steps between the original non-Celtic coin and a very late Celtic evolution of it. For example:

Start with this one:

Photo Copyright Nomos AG

And end with this one:

A Type Set

Type sets are another way to organise your collecting. The goal here is to get one coin of every type in a series of coins. We saw an example of a collectable series earlier when we looked at the Puppenreiter coins. There are eight different coins to collect to complete this series:

Audoleon Type

Π-Type

Audoleonmonogramm Type

Y auf Postament Type

Hochrelief Type

Mit Dreiecksornament Type

Photo Copyright First Auctions JMPG

Triskeles Type

Dreizack und Triskeles Type

Another example of a series would be to collect all the British Le2 Trophy quarter staters:

Double Snake

Floret

S-Type

Beaded Trophy

One of the challenges in type set collecting is working out what the sets are in the first place. You will almost certainly have to invest in one or more reference books to do this.

Contemporary Forgeries

Forgeries might not be the first thing most people think about collecting, but bear with us here because they are cheap, making them useful to collectors on a budget.

Contemporary forgeries are fake coins that were created at the same time that the real coins were. They were generally made by plating a bronze core with gold or silver leaf, and can be found in various states of decay, from just the core, to slightly patchy gold, to a fully plated coin that’s just a bit underweight.

The following coin is a contemporary forgery of British Da2 Class 1 (Curdridge) that turned up for sale on eBay. There are around 16 original coins known, and one forgery (this coin). It was hubbed from another coin which probably no longer exists.

Used with permission

They were made by Celts and used by Celts, so they are bona-fide Celtic coins. They can be as rare or rarer than the real coins, but easier to get as most people don’t collect them.

The downsides to collecting these coins are that they will probably be harder to sell on when you are finished with them.

Plate Coins

Having a plate coin can add some interest to your collection, but they can also be a theme in their own right. A plate coin is one that was used in a book to illustrate a coin type. They are generally the best example of that coin type that was available at the time. They enhance the provenance of the coin, and as a result, they may be more expensive than similar non-plate coins.

Plate coin for ABC 2211 “Duro Boat Dots”

Plate coin for Divided Kingdoms 134 “Insular Cf2”

Plate coins do not come onto the market that often, so building a large collection of them may take time. However, many Celtic coins are very rare, with only a small number of each type known, so you will see them appear from time-to-time. Having them as a theme will give you the focus to go for them when they do turn up for sale.

One From Every ….

This is a bit of a catchall category, but you could also build a collection around:

  • one coin from every tribe in your country
  • one coin from every “famous” tribe (ones your family might have heard of)
  • one coin from every king
  • every coin from a particular king
  • every coin with a particular image on it, such as a wolf or a boar

Practicalities

My advice in the last section was to look through books, auction catalogues and websites, and just find what catches your eye. This is good advice, but there are some practicalities that you should consider before committing to a collecting theme. These are cost, rarity and references.

Cost

Cost is the obvious thing to consider before starting a collection. After all, there’s no point launching into your chosen collecting theme just to find out you can’t afford most of the coins. As a very general guide, Celtic coins tend to be priced as follows (cheapest to most expensive):

  • Bronze
  • Silver
  • Unscribed Gold Quarters
  • Unscribed Gold Staters
  • Scribed Gold Quarters
  • Scribed Gold Staters

I’m not putting actual prices in because they’ll soon be out of date. There can be a great deal of overlap between these ranges, and individual coins can easily break out of these brackets, so it’s only a very rough guide.

It won’t take you long browsing auction results and dealer sites to get a feel for the price ranges for the various types of coins. Use this information to guide your collecting choices.

I should point out that prices can sometimes be volatile due to the small number of collectors in the market. A new collector, such as yourself, can easily drive up the prices for particular coin types, and several auctions in close proximity can leave rare and normally desirable coins unsold as everyone has already spent their money.

Rarity

Rarity is also another factor that’s useful to consider before starting on your collection. Unless you are a millionaire in search of a hard time, designing a collection that requires ultra-rare coins to complete is best avoided.

So how do you know what’s rare?

The absolute number of coins of any particular type isn’t known, so rarity figures, if they exist, tend to be based on:

  • the number of coins in public lists such as the Celtic Coin Index
  • the number of coins in public collections such as the British Museum
  • the number of coins mentioned in academic papers or books, which are in turn based on the examples that the authors happened to find in public lists, public collections, and for sale
  • the number given by dealers

The rarity figures derived from these are useful, but they aren’t always accurate. New coin finds are not always added, added promptly, or added correctly.

The figures given by dealers are best be treated as guidelines. In general, they base their numbers on the same problematic sources mentioned above, or on how many of a particular type they have personally seen over the years. As an example, one very reputable dealer listed a coin as one of only two known until I sent them details of eleven others of the same type.

However, knowing the absolute number of coins of a particular type isn’t always useful to a collector. There might be one hundred examples of a coin, but if one hundred of them are in museums, it might as well not exist.

The most useful way to determine a coin’s rarity is to find out how many times it has been on sale in the last five years (or longer if you are happy to wait). I’ve already advised you to look through old auction catalogues (there are many online) and dealer sites to get a feel for the coins you like and their prices. Once you get a feel for what you like and what you can afford, start keeping track of how often you would have had the chance to purchase them.

Building lists of coin sales is a very useful activity. When a coin you want does come up for sale, these lists may help you negotiate a better price as you will have better rarity numbers than everyone else, a catalogue of photographs to judge the coin against, and a list of prices so you know what a fair price might be. They will also let you walk away from coins if the price is too high or the quality is too low, because you’ll have some confidence that another example will be along soon. Alternatively, they will let you know to throw the kitchen sink at a coin if it finally turns up, even if the condition isn’t the best.

Reference material

The last thing I suggest considering is the available literature on the coins you want to collect. If you don’t really care about the background to a coin, then you can skip this section. If, however, you want to know who minted it, how many mints there were, what other coins it was related to, where they were found, etc, etc, then you’ll need access to books and academic papers. There are some factors to consider:

  1. Does anything exist?
  2. Can you get it?
  3. Can you afford it?
  4. Can you read it?

Specifically, your problems might be that no one has written about the coins you are interested in. If they have, the book might be out of print and unobtainable. Books that are available (out of print or not) tend to be expensive, and may not be in a language you can understand. As a rough guide:

  • Books about British Celtic coins tend to be in English
  • Books about Gaulish Celtic coins tend to be in French, although some English ones do exists about specific coins
  • Books about Central European Celtic coins tend to be in German
  • Books about Eastern European Celtic coins tend to be in German, or one of the eastern European languages
  • Books on Thracian imitations are available in French and German

Most of these problems can be solved (except for books that just aren’t available for any amount of money) but if this kind of detailed knowledge is important to you, you might want to chose your collection accordingly.

Purchasing coins

Buying Celtic coins is easy. Finding them in the first place can be harder.

There isn’t a standard way to organise, or even name, Celtic coins. Some shops and auction houses organise them by tribe, with a catch-all “uncertain” category for coins that can’t be assigned to any particular tribe. Others assign the coins to geographical areas which can be quite broad areas, such as “Eastern Celts”, or quite a bit more specific like “Kent”. Some use Roman province names, such as Britannia, Bohemia, Cisalpine Gaul, Dacia, Gaul, Germania, Helvetia, Noricum, and Pannonia.

Online shops and auctions can have overlapping categories so it pays to check out all the Celtic categories until you get used to how they organise them. Some, like CNG, put British Celtic coins in their “British” section and not in their Celtic section. It will become easier once you start to specialise in certain coins.

When you are just starting out, buy from established auction houses and dealers. The following dealers and auction houses are very good, and generally have a good selection of Celtic coins (although stocks have been extremely low in 2020 and 2021):

Other excellent vendors exist. The following sites are also very useful:

These aren’t sellers themselves, but the first two are marketplaces for sellers and the second are aggregators for auctions.

Even when using respected dealers and auction houses, do your homework first. The rarity values given for a coin can be overstated, and coins are occasionally misidentified. This can work in your favour of course, and it’s sometimes possible to pick up a very rare coin for the price of a more common one.

Whatever you do, stay away from eBay until you learn how to spot fakes. eBay can be a great source of coins, but there are regularly fakes on it. These aren’t the problem they are for Roman and Greek coins because the Celtic market is smaller, but they do exist, and they exist for coins at all price points. Don’t assume that cheap and common coins aren’t faked. Quite why a forger would bother forging cheap coins is a bit of a mystery, but they do.

One final thing to watch out for on eBay is people selling any old and worn coin as “Celtic”. For much of 2018 and 2019 someone has been trying to sell a small Indian coin as Celtic.

Further Reading

General

If you want a general introduction to Celtic coins, there are two books worth looking at. “An Introduction to Celtic Coins” by Derek Allen is a nice lightweight read that covers more than this article does. “Coinage in the Celtic World” by Daphne Nash covers the same topics, but in much more detail. Neither book is particularly expensive, but you’ll probably get more value from Nash’s book if you can only afford one. One issue that both of the books share is that they are heavily organised by geography, but the maps are poor. If your knowledge of European rivers and mountain ranges isn’t up to scratch, it would be worth keeping an atlas to hand while reading them.

Art

There’s surprisingly little available about the art on Celtic coins. “Ancient Celtic Coin Art” by Simon Lilly costs almost nothing and is dedicated to the subject, although don’t expect any scientific analysis. Instead, think “new age”. “Celtic Improvisations: An Art Historical Analysis of Coriosolite Coins” by John Hooker contains quite a good discussion about the art on Celtic coins, and it’s remarkable general considering the book is entirely focused on the coins from one tribe. “Coins and Power in Late Iron Age Britain” by John Creighton also covers the topic nicely, with his discussion of serial imagery and the ritualistic reasons behind the art.

British Celts

There are a good number of books covering the coins of Celtic Britain, but “Ancient British Coins” by Cottam, de Jersey, Rudd and Sills is a must have for anyone considering collecting coins from this area. It’s now the defacto reference book for British Celtic coins (when you see “ABC” references, this is the book they refer to).

Another must have book is “Celtic Coinage of Britain” by Robert Van Arsdell. If you find the price off putting, you can read it for free online. This is one of the original reference books, and the “VA” reference numbers you’ll come across refer to this.

Another reference book is “British Iron Age Coins in the British Museum” by Hobbs. It contains photos of every coin in the museum’s collection, and a good deal of background. Perhaps the most useful feature is the index of symbols, which lets you look up a coin by its artwork. If you find coins with “BM” references, this is the book they refer to.

“Celtic Coinage in Britain” by Philip de Jersey, and “The Tribes and Coins of Celtic Britain” by Pudill and Eyre, are both interesting books that won’t break the bank.

“Made for Trade: A New View of Icenian Coinage” by John Talbot goes in-depth into the coins of the Iceni tribe. If you collect, or plan to collect, their coins, then this is a must-have book.

“Divided Kingdoms: The Iron Age Gold Coinage of Southern England” by John Sills takes a very in-depth look at the gold coins from this area. There are two aspects of this book that make it a must-have for the serious collector. Firstly, it fully defines all the coin types. If you are planning to collect an applicable coin set (gold coins from southern England) then this is the book that defines the set. Secondly, Sills has included full catalogues for every applicable coin. Weight, die numbers, CCI or PAS reference where available, or other source information (auction details, eBay details, dealer details, private collection details, etc) where not. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to find the actual coin from these (for example, eBay items are only archived for 90 days so references to them are meaningless now), but it does give you a very accurate rarity figure for a coin, and for individual dies for the coin. If you find coins with “Sills” references, this might be the book they refer to.

John Sills has another book called “Gaulish and Early British Gold Coinage” which, despite its title, covers only three types of coins from Britain (Insular Cf, Insular Xe and Insular Xf). It’s probably not worth the cost just for these, as they are also covered in his Divided Kingdoms book

Finally, “Coin Hoards in Iron Age Britain” by Philip de Jersey gives details of every Celtic coin hoard ever found in Britain. The casual collector probably won’t get much out of this book, but if you start to seriously collect British Celtic coins, then this will help you with your detective work.

The Celts from Gaul

Unless you can read French, the first book you should probably look at is “Gaulish and Early British Gold Coinage” by John Sills. This book takes an in-depth look at the Philippus and its imitations in Gaul, Gallo-Belgic A, Gallo-Belgic B, Gallo-Belgic C (a to e), coins of the Parisii, the pseudo-mussel type, Gallo-Belgic Xb, Insular Cf, Insular Xe, and Insular Xf. It also has an in-depth discussion about the history of Celtic Gaul and how it effected the coinage. If you find coins with “Sills” references, this might be the book they refer to, although he now has another called Divided Kingdoms.

“Atlas des Monnaies Gauloises” by Henri de la Tour was published in 1892 as a catalogue of the Celtic coins in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Despite its age, it is still used as a reference today. Like the remainder of the books in this section, it’s written in French. Unlike them, it mainly consists of pictures, so the language shouldn’t be an issue for non French readers. It’s also available for free. If you find coins with “LT”, “La Tour” or “Tour” references, this is the book they refer to.

“La Gaule Belgique - Traité De Numismatique Celtique” by Simone Scheers is probably the most famous of the reference books for northern Gaul. If you don’t read French then much of the book will be lost on you, but it will still have value for the photographs, and you will be able to translate (using online translation tools makes it relatively easy) the sections about the coins you are interested in. If you find coins with “Scheers” references, this is the book they refer to.

Finally, there are the “Nouvel Atlas des Monnaies Gauloises” books by Delestrée and Tache, which comes in four volumes:

  1. From the Seine to the Rhine
  2. From the Seine to the Middle Loire
  3. From the Jura and the Alps to the Atlantic coast
  4. Supplement to the other books

These are also in French, so again, much of their value will be lost to you if you can’t read that. However, they are useful for the photographs, and individual sections can be translated with a small amount of effort. If you find coins with “DT” or “D&T” references, these are the book they refer to. Unfortunately most of the references don’t specify the volume so you’ll have to work out which numbers are in each volume (volume I has coins 1 to 707. That’s the only volume I have so I can’t tell you what the others cover)

The Celts from North Central Europe

If the coins from this area interest you, the major references are:

All the books are in German. I only have the last one which is essentially just a catalogue of Professor Herman Lanz’s collection. It mainly covers the Eastern Celts, but there is a section on the Celts from North Central Europe. If you find coins with “Lanz” or “Kostial” references, this is the book they refer to.

The Eastern Celts

One of the best sources I’ve found for the Eastern Celts is the “Balkan Celts” website. It has articles and links to papers covering a number of different topics.

For general coinage from the Eastern Celts, then “Münzprägung der Ostkelten und Ihrer Nachbarn”, by Karl Pink and “Kelten im Osten. Gold und Silber der Kelten in Mittel und Osteuropa. Sammlung Lanz” by Michaela Kostial are good. Both are in German. If your German is weak, then the book by Kostial might be best as it mainly consists of photographs with a small amount of text with each photo. It doesn’t take long to get an online translation for any photo you want to know more about. Pink’s book is mainly text, but has more in-depth information. It takes much longer to type the appropriate sections into Google Translate and then decode the results, but if you are seriously collecting coins from this area, it’s worth the effort.

If you are interested in Thasos Tetradrachms, then Reid Goldsborough has some great pages on his website:

  1. Imitations and Thrace
  2. Art and Barbarism
  3. Chronology and Attribution
  4. Origins and Collecting
  5. Abstraction Progression

The Celts in Colchis

There doesn’t seem to be a great amount written about the Celtic coins from this area. The “Online English-Georgian Catalogue of Georgian Numismatics” has a couple of pages that are useful (1, 2). Brendan Mac Gonagle has a good paper on the topic, as does Ermanno Arslan, although you will need to translate it from Italian.

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