Old foreign coins are the stuff of legend. Spanish doubloons and Portuguese moidores conjure up images of pirate ships and sunken treasure. Others bring to mind the secret riches of Indian maharajas or the deeds of emperors. Although few old foreign coins actually belonged to Captain Kidd or Julius Caesar, all are pieces of history. Of gold, silver or base metal, many are highly prized by coin dealers. Ever in demand, they are almost always worth more than their face value.
Identifying Old Foreign Coins
Old foreign coins vary considerably in condition. Coins with sharp images and clear legends are always more valuable than coins that are worn or misshapen. Identify your old foreign coins by looking for mint marks and other signs of the place of origin. Very old coins can often be identified only by the name and portrait of a ruler. Other emblems, too, may give clues as to the coin's identity. Early English silver pence were stamped with a small star or "sterling," giving rise to the modern term "pound sterling." Old Portuguese crusados bore the mark of a cross on the reverse.
Identify your coin by comparing it with descriptions of known specimens. "The Standard Catalog of World Coins" provides detailed descriptions of old foreign issues in four volumes spanning the period from 1601 to the present. Online sites, such as My Coin Collecting and Coins International, list recent sale prices as well as coins currently offered for sale. My Coin Collecting even features an interactive coin catalog that allows potential sellers to enter country of origin, ruler or period and denomination.
Determining Value and Best Sales Location
Current sales prices are determined largely by market demand and relative availability. Sheer age is not necessarily a factor. Many old Chinese coins, for example, were issued in such huge numbers that they are worth very little. Hoards of Ancient Roman coins are still dredged up from the bottoms of European rivers. But sometimes coins with relatively small issues are actually worth less than those issued in greater quantities. It all depends on the number of collectors searching for them.
Old foreign coins may be sold on almost any auction site. EBay and similar auction sites are an excellent place to sell uncleaned ancient coins and coin hoards. These coins are typically worth little and are considered curiosities. Fine examples of old foreign coins should be taken to a reputable dealer. Zoomcoin and Monaco Rare Coin offer consultations about potential coin value. Forex and other websites deal in both older foreign issues and bullion. When prices of gold and silver rise, even relatively recent foreign-issue gold and silver coins are worth far more than their nominal value.
Brian Adler has been writing articles on history, politics, religion, art, architecture and antiques since 2002. His writing has been published with Demand Studios, as well as in an online magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Columbia University.