Last-Minute Gifts for the Investors in Your Family
It’s tough to buy Christmas gifts for some people. My wife tells me I’m one of them.
I don’t want much. And what I do want I mostly have. Or, at least I thought I did until I got interested recently in a somewhat obscure corner of the numismatic universe: ancient coins.
In the early history of our species, people bartered for what they needed. But in 1100 B.C., the Chinese made a historic innovation: money. Specifically, they cast bronze coins.
Five hundred years later, Lydia’s King Alyattes minted the first official currency, coins made from a mixture of gold and silver. The practice spread quickly and before long, coins began appearing in various civilizations around the world.
On a recent trip to Greece, a colleague stepped off our tour bus and was accosted by a young man who offered to sell him a bag of ancient Greek coins for a few hundred dollars. He insisted they were real, but my buddy gave them the fish eye.
Good thing he did. We later learned they were fakes... and practically worthless. But genuine ancient coins are not only pieces of history but highly sought-after collectibles.
To get the full story, a few years ago I interviewed Michael Checkan, Pillar One Advisor to The Oxford Club (the publisher of Investment U) and the chairman and CEO of Asset Strategies International.
Here is a brief excerpt:
Alex: I’m personally fascinated by the history of money and ancient coins in particular. I love, for instance, the Widow’s Mite I got from you recently. Tell me, what sparked your own interest in ancient coins?
Michael: I have always been interested in the history coins provide since beginning my career in the precious metals and foreign exchange markets in the mid-1960s. In the beginning, I collected mainly American gold and silver coins. (Remember, Americans could not own gold bullion until 1975.)
Eventually I started buying ancient coins once they became certified by an independent coin grading service. Just think, holding an ancient coin in your hand. Instantly, the 2,000-plus years of history that have passed come alive to me.
Alex: Do you view these as collectibles, investments or both?
Michael: Both. They are investments in that the right coin at the right price will always be in demand within the ancient coin collectors market, which is truly an international one. Ancient rare coins, much like U.S. coins, are tangible assets that have excellent value potential in a market that is uncorrelated to the stock and bond markets.
Alex: What should an investor look for in selecting ancient coins?
Michael: We always advise our clients to buy high-grade, visually appealing coins that are certified by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). NGC gives each coin an objective third-party grade based on its quality and preservation. This removes the guesswork from an otherwise subjective field and contributes to the overall liquidity of the coin. In addition to those factors, I would suggest selecting coins that are the most interesting to the individual. There is some amazing history in these coins.
Alex: What about fraud? How are coins this old authenticated? It seems like it must be a highly specialized field.
Michael: It is definitely a highly specialized field, but with the 2008 addition of NGC’s ancient certification service, we can now know with confidence the quality of a coin, and NGC does not grade coins that cannot be verified as authentic. One of the most important benefits of NGC’s service is that it has helped to standardize the trading of ancient coins - ultimately allowing new collectors and investors from other financial fields to participate.
Alex: Are there any particular ancient coins you recommend right now?
Michael: We have seen tremendous growth in the ancient coin market both in the U.S. and abroad. The coins that have the most demand, and whose values have performed quite well, have just the right combination of scarcity and quality. We are currently suggesting gold, silver and bronze coins of the Twelve Caesars from the beginning of the Roman Empire. We like this series a lot - there are some extremely scarce coins, increased demand among collectors - and it begins with Julius Caesar! We have also found that the gold stater coin of Alexander the Great has performed quite well over the years. After that, we suggest high-grade, meaning almost uncirculated or mint state, specimens from the ancient Greek and Roman series.
Alex: Thanks for your insights, Michael.
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