Ancient coins are increasingly popular with American collectors, with some of the rarest specimens fetching top dollars at auctions and sales. Some people may mistakenly believe that museums are willing buyers for ancient coins, but collectors generally soon discover that these institutions are rarely keen to buy these items. If you're looking to sell your collection, avoid disappointment by learning why museums rarely want to buy ancient coins.
Lack of attribution
Museums are not just static collections of artifacts. Museums thrive on the stories they can attribute to ancient articles and collectibles, but, sadly, this is often almost impossible with an ancient coin. While certain coin types are rare, the fact remains that few coins have a story to go with them, which creates a headache for a museum curator with limited space to play with, and even basic attribution becomes tricky.
For example, historical attribution of some objects (such as paintings) relies only on two or three pieces of information. But to fully attribute the source of a coin, you may need to consider
the issuing authority,
the metal type,
the date of issue, and
the obverse and reverse designs.
On this basis, you can clearly see why a museum curator may not jump at the chance to take on a stash of coins that he or she must work hard to attribute. Accordingly, many curators will simply prioritize funds and time elsewhere.
While museums often store many items away from public sight, the institution's intention is normally to offer the treasures up for public viewing. Unfortunately, coins are particularly difficult to display, which may put a curator off acquiring them.
For a start, coins have two sides, which will mean that many traditional methods of display are hard to use. A museum would either need two samples of every coin or a complicated means to display both sides at once. What's more, ancient coins are often tiny, which means they are even harder to display easily.
Unsurprisingly, to avoid these display issues, many museums opt only to display images of coins in their collection. In fact, over time, curators may become increasingly reluctant to acquire and own coins when a digital image or photograph will suffice.
Small objects are difficult to robustly secure in a museum, and many institutions would prefer not to have to take on the responsibility. In 2007, thieves stole 300 rare coins from the American Numismatic Association Money Museum, worth nearly $1 million. The theft led to a massive FBI investigation, and attempts to recover the coins continue to take place. Nonetheless, the portability and size of ancient coins may mean that some museums simply don't want to buy these artifacts.
Lack of public interest
Most museums run a regular schedule of exhibitions that highlight key eras, events, and people in history. People attending these exhibitions commonly want to see unusual, eye-catching and/or shocking artifacts and items that bring the period to life, and coins rarely do this. Because of this, even in large, city-based museums with thousands of visitors, historical exhibitions can come and go without a single coin on display.
At the other end of the scale, a specialist museum may simply not have the space, budget, or need for the coins you want to sell. For example, the National Numismatic Collection is one of the largest specialist institutions in the world, with around 450,000 coins from around the world. Nonetheless, unless your collection is particularly rare, the institute is unlikely to become a willing buyer, especially as many collectors eventually donate or bequeath their coins.
If you're looking for a buyer for your coin collection, you probably won't have much luck with a museum. Talk to an online coin dealer for additional information.