Why Are Coin Hoards Often Found in Wonderful Condition?


Coin hoards are discovered quite frequently. Just last month, in October of 2018, three friends with metal detectors found a hoard of 18 silver Roman coins in Yorkshire. These coins are over 2,000 years old. In September, hundreds of Roman coins were unearthed in the basement of an Italian theater. These fifth-century gold coins were in wonderful condition, stacked carefully in a soapstone jar. How that can be? How can coins that are thousands of years old still be so well preserved? To answer that, we’ll ask these questions: What? Why? Where?

What Coins Do People Hoard?

Gresham’s Law states that “Bad money drives out the good.” If two forms of commodity money are in circulation, the more valuable one will eventually disappear. People will use the less valuable form of money to manage day-to-day transactions and keep the most valuable money as a way of storing up value for the future.  In ancient times people didn’t have paper currency, but coins were

often debased by clipping or shaving. Merchants would shave off a small portion of it and hope that no one would detect the difference. People who went to the effort of hoarding coins set aside their best coins, not the clipped ones. This is still true. People save the best coins, the ones everyone agrees are worth something.

Why Did People Hoard Coins?

In earlier times people hoarded coins for the same reasons we save money or put aside coins in safety deposit boxes today. They wanted them to be safe. They wanted a hedge against financial insecurity. Whether that was inflation, confiscation, or fear of an invading army like Alexander the Great’s, they didn’t want to be vulnerable. Coins are an excellent source of tradable value. History is full of overthrown kingdoms, marauding warriors, and other catastrophic events that could be survived better with a little money.

Where did they hide their coins? Banks are a relatively new phenomenon, as is wider prosperity. Most people did not have access to many coins, but the wealthier people who did did not want their coins spent or stolen. So they hid them away. Sometimes they buried them. They secreted them in their attics or basements. They hid coins in little compartments. In 1667, Samuel Pepys, worried about attacks by the Dutch navy, sent his father and wife out to the country with a bag of gold to bury in the garden. The banks in London were in complete disarray, and he did not trust them. His diary is full of details of the action he took to keep his money safe from harm (and the Dutch).

Coins are likely to survive if buried or even submerged in water. Gold is reasonably incorruptible. When events settled down, the owners of hoarded coins, like Samuel Pepys, could return for them.

Maria Grazia Facchinetti, coin expert, evaluated the coins found in that Italian theater. She determined that the coins were “buried it in such a way that in case of danger they could go and retrieve it. They were stacked in rolls similar to those seen in the bank today.

Not all owners were able to return for them, however. The coin hoards that we discover today are the hoards that owners left behind. For whatever reason, perhaps they were captured or died,  they never dug up their money again. Their coins remained in place until some lucky treasure hunter or construction worker discovered and unearthed them. Because these coins were chosen for their value and stored away to keep them safe – and because metal can survive a lot – many of these ancient coins are still in good condition. This is excellent news for the discoverers of these coins and anyone who loves coins and enjoys handling a tangible piece of history.

Are you looking for ancient or historic coins? We can seek out specific coins to expand or complete your collection. Call Grand Rapids Coins today with any of your coin questions or requests. We would love to help.

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