A Short History:

Coins have been produced and collected around the world for thousands of years. There are many collectors that specialize in an era of coin production such as Roman coins, Chinese coins, and Biblical era coins. Collectors in the United States mostly collect United States coins.

The United States Mint has been producing regular circulating coinage since 1793. Prior to that time, the individual states produced their own coinage. These state produced coins are generally called colonial coins. Colonial coins also include foreign coins from the same period that were widely circulated in the colonies. There have been collectors in the United States almost as long as it has been in existence.

There have been auction sheets listing coins found from the mid 1800's, and dealers have been making a living at this business prior to that time. Some very valuable collections have been put together by early collectors. The National Coin Collection is housed in the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

In recent history, coin collecting was very popular in the early 1960's and continued in popularity well into the 1980's. There was a series of events that took place in the 1980's that caused people to become leery of collecting coins. The Hunt brothers from Texas made an attempt to corner the silver market. The result of this activity caused the price of silver to shoot up dramatically. Since there was a lot of silver coins from prior to 1965 in circulation, this run up of silver caused these coins to be removed from circulation and people could no longer find silver coins to collect, thus loosing interest. It is reported that many people sold silver coins for as much as $50 for each $1 of silver coins.

The coin collecting hobby has recently become more popular once again, and people are looking forward to the new coins that they will be able to collect from circulation. I am referring to the 50 states commemorative series that started to be produced in January of 1999 and continue for the next 10 year. In addition, a new circulating $1 coin is planned to start production in 2000 which will replace the un-loved Susan B. Anthony dollar.

What Coins Should I Collect?

I wish that I had a dollar for each time that I was asked that question. I would be able to retire by now. My usual answer to that question is: Why do you want to collect coins? If the answer to this question is that they expect to get rich from their coin investments, then I encourage them to spend their time and money on the stock market as their chances are better there than in collecting coins. More people have lost money by collecting coins than have made there fortunes. If the person responds that the history and beauty of the coins have attracted them to this hobby, then I will encourage them to get started immediately.

A good collection to start with in my opinion is a type set of coins. This kind of collection lets you see all of the coins from a time period and geographical area, and many times one of these type coins will catch your interest and you will want to start a set of that kind of coins. A type set is a collection of coins from a specific time period and geographical or political environment, and includes one of each type of coin that was produced. Examples of a type set could be as small as all of the types of coins that were produce in the year that person was born in the United States, or it could be an example of all coins produced for circulation by the United States Mint since 1793. You only have to set the guidelines for the coins that you want to collect and then go after them.

A year set of coins can be either one coin from each year produced, or as is more commonly done, a coin from each mint and each year that it was produced. This type of set very often will include major varieties that were produced. Varieties such as the design changes like the 1909 Lincoln cent was produced with the designers initials and without, so both types are included in most sets.

Just as a note, a complete set is not more valuable than the sum of the coins in that set. When I first started collecting coins, I thought that if I could complete the set that because it was a complete set, it would be worth more money than the individual coins that made up the set. This is not true, if a dealer is going to purchase that set, they most likely are going to break up the set into individual coins and resell them to several other collectors trying to make up their sets. The real value of completing a set is the pride and satisfaction of accomplishing a goal.

Some people like to collect themes. A theme set is usually a specific design on the coin, or a specific era in history. I once had a woman ask me if I had any foreign coins with owls depicted on them as that was the special theme that she was collecting. Some people like to collect a coin because they like the beauty or historical story behind the coin. Usually this type of collection comes after a person has established themselves as a collector and something special strikes their fancy. I personally like sailing ships, and have collected several regular issue coins from several countries with different ships featured in their design.

No matter what you decide to collect, you should always obtain the best example of the coin that you need for your collection that you can afford. It has been my experience that the better grades of any coin will retain a higher resale value than coins in lower conditions. This is not to say that a rare coin will be any less desirable in lower grade, if it is the only example that you will probably ever see.

Shiny Is Not Always The Best:

You have probably heard the axiom that 'All that glitters is not gold.'. Condition of a coin is a reflection of the amount of wear that a coin has experienced and its state of preservation. Grading of coins is a very large part of the coin collecting hobby. The way to get good at grading coins is to purchase a good grading book with pictures and descriptions and spend the time looking at a lot of coins with an eye for their grade. Some people attempt to cheat collectors by polishing coins. Polishing a coin is basically the wearing away of the surface dirt leaving the coin bright and shiny. Unfortunately, this also tends to wear away the metal and the high points of the design of the coin causing it to be a lower grade than before it was cleaned.

If you would like to see this operation in process, take an old, dirty penny that is not rare, or valuable, grade it before cleaning it, then rub it with a soft cloth until it shines then grade it again. The results will probably surprise you.

Chemically dipping coins is often done to eliminate discoloration of coins. To start with, a chemical dip that is not properly done will cause a coins grade to be lowered, and elimination of this patina or toning may severely reduce the natural beauty and value of the coin. Many collectors prefer certain types of patina on a coin as they feel that it adds a level of beauty and a sense of age to the coin.

I do not recommend that any coin be cleaned or chemically altered in any way by anyone other than a trained professional. If a coin contains a surface dirt, it can be washed with warm soapy water and patted dry on a soft cloth. Any more cleaning than this could destroy the value and beauty of a coin.

How Should I Store My Coins?

As you progress in your coin collecting career, you will find that there are many options open to you for storage of your coins. Some people simply put coins in a box and call them a collection. This is not a very efficient method of storing coins since you have to handle the coins each time that you wish to view them. You will find that there are commercial books that are made which will indicate the year and mint marks of a type of coin, or even special book for type sets of coins. I have used just about every kind of these books over the years and found that they all serve their intended need.

Books that hold the coins in individual slots or holes as they are called, are convenient and a good way to get started, but they do have their problems. Most of these books are made of cardboard which is a low grade of paper and will contain sulfur or other chemicals which will react to the metal in the coins being stored. This reaction is a slow process and over time will cause a discoloration of coins.

The most popular method of protecting and displaying collector coins is in a 2x2 cardboard container lined with clear mylar. These containers have an opening the correct size for the coin. The coin is placed on the mylar and the container is folded over the coin and it is stapled or glued shut so that the coin will not move around in the container when handled. These 2x2 containers are easy to use, and protect the coin from being worn by handling. Most coin shops or hobby supply stores will have these 2x2's as well as plastic 8 1/2 by 11" pages with 20 2x2 slots in them for storage in a notebook. In addition to the protection, these containers also allow information about the coin to be written on the container, helping to identify the coin and record other information as desired.

Many collectors desire a higher level of protection for valuable coins and there are other devices which are more protective and more expensive to use. The range of protective containers vary from simple clip together hard plastic to hermetically sealed containers.

There are services which specialize in grading and encapsulation of coins. Some of the top names of these companies are ANACS, NGC, PCGS and PCI. These companies grade each coin for a fee and seal the coin in a plastic container (slab) which cannot be opened without destroying the assigned grade of the coin. Since the grade of each coin is guaranteed by the company, they want to make sure that the coins are not substituted with a lower graded coin.

Of the methods discussed above, I find for most cases, the 2x2's and plastic sheets in notebooks provides the most flexibility and convenience for the average collector.

What Records Should I keep?

Ideally, a journal of each purchase and any out of circulation coins should be kept to record your coin collection. This journal should tell you the date that the coin was acquired, the amount that was paid for it and where the coin came from. If there is some other documentation that is related to the coin, then this should be kept with the journal so that all of your documentation is in the same place. An indication of where the coin is housed should also be noted in the journal, such as safe deposit box etc...

As you notice, I said that ideally, this is the method that should be used to record your coins. This is not however how most people keep track of their coins. After all, this is not supposed to be like work, but a hobby. I try to keep track of the coins that I purchase by writing notes on the 2x2 holders where ever possible, and I also keep a file of all of the extraneous documentation that I have acquired along with the coins.

If you are into computers, there are a few good programs that will not only allow you to keep an inventory of all of your coins, but will also keep the current market price of your coins up to date. These programs will vary in price and function, and pricing updates generally have a periodic fee attached to them. If you are into this kind of record keeping, by all means you should go for it.

There are several good reasons to keep track of the details of coin acquisitions, not the least of which is that you will forget much more than you think you will. At some future time, either by you or by your estate, it may be of benefit to be able to prove by these records what the cost of your collection is.

Where Can I Get Coins?

As the old saying goes, Coins are where you find them. I have found collectable coins in the ground, out of pocket change, from friends who have a few different coins they no longer want, or from dealers. The source of your coins will be largely dependent on the kinds of coins that you decide to collect. If you want modern circulating coins for a year and mint mark set, you will get a lot of them out of circulation. Many people go to the bank and purchase rolls of coins at face value, search the rolls for coins they need, and return the rolls back to the bank for face value. If the coins that you need for your set are limited to special sets, then you may have to order coins from the Mint, or purchase them from a dealer.

If you talk to friends and family about your coin collection, you can get quite a few leads on people who have old coins that they would like to get rid of. I should warn you that in doing this, you may end up buying coins which you don't really need just to get the coins that you want. Most of these people who decide to get rid of their coins, want to get rid of all of them.

If you have a coin club in your area, it is a good idea to join the club. Normally clubs will have monthly meetings where coins can be bought and sold, auctions, and usually an annual show where dealers come to your area to satisfy your special need. Coin clubs are an excellent source of information about how other people collect coins. There are always a lot of good stories at most meetings that I have attended.

Another excellent source of coins is on the INTERNET. In recent years, there have been several on-line coin sales on the internet. Some of these auction sales are perpetual and you can find almost any collectable coin that you have a desire for. I have purchased coins from the internet, and find that it is easy and fun to do. There is a concern by a lot of people about giving out a credit card number on-line, and if you are not comfortable with doing this, there are other means of paying for the coins purchased. Most all dealers will accept checks and money orders, the only drawback is that receiving the coin is at the speed of the postal system.

The obvious source of coins that I have not yet mentioned is through your local dealers. Some areas have several dealers and other areas do not have any dealers with regular shops. Usually, if your area does not have a dealer with a shop, you can meet the un-official dealers at a coin club meeting. You should get to know your dealers. Different dealers will specialize in different things. Dealers can be one of your best sources of information. Please remember that a dealer is in business to make money. A dealer will purchase coins at a discount to the book value that you have and will sell coins at a price close to that same book value. This is how they make their money to keep in business.

Remember that coins for you collection will be found in many ways and in many places, so it is important to keep your eyes open for all opportunities.

What Is The Best Coin Books/Magazines?

There are thousands of good sources of information about coins in print. One of the favorite saying in Numismatics is to "Buy the book before you buy the coin." This is excellent advice. Some of my favorites and I feel required for all coin collectors are:

Official A.N.A. Grading Standards For United States Coins

A good grading book is an absolute necessity. The book that I have listed is an excellent references, but by no means the only book to use. Grading standards for various types of coins can be found in several other places and an accumulation of this information will only enhance your collection. People who don't know how to grade the coins that they buy will generally pay too much for their coins.

A Guide Book of United States Coins

(The Red Book) by R.S. Yeoman.

The Red Book is an annual publication that gives reference prices for coins. This book is published mid year prior to the year indicated on the cover. I do not suggest that the prices in this book are anywhere close to being current, but they do provide an excellent reference. I do not think that this book needs to be purchased each year, but there should be one in every collectors library.

Coin Prices (bi-monthly magazine).

Krause Publications Inc.

700 E. State Street

Iola, WI 54990

The coin prices is published 6 times a year and contains current prices for most U. S. Coins. In addition, there is normally a supplement in the back of each issue that shows prices of other collecting related topics such as Canada and Mexican coin prices or Paper money prices. These topics vary with each issue. This magazine is a good value for a subscription, or it can be obtained on most news stands or magazine stores.

Coin World (weekly newspaper).

Amos Press

PO Box 150

Sidney, Ohio 45365-0150

Numismatic News (weekly newspaper).

Krause Publications Inc.

700 E. State Street

Iola, WI 54990

The two newspapers listed come each week and contain a lot of good information about coin collecting. Coin World has a weekly update of prices of U. S. Coins. The listings are in the yellow section of the paper and it takes three issues to get all denominations covered. Numismatic new has a monthly insert (first issue of the month) that lists all coin prices for all denominations of U. S. Coins.

One of the big things in these papers is the advertisements of the dealers that would love to sell you anything that you need for your coin collection. Advertising of this type not only helps you find the coins and supplies that you might need for your collection, but it also gives reference prices on how much certain coins may be worth.

Both of these newspapers are excellent sources of current coin production news as well as very interesting stories about collecting. One of my favorite features is the letters to the editor and the editorial page. All collectors should have at least one of these weekly newspapers on subscription.

Coins (monthly magazine).

Coinage (monthly magazine).

These Coin magazines are good to read if you enjoy reading numismatic related articles. There are several such magazines and they usually have excellent articles related to the history of coins and the process of making coins. As with the weekly newspapers, there are a lot of dealers that advertise to sell all numismatic related materials.

World Coin books.

There are several World Coin Books on the market. The one listed above is published annually and is a good reference to the coins of the world. These books are not inexpensive, but at least one copy in your library for reference purposes is advisable. I have noticed that the prices from year to year do not change significantly in these books, so buying one each year would seem to be a waste of money.

Other books directly related to your specific interests. My library contains other books that I have picked up because I needed a specific reference. Since I seem to acquire a lot of Canadian coins, I of course have a couple of books on them. If you need a specific book on a subject and your dealer does not have it, a good source for books is AMAZON.COM on the internet.

Get out there and get started!

Get yourself a good magnifying glass, a price book, a grading book and start adding coins to your collections. There is no time like the present. Just do it.


If you have any comments about this article, I would like to hear from you, just click her to send me E-Mail beamsgw@telenet.net.

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