Coin Collecting FAQ - Coin Collecting Part 1

Coin Collecting FAQ written by Chuck D'Ambra, Mike Locke, Michael Caver, Andrew Andison, Mike Marotta, Andrew Tumber, John Muchow, Tony Clayton, Clint Cummins, Lou Coles, Mike Dworetsky and Rita Laws.

This FAQ may be copied for noncommercial use provided that this notice
and all credits to the authors are included unmodified.

Links on the Web to the Coin Collecting FAQ are welcome

Coin Collecting FAQ

Table of Contents

2. What is numismatics?

A simple definition of numismatics is the the collection and study of coins, paper money, tokens and medals, and indeed these are the most widely collected and studied numismatic materials. Other items representing current or past financial assets or liabilities are also included under the numismatic umbrella. These include other objects used as money, as well as stock certificates, checks and notes of financial obligations.

Numismatic items are collected and studied for many reasons, including their historical significance and artistic merits, as well as their role in commerce. When significant demand exists, they may obtain numismatic value beyond their current monetary value (if any).

Coin collecting is perhaps the most popular part of the hobby and is sometimes used to refer to the entire numismatic spectrum (e.g. the newsgroup rec.collecting.coins is a forum for all numismatic topics). There are several specializations in coins and other branches of numismatics. With such breadth of material, numismatics offers virtually inexhaustible opportunities for exploration, learning and enjoyment.


3. What coins do people collect?

What to collect is entirely up to the collector. It will normally be a specialization that holds some interest for the collector and is within his or her budget.

Among the most popular types of collections are world coins (coins from several countries), ancient coins, and coins of a particular country. Some specialization within these categories is ordinarily helpful. If collecting from a particular country, you can work on one or more series, a type set, commemoratives, errors, die varieties, paper money, etc. You may also want to set bounds on the grades of coins you collect, e.g. all G-VG, VF or better, or Uncirculated.


The goal of a series collector is to acquire one of each date and mintmark made, usually including any major design differences. For example, the U.S. Standing Liberty quarter was produced from 1916 to 1930 at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints (coins were not made at all three mints every year, and none were produced at any mint in 1922); a major change to the obverse was made in 1917, and the full set is generally considered to include both designs for that year from each mint.


A collector building a type set seeks to have one of each series and major design variation within each series. Examples would be 20th century Canadian coinage or U.S. gold coins.


Contributed by Mike Marotta (

From the invention of coinage in Ionia about 650 BC to the last Roman emperor of 450 AD, the gold, silver and bronze of ancient world are surprisingly available. A common silver drachma issued by Alexander the Great might cost about $60. A common silver denarius from one of the early Roman emperors might cost $30. Gold costs more. Bronze -- being more common -- costs less. For $10 or $20, you can own a bronze coin that circulated during the time of Archimedes or St. Paul. Most collectors of ancients work on themes: the Twelve Caesars, the town of Carthage, the goddess Diana, etc.

Tokens, Tickets, Tallies and Checks.

Contributed by Andrew D N Andison (

When the government ignored the needs of the people and refused to issue sufficient low value coins the traders took matters into their own hands and issued tokens. In Great Britain this took place in the mid 1600's, the 1790's and the 1810's. These formed a local currency and it took several acts of Parliament to ban them. The bans were never completely successful and 'advertising tickets' continued to be issued through the mid 1800's. These were conveniently the same size as farthings, the coin still in very short supply, and undoubtedly circulated as such. By the end of Queen Victoria's reign the need for tokens had gone but there were all sorts of other similar pieces being used. Pubs issued checks but because they were such an everyday occurrence nobody thought the record how they were used! The co-operative societies used checks to record the value of purchases made so that the correct amount of divident could be paid. Fruit pickers received tallies to depending on the quantity of fruit picked. The most recent use of tokens is probably the ones used in gaming and vending machines, as well as the one used by the many transport undertakings.

Although less valuable than coins, tokens are nevertheless much more interesting if you are interested in local history and like to do research.


4. What's the best way to get started?

Buy the book before you buy the coin is frequently offered and sage advice.

Coins can be rewarding for the collector who makes the effort to study the hobby and the market. Someone who does not make that effort is more likely to waste money on overgraded, problem or counterfeit coins. Before spending a lot of money on coins, invest in your knowledge of the hobby. This FAQ is a start, but for your own protection you should have at least one reference book covering your area(s) of interest. Reading a few issues of periodicals is another good idea.

Collecting coins from circulation is a great place to start. The risk is negligible (you can always spend the coins), and you can learn a lot examining your coins carefully and seeing what your reference book says about them.

Join a club! Local coin clubs are usually great for learning more about the hobby, getting material for your collection, and you just might make some good friends, too.

5. Where to find collectible coins?

When the coins you're interested in collecting are not available in circulation, it's time to look for other sources (see previous topic). That almost always means purchasing coins. Among places to buy coins are

  • Coin shops
    Dealers with their own stores can be good resources for information as well as coins.
  • Coin shows
    Here you can shop from several dealers at once. The selection will obviously be better than at most shops, and you may be able to get better prices due to the presence of competition.
  • Mail Order
    Coins can be purchased from many dealers through the mail. Check any of the periodicals listed below for advertisements. Unfortunately, it is all too common to receive overgraded and/or problem coins from some mail order sources. Make sure the source has a reasonable return policy before ordering, examine the coins carefully on receipt to ensure they're satisfactory (get an opinion from a more experienced collector/dealer if you are unsure), and return them if they are not.
  • On the Web
    Hundreds of dealers offer coins on the Internet and online services, including many of the conventional mail order advertisers. Again, make sure the source has a reasonable return policy before ordering, examine the coins carefully on receipt to ensure they're satisfactory (get an opinion from a more experienced collector/dealer if you are unsure), and return them if they are not. Also, watch out for the occasional scam artist who may pocket your money and not send anything in return.
  • Auctions
    - The rarest and most expensive coins are often available only at auctions promoted by major specialty auction firms, such as Stack's, Heritage and Bowers & Merena.
    - Numerous auctions are conducted online. In some of them anybody can offer coins to the highest bidder. Before bidding, check feedback on the seller, if the auction service makes it available. Make sure the seller has a reasonable return policy, examine coins carefully on receipt to ensure they're satisfactory (get an opinion from a more experienced collector/dealer if you are unsure), and return them if they are not. It is not uncommon for bids in these auctions to go considerably higher than prices for comparable coins from other sources. Check prices in shops, mail order ads and/or web sites and limit your bids to those prices to avoid paying too much.

    - Relatively common collector coins are sometimes included in auctions of antiques, other collectibles, etc. The collector is forewarned that material in these auctions is more likely than usual to be overgraded, have problems not mentioned (if even known) by the auctioneer, and/or to garner inflated prices. Better material at lower prices can often be readily obtained from other sources.
  • Other collectors
    It's not often easy to locate another collector selling what you want, but when it happens, you may get a better price. Post what you're looking for in rec.collecting.coins or attend some local coin club meetings.
  • Flea markets, bazaars, etc.
    Coins are sometimes available at flea markets, antique shows, craft fairs and other events where they are not the primary focal point. Because there is little if any competition for the seller and many potential buyers are not well informed about the hobby, these venues can be used to move problem coins and prices may be inflated. While the collector always needs to be able to evaluate the quality of potential purchases and fairness of their prices, extra caution is warranted in these situations.


6. How to handle coins

In general, collectible coins should be handled carefully to avoid the possibility of causing wear or introducing substances that may lead to spots or color changes. Many holders will provide adequate protection for ordinary handling. Before removing a coin from its holder, consider whether it's really necessary.

Never touch an uncirculated or Proof coin anywhere but the edge. Fingerprints alone may reduce the coin's grade and consequently its value. Handling on the edge only is mandatory when examining another person's coins, regardless of grade. Get in the habit of picking up collectible coins by their edges, and it will soon become routine.

Avoid holding numismatic items in front of your mouth. Small particles of moisture may eventually cause spots.

When setting a coin down outside of a holder is necessary, place it on a clean, soft surface. A velvet pad is an ideal surface and essential for regular handling of valuable material. A clean soft cloth or clean piece of blank paper may be sufficient for less valuable items. Do not drag coins across any surfaces.

If you will be handling very valuable coins or lots of uncirculated and/or higher grade circulated coins, wearing clean white cloth or surgical gloves and a mask may be advisable.


Go to Coin Collecting FAQ - Coin Collecting Part 2

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