Starting the Hobby of Coin Collecting

People of all ages and backgrounds find joy in the timeless hobby of coin collecting. This tradition dates back to ancient Greece when coins were given as special gifts. Today, it’s a popular pastime where people relish the hunt for rare or special edition coins to add to their collections.

If you’re thinking about starting your own coin collection and don’t know where to begin, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got some tips and tricks to help you get started and introduce you to the world of coin collecting!

What is Coin Collecting? 

an American dollar in the hand of a coin collector

Coin collecting, also known as numismatics, is a captivating hobby that involves gathering coins, tokens, paper money, and medals, often driven by their aesthetic appeal or historical importance. Some collectors prefer specific coin types or focus on the currency of particular countries.

Coin collecting can be a deeply rewarding hobby, offering insights into history and culture, as well as opportunities for social interaction, research, and investment. Numismatists often use reference books and online resources and interact with fellow collectors and dealers to enhance their knowledge and collections.

Why People Enjoy Coin Collecting

a man examining his coin collection

Coin collecting offers numerous benefits that make it an enjoyable and rewarding pastime. But like any hobby, it requires intention and dedication. Here are some of the reasons why people choose to collect coins and why they enjoy it:

It’s educational

Coin collecting is an enlightening pursuit. It’s not just about amassing coins and tucking them away in a folder or box. Coins hold a treasure trove of knowledge about the era when they were minted and the prominent figures of that time.

Over time, you might find yourself delving into history books, uncovering stories about politics, various cultures, influential figures, and significant events. Studying coins and their backgrounds can ignite a passion for learning new things.

It can become an investment

Coin collecting can be a smart investment. The value of a coin often surpasses its face value, especially when it’s rare. Some coins, like fine art, are appreciated over time. If you’re looking to maximize your returns, consider selling your coins at a later date. Ultra-rare coins can fetch tens of thousands of dollars or more, but the key lies in choosing the right coin and collaborating with a trustworthy dealer. To profit from coin collecting, thorough research is essential.

Some collector coins may increase in value over time. Not everyone collects coins as an investment, but if your collection includes higher-end coins, you might find that many of them gain value due to various factors. You might also consider passing your coins down to your children or grandchildren one day, allowing them to continue and expand upon the collection you’ve started.

It’s fun

Most people fall into this category. Coin collecting can be a wonderful hobby if you enjoy the excitement of finding and preserving coins. It’s about the excitement of the hunt and the satisfaction of completing a set after months of searching for that one elusive coin. It offers countless unique discoveries and opportunities for learning along the way. If curiosity is your driving force, coin collecting is an ideal match. And when you genuinely enjoy something, you’re unlikely to ever take it for granted. Starting coin collecting for fun and adventure is an excellent reason in itself.

It’s affordable

Coin collecting is budget-friendly. Unlike many hobbies that demand expensive equipment, this one is quite accessible. Sure, if you’re on the trail of an exceptionally rare coin, it might cost you a pretty penny, but in general, there are intriguing and unique coins available at affordable prices. Even ancient Roman coins, dating back thousands of years, can be obtained without breaking the bank.

However, if you’re looking to turn a profit, it’s a good idea to invest some effort. This could involve buying suitable storage to keep your coins safe and protected from rust or designating a dedicated space in your home for your collection.

Parts of a Coin

Understanding the fundamental components of a coin is a crucial first step before you dive into collecting. Let’s go over some coin “anatomy” terms you should be familiar with:

Obverse: This is the “heads” or front side of a coin, typically featuring the national emblem or the image of a prominent individual. It’s also known as the ‘obverse’ and often displays a bust or portrait along with the minting year.

Reverse: On the flip side, we have the “tails.” This is where you’ll find the chosen design. It’s also called the ‘reverse’ and indicates the coin’s face value.

Relief: The relief is the raised or three-dimensional image that appears on a coin’s surface. It’s the part of the design that stands out.

Field: The field is the flat part of the coin, essentially the background on which the relief is imprinted. It’s the smooth, flat area without inscriptions, providing the backdrop for the coin’s design.

Rim: Encircling the perimeter of the coin, the rim is the raised portion. It frames both the obverse and reverse sides.

Edge: Considered the “third side” of a coin, the edge is the outer border. It can be plain or serrated, and sometimes it’s adorned with decorative elements.

Legend: The legend is the lettering or inscription on the coin that identifies the country of issue and its face value. It may also include the designer’s initials.

Getting to know these basic components will make your coin-collecting journey smoother and more enjoyable.

Coin Collecting Terms to Know

Just like any specialized interest or field, the realm of coin collecting comes with its own unique language. Here are some key terms to help you get started:

Circulation coins: These are coins that have been used in everyday transactions and have passed through the hands of the general public.

Coin set: A coin set is a compilation of uncirculated or proof coins released by a mint. Nearly every mint worldwide produces uncirculated sets in pristine “mint” condition, making for a fantastic budget-friendly starting point.

Commemorative coins: These coins are minted to honor specific events, individuals, places, institutions, or issues. They are typically designed for collectors and aren’t meant for general circulation. You might also hear them referred to as numismatic or collectible coins.

Face value: The nominal value of the coin, which is what’s printed on it. This is not necessarily what you paid for the coin.

Intrinsic value: This is the actual value of the coin, taking into account various factors like what you paid for it, its historical significance, visual appeal, the year it was minted, its rarity, and its collectability.

Mint: A mint is an industrial facility where coins are manufactured.

Minting: Minting is the process of producing coins, from design to creation.

Mintage: Mintage refers to the total number of coins produced with a specific design.

Numismatics: This term relates to the study or collection of coins and paper money.

Numismatist: A numismatist is someone who is either a student or collector of coins and paper money.

Proof coins: These are coins made with an exceptionally high-quality finish, often created for collectors.

Uncirculated coins: These are either coins that have never been used in transactions or coins with a pristine, shiny field and a clear, sharp relief.

Types of Coins to Explore

a woman examining stacks of coins using a magnifying glass

When you’re just beginning your journey into the world of coin collecting, it’s perfectly normal not to know all the various types of coins out there. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones:

1. Commemorative Coins: These coins are intimately linked to specific historical events. As the name suggests, they’re created to honor important occurrences or to pay tribute to significant figures from the past. They often carry their own intrinsic value.

2. Proof Coins: Proof coins are typically minted for special occasions. They’re produced in limited quantities and are known for their exceptional design and top-notch quality. They’re considered the cream of the crop in the coin-collecting world.

3. Brilliant Uncirculated Coins: These coins have a pristine mint appearance and a beautiful luster because they’ve never been in circulation. They offer a slightly lower level of detail compared to proof coins but are still highly valued by collectors.

4. Error Coins: Error coins are simply coins that were made incorrectly. While it might seem odd to collect them, some error coins come with intriguing stories, making them worth exploring. They’re often rare, hard to find, and can carry a high price tag.

5. Bullion Coins: Crafted from precious metals like gold, platinum, and silver, bullion coins are valuable and often considered an excellent investment for those looking to make money through coin collecting.

6. Ancient Coins: These coins are pieces of history in their own right. They can be handmade and date back to ancient times, such as the Roman and Greek eras. They often feature the faces of prominent historical figures.

7. Circulating Coins or Business Strikes: These are the everyday coins in general circulation used for daily transactions.

8. Worldwide Coins: Any coin from a country outside where you live, offering a vast array of options for collectors interested in diverse global currencies.

Tips for Starting a Coin Collection

Chances are, you might already have the makings of a coin collection in your pocket or lying around your home. It could be a commemorative coin received as a gift or foreign currency saved from your travels.

To kickstart your collection, here are some tips to remember:

Define your interests

To begin, define your interests. This knowledge will The fundamental question often asked is, “What should I collect?” The straightforward answer is, “Collect what you love!” Choose coins or coin series that genuinely captivate your interest. It might be the coin’s captivating design, the history entwined with it, or a fascinating story associated with the coin.

Knowing your interests will guide you toward the right path. Randomly collecting coins is not the ideal approach. Building a meaningful coin collection should reflect your unique interests. The distinctive story behind your collection is authored by you, and it all starts by pinpointing what excites you about this hobby. Simply ask yourself what sparks your curiosity, and let that be your guiding light.

Start small and simple

Unless you’re a millionaire and a thousand-dollar mistake won’t faze you, it’s wise to ease into the hobby and learn the ropes before making major purchases. Initiate your journey with smaller coin acquisitions and easy-to-assemble coin sets. Dedicate time to understand the coins, their histories, grading techniques, and pricing. Many renowned coin collectors began by assembling sets of Lincoln pennies, still found in circulation, and most can be procured at reasonable prices from local coin shows, coin shops, or online sources. If your budget allows, consider starting with an Indian Head penny collection or collecting a type set of United States coins.

Educate yourself

Before investing in coins, it’s essential to educate yourself about them. Start with the loose change in your pocket and become familiar with the coin’s different elements, including inscriptions, images, materials, and their type.

Education is not only a shield against potential scams but also a gateway to becoming a well-informed collector. The internet may be a valuable resource for information, but it can also be a source of misinformation. It is best to seek out books and magazines on coin collecting to understand the intricacies of this pursuit.

Since you’re currently reading this article, it’s evident that you’re seeking more insights into coin collecting. Popular coin-collecting magazines like Coin World and Numismatic News are excellent resources. Be cautious with websites that primarily aim to sell you overpriced coins.

Determine your collection style

As your collection grows, you’ll likely start noticing common threads among your coins. It could be the alluring shine of gold and silver, shared designs, or your fascination with distinctive coin shapes and colors. Recognizing these shared attributes can help you in two key ways:

1. Define your collection more specifically: Identifying these common elements enables you to pinpoint precisely what you want to collect, making your collection more focused and meaningful.

Collectors often choose to specialize in one of four primary categories:

Theme: Collecting by theme is a popular way to dive into numismatics, and the possibilities are endless. You simply select a topic that has been depicted on a coin, and you’re on your way. It could be anything from fictional characters, famous figures, animals, vehicles, flowers, buildings, landmarks, sports, or sporting events. Notably, the world’s most popular coin-collecting theme revolves around the Olympic Games, closely followed by football and military history.

Historical significance: History enthusiasts are drawn to coins that have a connection to a specific time period. It could be a particular era, like World War II from 1939 to 1945, or a significant year, such as England’s World Cup win in 1966. You might choose to collect all coins issued in one particular year, from the Crown to the Farthing, before moving on to another year. Collecting coins with different mint marks is another intriguing way to focus on specific years.

Type or denomination: If you opt to collect based on a coin’s value, it opens the door to acquiring every major design ever featured on that denomination, such as Penny or Farthing. You can also collect all the different year types or various mint marks within that denomination.

Country of origin: If you’re keen to explore the culture and history of a country, collecting its coins is an excellent way to do so. British coins are naturally popular, but those issued in Canada and America offer valuable insights into their Presidents and historical periods, like the Gold Rush, Civil War, or Wild West era.

2. Create coin sets based on type: While not mandatory, categorizing your collection by type can enhance your collecting experience. It can be especially enjoyable when you come across specific coins you’ve been searching for. Here are some examples of the type of coin sets you can build your collection on:

Coins with familial ties: Choose coins from countries connected to your family’s history, whether your ancestors hailed from there or you have current family members residing in that nation. This adds sentimental and personal value to your collection.

Coins from significant years: Collect coins or currency from the year of special events in your life, like your birth year, wedding year, the birth of your child, or any other significant milestones you’d like to commemorate.

Coins from an era: You can choose to explore coins minted during a specific era. If World War I fascinates you, gather coins minted between 1914 and 1918 or coins associated with that historical period.

Coins from defunct countries: Delve into the past with coins from countries that no longer exist. These relics offer a unique glimpse into history, and though they can be challenging to find, they’re undoubtedly worth the hunt for coin enthusiasts.

Coins with a common design: Building a collection around coins featuring a specific design element, such as a favorite object, animal, or popular series like American Eagles or Canadian Maple Leafs, can provide a cohesive and appealing collection.

Unconventional-shaped coins: While traditional coins are round, venture into the world of coins with unique shapes, including diamonds, squares, rectangles, concave, convex, and more. These distinct designs make for an unexpected and captivating collection.

Coins from your travels: Collect coins from the countries you’ve personally visited, creating a collection filled with memories and stories to share for generations to come.

Coins from each continent: Consider collecting coins from every continent or even challenging yourself to acquire a coin from every country within each continent. This can be a highly rewarding pursuit.

Ancient world coins: Delve into history with some of the oldest coins in existence. Ancient coin collections may focus on a particular region, like Greece or Rome, or a specific historical era, such as the Byzantine Empire.

Pre-assembled coin sets: If you want to expand your collection quickly, ready-made coin sets are available for purchase, aligned with the themes mentioned here and more.

Assemble your toolkit

You will need a few essential items to properly initiate your coin collection – but don’t worry, it doesn’t cost much. As you become more dedicated to coin collecting, you may want to invest in additional specialized supplies and tools. For now, a basic starter kit should suffice:

  • Magnifying glass (preferably 7x magnification): To examine coins’ details up close.
  • Notebook, index cards, or coin-collecting software: To maintain a record of your growing collection.
  • Storage holder: To protect your collection from damage and moisture.
  • Cotton gloves: For handling your coins without causing harm.
  • A fundamental reference book: To provide general information about coin collecting.

Handle coins with care and store them properly

Although coins are constructed from metal and might seem tough, their surfaces are quite delicate and can be easily damaged. Different metals react differently with their surroundings. Practicing safe coin storage and handling techniques is vital to preserve the value of your coins for generations to come. Always handle your coins while wearing cotton or latex gloves. If gloves are unavailable, touch the coin only by its edge. Most importantly, refrain from cleaning a coin, as coin dealers can detect cleaning, which will significantly reduce its value or even render it worthless.

Collect coins at your own pace

Building a valuable coin collection is not a race. Rushing into purchases often leads to frustration and financial losses when it’s time to sell your coins. Take your time and gain knowledge about the specific coins you’re interested in.

Don’t jump at the first coin you encounter. Exercise patience and wait for a coin of the quality you desire at a reasonable price. Coin collecting is a hobby that can span a lifetime if approached thoughtfully.

Join a coin club

One of the most effective ways to enhance your knowledge and sustain your interest in coin collecting is to become part of a coin club. Many cities and towns in the United States host local coin clubs, and a quick online search can help you find one nearby. The American Numismatic Association (ANA) stands as the largest organization dedicated to numismatic education in the country. Additionally, there are specialized coin clubs focusing on areas such as error coins, early American copper coins, and Liberty Seated type coins. Regardless of your level of expertise or specific interests, there’s a coin club tailored to your needs.