There is nothing quite like the rush of holding a century-old coin covered in intricate artwork and heavy with historical significance, and after you find your first major coin, you will probably be hooked for life. It isn’t hard to get started as a collector ― all you need is a few coins.
An Intro to Numismatics
Ever since there have been coins, there have been coin collectors. Dozens of ancient sources note the giving and receiving of ancient currency as valuable gifts: Petrarch is often credited as the first true collector, as he wrote extensively on the subject of currency, but Caesar Augustus and earlier writers make note of the exchange of old, obsolete coins not for use as money but as treasure to be prized. In fact, coin collecting has long been called the hobby of kings because rulers had the leisure to preserve and showcase currency for fun rather than profit.
Numismatics is the study of currency, and avid coin collectors quickly become expert numismatists. Typically, modern numismatists chase coinage of the 17th century and later because the specimens aren’t nearly as historically valuable as anything dating from before the 1600s. Most numismatists adhere to themes within their collections, which generally allows them to hone their field of knowledge to specific eras and regions to be more accurate with identification. Some common themes include:
- Year. Many collectors use mint years as guidelines, perhaps collecting all coins of a particular year or else acquiring all years of a particular type of coin.
- Country. A great starting goal is trying to collect a single coin from every country. This is particularly exciting for kids.
- Mint marks. Mints tend to vary designs during the same year, and collecting the various mint marks of a particular time period can be fun.
- Errors. Mints make mistakes, and building a collection on particular types of errors, such as strikes, double-strikes, and off-center strikes, can be a challenge.
- Composition coins. Coins are made of all sorts of metals, and some numismatists specialize in particular compositions, such as gold, silver, copper, or platinum.
Where to Find Coins
For any type of collection, the hardest part is knowing where to begin. However, for currency collecting, the answer could be simple: your pocket. You probably carry cash with you wherever you go, and taking some time to look at these bills and coins will help you begin your journey as a numismatist. Of course, you’re unlikely to find any truly valuable coins at the bottom of purses or lost between sofa cushions. Once you decide what coins to pursue, you can take to the web to find purveyors of particular currency.
There are hundreds of websites devoted to buying and selling valuable and rare currency. For example, you can head straight to a mint merchant to find items such as a 1935 Silver Certificate. These sellers are some of the most reliable on the web, and you can often find outstanding deals on basic items for your collection.
You can also scour online auction sites, like eBay, to find extraordinary coins you aren’t likely to pick up at your local bank. Once you start looking for the rarest bills and coins, you might seek out a dealer that is a member of the Professional Numismatists Guild, which has an extensive list of qualifications designed to ensure you receive the best service possible.
How to Store and Display Coins
Once you have a few coins to be proud of, you need a place to keep them safe. The most common holders include folders, albums, flips, tubes, and display boxes; you can decide which works best for you and your collection. You should also purchase a pair of soft cotton gloves, so you can avoid transferring dangerous oils and grime from your fingers to your bills and coins; some collectors prefer coin tongs, which facilitate proper grasping of the edges, but as a beginner, you’ll probably find gloves more manageable.
In truth, that’s all you need to know to start collecting coins. As your collection grows, so too will your knowledge and enthusiasm for the hobby ― as legions of numismatics before you have discovered.
Photo: Flickr: Mary-Lynn
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