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Coin Collecting, the hobby of Kings

Updated on December 18, 2014
Pcunix profile image

I was born in 1948 and spent most of my career as a self employed computer trouble shooter for Unix systems.

You may have thought that horse racing or some other pursuit was the "hobby of Kings", but actually coin collecting attained that status hundreds of years ago. Collecting coins has been a hobby of the wealthy and powerful, but it has also been a hobby for the rest of us.

I've been a coin collector since the 1950s. I love the hobby as I find the study of coins to be fascinating in multiple ways. The artistry, history, politics, economics and the investment potential all are part of that and I really can recommend this as a wonderful hobby.

However, I have to admit that at this time in history it may be hard to summon that initial interest. We do so little today with cash that seeing many coins at all may be a somewhat rare event and inflation has caused their value to be so little that they are hardly worth noticing. Additionally, modern coins are almost all made with base metals with little or no intrinsic value.

Modern coins can be really ugly, too. Leave a bunch of modern pennies anywhere there is the slightest bit of moisture and you'll quickly have corroded junk like this:

Corroded modern pennies from my car coin well
Corroded modern pennies from my car coin well
James Madison Dollar from my collection
James Madison Dollar from my collection

Numismatics and Exonumia

Technically, the study of coins is called numismatics. Items related to coins, like tokens, wooden nickels, dies and so on are called "exonumia". A coin collector who is serious about his hobby may often refer to themselves as a numismatist.

Collecting from circulation

Not everything in your pocket looks like the corroded pennies above. You can probably find some very nice looking coins in your change and if you cannot, you can get rolls of coins from your bank to look through. And although half dollar and dollar coins don't circulate very much today, you can get those from your bank also - if they don't have them on hand, they can almost certainly order them for you.

It's possible to build a very nice collection of modern coins that way. If you are lucky, you may even find something older, particularly in rolls from the bank.

"D" (Denver mint mark) on a 1948 half dollar from my collection
"D" (Denver mint mark) on a 1948 half dollar from my collection

Collecting by date

The traditional way to collect was by date and mintmark: you'd try to find each and every date from a series, including the "mint marks" (tiny letters on the coin indicating which mint produced them).

Some mint marks are harder to find than others. For example, in the United States, the San Francisco mint often produced less coins than Philadelphia and Denver. This can make finding some specific coins nearly impossible without buying them from a dealer or another collector.

Some mint marks are not available from circulation at all. That's particularly true for modern U.S. coins where certain mints only produce for collectors and not for circulation. You can buy those coins directly from the U.S. Mint in the year they are produced, but after that you would once again have to go to dealers or other collectors.

A Lincoln Cent from my birth year
A Lincoln Cent from my birth year
1788 Massachusetts cent from my collection
1788 Massachusetts cent from my collection

Collecting certain dates

Nothing says you have to collect coins by date. What and how you collect is up to you. There are many, many different ways to enjoy coin collecting.

How about a collection consisting only of coins minted in the year you were born? That might only be a handful of coins if you restrict your collection to only the coins of your own country, but if you expand that to world wide, you would have a much larger collection.

Or collect from a certain period of history. Part of my collection is United States Colonial Coins. Many people collect coins and tokens of the American Civil War. Coins of the Roman Empire are very popular also. As we have been minting coins for thousands of years, you have plenty of choices!

Collections of World War II are also popular and these often include non numismatic items like rationing stamps and other items.

Collecting by theme

You can find coins that depict Presidents, birds, buildings - almost anything you can think of is found on some coin somewhere.

A one year type coin from my collection - the 2009 cent.
A one year type coin from my collection - the 2009 cent.

Collecting by type

A "type set" is a representative coin from each design produced. Although a full collection of even one countries coins would be very expensive today, nothing says you have to reach back hundreds of years. You could restrict your collection to coins produced in this century. For example, there have been several reverse designs on U.S. Lincoln cents in recent years and the U.S. "State Quarters" make an interesting collection that can still be found in circulation.

Error coins

Searching for "mint errors" like the 1995 doubled die shown below is not only fun, but it can be profitable. That particular penny can sell for as much as $65.00 and some errors are worth much, much more.

Close up of 1995 DDO (Double Die Obverse) from my collection.
Close up of 1995 DDO (Double Die Obverse) from my collection.
Non Circulating Legal Tender from the U.S. Mint
Non Circulating Legal Tender from the U.S. Mint

Non Circulating Legal Tender

Modern mints often produce coins specifically for collectors. Some are ordinary coins but in different metals (silver, gold or platinum) than those produced for circulation. Some are unusual shapes (see Shark Jumpers for a sampling). Others may be specially produced "proof" coins, which are more sharply struck from polished dies.

Some people collect only these types of coins, while other collectors may or may not include them in their collections.

Have you ever collected coins?

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Non Circulating Legal Tender from the U.S. Mint
Non Circulating Legal Tender from the U.S. Mint

Bullion Coins

Modern mints also produce bullion coins. They are usually legal tender, though the intrinsic value of the metal is usually far more than the face value. For example, this gold coin has a face value of $25, but it is a half ounce of almost pure gold, so it is obviously worth much more than its stated value.

A PCGS coin from my collection
A PCGS coin from my collection

Certified Coins

Because the condition of a coin - how worn it is - will determine its ultimate value, grading services will provide (for a fee) their expert opinion on the proper grade. This can make it easier to sell the coins, as the services also authenticate and guarantee that the coin is not counterfeit.

Of course counterfeiters make copies of the certified holders, too, but those are usually easier to spot.

Other ways to collect

There is no limit to collecting. People collect by the metal used - for example, aluminum coins only. Some specialize in tiny variety differences - as little as an extra berry on a leaf. Tokens, holed coins, engraved coins, counter struck coins, medals, worn out coins - whatever you can imagine, someone has probably built a collection. It may have cost them millions of dollars or nothing but their time, but they had fun doing it.

Seated Liberty Half Dollar from my collection
Seated Liberty Half Dollar from my collection

Cleaning coins - DON'T!

If your coins are dirty, you may be tempted to clean them up to make them look better. DO NOT DO THAT!

Generally speaking, cleaning should be left to professionals. A quick story will tell you why:

A few years ago, a family friend called me to say that they had inherited some old half dollars. She described them to me and I knew that they were Liberty Seated halves like the one shown here. While the value does depend upon date and condition, a coin like the one in my picture is worth more than $200.00.

Unfortunately, this woman polished up the coins to make them "better". She ruined them and I was only able to pay her $100 for the ten coins she had. Had she not cleaned them, that could have been much, much more!



Submit a Comment

  • Linda Robinson60 profile image

    Linda Robinson 

    2 years ago from Cicero, New York

    Hello Tony nice meeting you. I really enjoyed your hub about coin collecting. There is so much fantastic information that is so helpful for anyone interested in this hobby, absolutely so much terrific detail. I look forward to reading many more of your fascinating hubs. Linda


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