Coin Collecting Course
Coin Collecting Course
Welcome to the 10-part mini-course on COIN COLLECTION. This mini-course will guide you through the exciting and wonderful hobby, once called the “hobby of kings.” Find out why people from all walks of life are finding coin collection an invigorating pastime, not only for themselves but for the whole family. Have you ever wondered why coins came into existence and who started the idea of using them for commerce? Rare ancient coins are treasures from the past that tells us the history of the society that used them. They tell us the pervading political climate during their time. For numismatists, as coin collectors are called, this hobby is a merry mix of archeology, science and art. This mini-course will let you experience first hand the joy of holding a coin in your hand while admiring its beauty. Here you will find some tips about what coins are worth collecting. It will tell you where and how to get your first coins. as you will discover that some coins need to be dug up from ruins or even your own backyard while some are to be found if you do some legwork and go to those coin shows that feature a treasure trove of coins waiting for you to discover and own them.
LESSON 1 -What is Numismatics?
The most common definition of numismatics is the systematic collection and study of coins. Thus numismatics, in a very limited sense, has also become known as coin collecting. Although the term applies to the collection of various items used as money, such as paper money, tokens and medals, including stock certificates, checks and other items representing current and past financial assets or liabilities, numismatics has been popularly equated with coin collecting. Through the years, this hobby once known as “the hobby of kings” owing to its esteemed founders has become one of the most famous and oldest hobbies the world over.
Brief History of Coins and Coin Collection
Numismatics, or coin collecting as it is more popularly known, originated from the Greek word “nomisma,” which means legal currency or coin. Today we use checks, paper money and plastic cards for our day-to-day purchases; the ancient societies used coins. The first coins known to have been minted were from Lydia in Asia Minor which today is part of Turkey but was under Greek influence then. They date back to more than 2,600 years ago. Those first coins were made of gold and silver alloy. The Lydians then were keen about business and they were able to build a wealthy society which made advances in trade and commerce. Coins from this era shows the progress of coin design throughout history.
It is thought that the hobby of coin collecting begun as soon as the first coins was minted. Since banks were non existent at the time, collecting them seemed to be a practical way to store them. They were being hoarded not only for their intrinsic value but because of their rarity too. These coins have become family legacy, being passed from one generation to the next.
There are scholars who believe that real coin collecting began in the late Middle Ages when many European kings actually sought out and collected rare coins used as tenders by ancient societies. One interesting fact they found out was that no two coins were identical owing to the methods of striking the coins. Coins were struck by hand then and it was only during the 1500’s that coins begun to be minted using machines. Because those European kings started collecting coins, this hobby is often referred to as the “Hobby of Kings.”
In 1858, a group of collectors founded the American Numismatic Society (ANS) as an international non-profit organization that upholds the preservation and study of coins and other numismatic materials such as medals and paper money. The coins most sought after by coin collectors of today include those that have historical interest, have mint errors, limited issue and commemorative coins. In connection with this, one of the most valuable skills a coin collector can possess is learning how to grade coins accurately.
LESSON 2 - Starting Your Own Coin Collection
Collecting coins for a hobby is a rewarding choice, especially if you make the effort to study and learn about coins. Coins have colorful histories behind them and they continue to be part of the present when you begin to make them your own. A collector who collects just for the sake of it is likely to waste time and money on counterfeit coins if the collector loses focus on what coin collecting is all about.
Here’s an early tip for those who want to start right away but have no idea where and how to start. You can begin by collecting coins from circulation. The risk and expenses involved are negligible and you can always spend the coins if you want.
You may also want to join a club, as they are usually the best place to learn more about coin collecting and getting the initial materials for your collection. You might just end up collecting more friends, too. Consider joining the American Numismatic Association if you are really serious about starting to collect coins. Their website has a list of clubs where you can begin. Reading, too, is good and will always add more to your knowledge.
Beginning any hobby takes a lot of will power to initiate. Coin collecting is no exception. To start, first, make sure you are going to enjoy coin collecting and then start with what you find as attractive and interesting coins. As mentioned above, you can start by getting coins from circulation but if you want and have the resources, you can follow what experienced collectors advise: collect the “best” coins that are financially feasible. Numismatic value is dependent on the rarity and condition of the coin. A coin that has not circulated have always been regarded as having a higher numismatic value that those that have been circulated.
Why Collect Coins?
It all depends on your interest and what catches your fancy. Since coins are part of history and they do tell a lot about the milieu where they came from, perhaps you are interested because you like things that have historical and archeological value in them. Coins are good story tellers and they back their stories with their own battle scars. Their design is a hallmark of their creators and users’ industry and lifestyle. Their mint mark, condition and composition are reliable pathways back into history and say a lot about the influences that shaped their community.
Some people want to collect coins because they see them as an investment of money and they hope that the coins in their collection will increase their numismatic value, meaning their worth in dollars. Some coins are valuable on their own because of the precious metals they contain (such as gold and silver). Still others are considered valuable because of their rarity.
Coin Collecting As Investment
You may be interested in coin collecting as an investment opportunity. This does not take away anything from what coin collecting really is, as even serious collectors have profit still going on in the back of their minds. There is an on going trend where financial advisers are encouraging their clients to keep like 10% of their investments in precious or rare coins with high numismatic value. Their advice: “Buy the highest quality, rarest coins you can afford.”
If you are currently considering such an investment, you can go directly to the US Mint where you can purchase US Coins or World Coins.
LESSON 3 - Where to find collectible coins?
There are many places where you can start and obtain and purchase your first set of collectible coins.
The internet, for example, is veritable source of things you want and need in life. From pets to luggage, you can find them available whether for sale, for swapping or simply for giving away because people have no need for the article anymore. As for finding coins, the internet is a bottomless well of information where you can find and buy the coins your heart desires. While this may be true, you could still have an adventure trying to find coins the old fashioned way. You can use your legs instead of your fingers to find coins.
Other coin collectors are also a good source of coins. You may not think that other coin collectors would sell their possessions, but many of them will sell some just so they could procure some more coins for themselves. The classified ads in your local paper could give you some idea where they are.
It is quite often that flea markets, craft stores and especially antique stores are selling coins whose owners may not be aware of their value. You can usually haggle for a better deal on old coins, especially if the owner doesn’t quite know what he is selling.
Auctions are an excellent source of the rarest and most expensive coins, so if you are a beginner and don’t want to spend too much at this point, this may not be the source for you. Coins are sold through bidding and, of course, the highest bidder wins. If you are ready, though, take note that prices in these auctions are much higher than prices for similar coins in other places. Before you go to one of these, be sure to check prices in shops, mail order or other collectors and compare them with the going prices in the auction. You will do best if you limit your bids so you can avoid paying too high a price.
Another excellent place to find coins are Coins shows. Even if you are not going to buy, they will allow you to look around and check out several dealers at once. There is usually a great variety and quality of coins available in shows and, since there are many from which you can choose from, you could get better prices.
You can also purchase coin sets directly from a coin mint.
These are two options you can choose from when deciding how to obtain coins for your collection. You can certainly do either or both. Each option has its own charm, difficulty and satisfaction as you try to find a particular coin you have been dreaming about.
Finding a coin involves hard work but it may give you more satisfaction. You may yet have the same satisfaction if you buy instead, but it could involve a considerable monetary expense. Finding a coin may be likened to an archeological expedition because you love adventure, while buying to obtain a certain coin to add to your collection may be just as fulfilling because you have the money.
Any coin is worth what you are willing to pay for it. But what is the fair price? There are several considerations that must be taken when establishing what a buyer will accept as a fair price. Apart from what was mentioned above about supply and demand, the following must be considered:
- Identification – country of origin, the face value, date and mintmark if any, the design. If the coin has no face value, it may be only a token or medal.
- Authenticity – must be established by an expert and is mandatory for rare coins.
- Grade – the overall condition of a coin, whether it is mintstate (new) or circulated (used.)
- Coin cleaning and other damage – coin must not have been tampered by cleaning or polishing, corroded, scratched or altered
- Bullion value – the value of the precious metals the coin is made of.
LESSON 4 - How to handle coins
A cardinal rule for all coin collectors is to avoid causing wear or introducing any substances that may cause spots or color changes. Try to avoid any direct manual contact with your coins This means not using your bare hands to handle the coins just about in any part of it. Fingerprints are collectible coins sworn enemies. It is also important to make sure that you do not let one coin touch another coin because it can result into nicks and scratches. To avoid ruining them, remove coins from where you keep them and their storage containers only when absolutely needed and necessary.
It is best if you make it a habit to pick up collectible coins by their edges while wearing clean white cotton or surgical gloves. A face mask is also desirable to prevent small particles of moisture that may cause unwanted spots. Never sneeze or cough near coins because this can actually leave marks and ruin the coin.
If you must take the coin out from its holder and need to put it down outside, make sure you place it on a clean and soft surface, preferably a velvet pad. It is an ideal surface and a must have for handling valuable numismatic materials. For coins with lesser value, a clean soft cloth may be used.
Avoid dragging coins on any surface to avoid scratches. Take note that even wiping with a soft cloth can cause scratches that will reduce its value.
Coin Care and Cleaning
While it is good to maintain cleanliness in the surroundings, it is best if you do not clean the coins at all. A shiny coin may look nicer, but for a collectible coin, maintaining its original appearance is essential. Cleaning the coin can reduce its numismatic value significantly. There are only a very limited number of things you can do to improve a coin's appearance. You might actually harm it instead of enhance it.
Unnecessary cleaning affects the value and cost of collectible coins. There is nothing you can to increase them. The patina on a coin is built up over the years and is part of its total essence, its history and reflects a value much more than its face value. Remove it, and you can lessen its value by as much as 90%! Collectors actually value coins with attractive patinas, which in effect protect the coin’s surface.
Like any work of art restoration, cleaning coins must be done by professionals. They know what techniques to employ that will work best and still have the coin as valuable as ever.
How to Store Your Coins
You want to store your coins properly to avoid giving them any scratch that will reduce their numismatic value. You need to use the proper type of holder depending on the value of the coin you are storing. There are commercially available folders and albums that you can purchase for storing your series or type collection. When using paper envelopes, make sure that their materials are specially suited for holding coins, especially the high value ones, since sulfur or other chemicals present in the paper can cause a reaction and change the coin’s color.
LESSON 5 - GRADING
Grade refers to the condition of a coin. The primary objective of grading coins is to establish if the coin is “mintstate (MS) or if it is circulated. There are three basic areas to consider when it comes to coin grading:
· Quality of coin die and striking characteristics (fullness of the strike).
· Condition and characteristics of the planchet (luster or brilliance)
· Amount and type of wear, damage and the overall eye appeal of the coin.
If you want to be a good coin collector, you need to master this skill. You can develop it through interaction with other experienced collectors, reliable and honest dealers and consulting grading guides. And as with any skills, lots of practice will give you opportunities to improve. Having a good eye will help a lot too.
Grading a coin is considered an art. It is supposed to take into consideration the objective and subjective views that a coin expert has when examining a particular coin. One can objectively determine whether a coin has seen wear or not, but how much or to what extent it has affected the overall condition of the coin is harder to determine.
Not all experts will agree to a single assessment that a coin’s surface is of such state, or the quality of the luster is this high, or the fullness of the strike is this remarkable. Added to the mix is how these factors affect and interact with each other. A coin may receive a grade saying it has “great eye appeal” or another “superb eye appeal.” In common usage, great and superb may not be interchangeable but its shade of meaning is barely indistinguishable from each other. How does this change if applied to coin grading?
Grading has a set standard. Coin conditions vary from the poorest state to the best state. A coin in poor condition will have neither the date nor designs discernible, whereas a coin in the best state bear designs which are clear and detailed, as if they were just struck at the mint. However, since experts are vulnerable to subjectivity, there are varying grades that could be assigned to a coin, depending on how the expert views it. Thus, it is possible for any coin to receive as many grade as the experts who examined it. This doesn’t undermine the expert’s opinion though. It just shows how a coin can be appreciated by different people.
Being able to form your own assessment of a coin’s grade then is important. As a first skill in coin collection, you should be able to determine whether a coin is mintstate, that is, it has no visible signs of wear on any of its surface, or circulated, meaning it bears marks of surface wear because of handling.
Prior to the 1940’s, using adjectives was the only way to describe for a coin’s grade. The numerical grading system in current use was invented by Dr. William Sheldon in that decade. The circulated coin grades were assigned numbers from 1 to 59, while numbers 60 to 70 were used for the mintstate coins. 0 is the least desirable and 70 is a coin in perfect state. This standard however, is applicable to US coins only. An abbreviation for an adjective is appended to the number for clarity.
LESSON 6 - Tools of the trade
Coin collectors need tools to determine the value of the coins they have in their possession or coins they want to acquire. Although you want to assess the coins correctly, the following tools are used not just to find the defects the coins have but, more importantly, they are used to discover the coin’s intrinsic beauty and value. As you discover their worth, you will derive profit not only financially from them as an investment, but also give you personal satisfaction as a coin collector.
When it comes to tools, the least numismatists should have are a magnifier and the right reference books. It would also help if an adequate light source to be used for coin examination is available. There are other miscellaneous tools that you can use to give more options when admiring and examining a coin.
A high-quality magnifying glass is essential so you can examine a coin's tiny details. A magnifier to be used for grading should have 4-10 times magnification. Most coin collectors would say 7 times magnification is ideal. For those who are collecting different dyes, a magnifier with 10 times magnification is normally recommended. Some smaller coins and especially proof coins are best examined using a low power magnifier to see hairline or other tiny imperfections. Using an excessively high magnification power overemphasizes defects which can lead the grader to incorrect and inconsistent grading opinions.
General Reference Books
A general reference book containing information on dates and mintmarks, grading guidelines, major varieties and prices is a must have if you want to have the necessary information about certain coins. Other references that deal with grading die varieties or counterfeit detections are also helpful. For the most recent pricing information and other numismatic news, periodicals are the best source. Good references will give you the details you need to avoid making bad decisions concerning your coin collection, whether you are buying or selling. You can start building your own library now and reap the benefits as soon as you obtain your first book.
You may have the most expensive magnifying glass available, but it certainly will not work without the aid of the proper light source. For lighting purposes, an incandescent light of about 75 watts or higher is recommended. However, the actual brightness will depend also on the available ambient light. The light source should be located within half a meter of where you will examine the coins.
Coin Collecting Software
Depending on your type of coin collection and its size, managing all data related to them may become overwhelmingly hard. You may find coin collecting software a necessary additional investment (together with a computer.) Coin collecting software is not just for creating a catalog or inventory. Many commercially available software packages do have built in coin inventories to collect modern, ancient and medieval coins and they are also capable of organizing existing web resources and coin related links with an option that includes recent coin values updated for the current year.
LESSON 7 - Coin Fraud
There are many opportunities for unscrupulous coin dealers or even collectors to gain an advantage over other dealers or collectors, especially those who have just started this wonderful hobby. If you are on the receiving end of this, you can best protect your self by spending time to learn about the coins being offered for sale to you. You must inform yourself about the coin’s rarity, grade, availability in the market and how the coin has done historically in terms of prices.
If you want to be a successful coin collector and investor, you should be prudent in acquiring coins even if they are touted to have high numismatic value. Many coin collectors who exercise caution and are careful when buying any single coin, will study the coins concerned before making a decision to buy or not. Knowing who the dealer is will also help a lot in determining the outcome of an offer to sell.
The following are some tips when you receive offers to buy coins for your collection:
- Do not rush into buying. Bear in mind that a sale that sounds too good to be true will usually turn out to be not true at all. You must be confident that the dealer can stand behind his or her claims.
- If you are not absolutely convinced of the dealer’s reputation and reliability, ask for a second opinion from another source. Before committing to buy, find out what you can do to remedy the situation if the second opinion turns out to be unfavorable to your choice of dealer.
- If you buy coins from an independent source, be sure to check their grades. Remember that grades are just the opinion of the certification or grading service.
- Compare prices. Although grades are important factors when determining the price, you need to be cautious about the price itself. If a the price a dealer quotes is lower than the listed price in publications, then there is a possibility that the dealer is not telling the truth about the quality or grade of the coin in question.
What To Do If You Encounter A Fraudulent Dealer
There are consumer protection agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission, that are concerned with getting your complaint information so cases can be filed against fraudulent dealers. Most government agencies may not be able to deal with individual disputes but they can provide you with sound advice regarding what actions to take against erring dealers. If the dealer who defrauded you is a member of a coin organization, you can normally file a complaint in that organization and receive help.
Counterfeit coins aren’t new. This is no surprise at all. They were first contrived almost as soon as the first coins were minted more than 3,000 years ago. The practice unfortunately, has continued through the years up to the present.
They are produced primarily for profit by unscrupulous persons who do not care at all about the hobby. Counterfeiters simulate rare coins which are highly valued by coin collectors and dealers.
There are many ways to do this such as altering genuine coins by the removal, addition or alteration of the coins’ original date or mint marks. Special machines are used to strike genuine coins are struck (stamped out). Unlike genuine coins, most counterfeit coins are instead made by pouring liquid metal into molds or dies. This system often leaves die marks, such as cracks or pimples of metal on the counterfeit coin as opposed to a smoother surface of a real coin.
LESSON 8 - Showing Your Coin Collection
Coin shows open a lot of opportunities for all those involved in numismatics. They draw a lot of interests from buyers, sellers and dealers who all join hands to come up with an event where everyone concerned can learn and acquire something new. If you are attending your very first show, be warned that you could find it quite overwhelming. But give yourself a little time and you will certainly go where the rest are going.
It is in these events where coin seekers find the holy grail of coins – the long lost very rare coins that they have long wanted to possess. Buyers who are eager to finally purchase the coin that will complete their set will welcome the presence of hundreds of sellers where they could discover what they want. The sellers and dealers alike will surely welcome too, the attendance of thousands of buyer who are ready to part with their money and write checks to purchase their coins.
Coin shows are not merely venues where you can see valuable rare coins, both ancient and modern displayed in showcases and are for sale. It is also the place where you can learn a lot about this hobby of kings that started hundreds of years ago through exhibits, seminars and talks presented by numismatic experts. As a novice coin collector you might not know what to do or how to deal with sellers and dealers if you are going to buy coins, whether as an investment or to add to your growing collection.
Coin Show Etiquette
You are a coin collector out to get your very first coin. You are very eager to look and handle every coin you fancy as the one you want and then you realize that it is not. So you pick up another, and then another. You may not notice it at this point but for sure, the dealer is looking at you, very nervously, trying to catch your every move. The reason? It is because the dealer is apprehensive about potential losses since the coins in front of you are presumably the dealer’s best and thus, the most expensive in his collection. Therefore, the first thing you have to keep in mind is to put the dealer’s fears aside: that you are not there to make off with his valuable coins. Put him at ease by not making any move that the dealer can interpret as stealing.
Displaying your Coin Collection
You certainly are proud of your collection. It may not be large at this point but you are making progress and you want to show it off. You can use display cases, boxes, even picture frames, folders and presentation binders. At home, you can use a bookcase or cabinet to display your coins. You may set up either a permanent display or only for special occasions. The thing to bear in mind is to make it as attractive as possible. You can also use the same set up if in the future you want to sell your collection.
Use an attractive leather or vinyl coin albums or sleeves to show off your American coins. Look at online stores for custom albums to display American dimes, pennies and nickels. For your special favorite coins, your best bet is to display them in a wooden cabinet with trays, preferably with velvet linings.
If you are preparing your coins to be displayed in a coin show, whether as exhibit pieces or for sale, you can follow what many collectors do with their prized possessions. They place their coins inside a coin collecting album which displays the coins in all their splendid state. This type of album is not made to be coin holders and then hidden in an obscure drawer somewhere in the house. Rather it is meant to be displayed and seen. Coins in a collecting album attract attention as it shows the beauty and details of the coins for everyone to see.
LESSON 9 - Selling Your Coin Collection
Whether you started your coin collection as a hobby or as an investment, there will come a time when you will consider selling the coins you have accumulated. You might need to because of a personal financial need or perhaps to help out a relative or a friend. For sure, you will not sell them because you have gone tired of them and have lost interests. And just like any commodity, you expect a fair price to be offered for them and you also expect to profit somehow from the sale, no matter how small it will be. What you want is to get the most money for your coins as quickly and conveniently as possible.
You have several options when it comes to selling your collection. You can choose to go by the route of a public auction. Most auction house however have a minimum consignment value. And if yours is below this figure, they will not accept your collection. You will then need to find another dealer who will accept lesser value coins and can auction them for you quickly.
Another way to sell your collection is through a personal sale. This can be the quickest way but could also be the riskiest and time consuming. You have to approach several dealers and offer your coins for sale. You may or may not have luck in finding one who can quote a reasonable price for them. You can also put an ad in the papers but some of the offers you get through them could be of dubious character. It might be too late for you if the offer comes from a dishonest person out to take advantage of people like you.
A third way you could choose is to have your coins consigned to a local dealer. But you should only do this if you have a personal knowledge of the dealer’s background. Ask the dealer if he or she is willing to accept the coins for a certain amount over which he or she can impose a markup. Most dealers will accept this since they have no financial investment as the markup is already sure profit.
Ways to sell your coin collection
There are two ways you can sell your collection whether it is a complete set or a random collection of types or series. You can sell them as a complete set or sell them as individual coins. Each way has its own advantages and disadvantages. It depends on how much work you are able to give to each task.
You can sell your coin collection as a complete set but this way, you may not get the money you expect from each coin although you can be sure that you can sell the whole lot.
If you have a complete set to sell, the best way to do it is to leave them as they are. It is important to know what they are worth. Compare what you know to be reasonable with the bids you will receive, whether it’s close to the figure you have or way below. It might be low but consider the work you would save if you have to sell the coins individually.
Selling the entire collection may be the least time consuming and least labor intensive way to sell them. You can then bring them to the dealer or coin shop of your choice with an inventory so they can check your collection easily.
LESSON 10 - Sharing Your Hobby
There are times when you spend a lot of time on coin collecting that you have forgotten other things that need your attention. This may be an extreme situation but you may have forgotten your family members because you have been so engrossed in completing your coin set. You can go out of town or even out of state just to get that coin you have coveted for so long. You do enjoy these activities but always in the company of your fellow numismatist. Perhaps it is now the time to share your hobby with your family or at least introduce them to the joys of coin collecting. You can start with your kids.
Getting Your Kids Involved in Coin Collecting
There are many hobbies and pastimes that parents and kids can share. Perhaps you are an avid baseball fan. You can bring your kids to every baseball game you like and enjoy great bonding time with them. You can also buy your kids a video game console, play a racing game against them and be their hero when, and if you win. But these and other similar activities have a short lifespan, in so far as your kids are concerned. They will eventually outgrow them and they will go on to other activities that will interest and occupy their leisure time. And you yourself would have to find another way to amuse yourself then.
Now, introducing your kids to coin collecting is an entirely different ballgame. Unlike the other activities mentioned above, this one can last a lifetime. Both you and your kids can enjoy this fascinating hobby starting today and continue to do so for the years to come. While it is a fact that your kids will grow up someday and leave their video consoles behind, if you have motivated them and they develop an interest in coins, you can enjoy coin-hunting together..
There are a lot of things about coin collecting that kids might find interesting. Try giving them a coin collecting guide and a little cardboard penny folder as a gift for their birthday or Christmas and you might just spark their interest and stoke it to full bloom after some short time.
Here are some tips on how you can open up the world of coin collecting to your kids.
Have your favorite coins ready to be shown to them. Choose the ones with eye catching designs and those with colorful history behind them. This means you have to brush up on your coin history. How else can you pique your children’s interest if you don’t know it? Talk to them about when, how and why coins were made. You can talk about archeology too as you go on telling them about where they were found, who found them and how they ended up in your collection.
Take time to educate your kids and ignite their interest when an opportunity presents itself. When you are with your kids shopping for example and you happen to receive one of the 50 State Quarters in change, ask them if they could try collecting the entire series. As a follow up at home, you can show them the coins in a series that you may have in your possession. This way, you could show them it is possible and so encourage them start a journey towards a hobby they could enjoy all their lives.
A good book about coin collecting will help launch your kids’ romance with coins. Start with books that contain many pictures and illustrations. Encourage them to include in their readings books about different coins from different countries around the world. A coin history book is also a must read.
Coin collecting isn’t just about coins. Since coins are products of history and history tells how people have lived in a society, it matters how one appreciates its value, both because of what it represents and what it means to those who possess the coin. Some coins are valuable in themselves because of the precious metals they contain while some are because they are rare and a lot of collectors covet them. It doesn’t matter whether you aer an expert or a novice coin collector. What’s important is that coins are preserved as testaments of a people’s way of life and how they coped with challenges and adversities that faced them.
If you want more comprehensive and practical information about coin collecting, Then check that change in your pocket, one of them could start you on your way to this fulfilling and enriching hobby.