Coin Collecting

Coin Collecting

 by Duane Higgins

One of the most exciting aspects of numismatics is the tremendous variety of collecting themes.  The list below illustrates some popular and some less popular approaches to collecting coins and serves as a starting point to stimulate interest or advance ideas for further expansion of coin collecting.

TYPE:  A type collection consists of one example of each major change in the design or metal used.  For example, a type collection of nickels would include the Shield Nickel (1866 - 1883), the Liberty "V" Nickel (1883 - 1913?), the Buffalo Nickel (1913 - 1938), Jefferson Nickel (1938 - present) and "War Nickel" (1942 - 1945 with the large mint mark above Monticello).  Collecting by type is very popular due to the wide variety of designs and the long time span represented by the collection.  Also, because of fewer coins involved, higher grade specimens can be included in the set.

SERIES:  With focus on one design type, a complete series collection includes one example from each date and mint.  As an example, a Mercury Dime series would include one from each year (1916 - 1945) and from each of the three mints that struck the coins (Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver).  There is also a Year set that contains only one example from each year regardless of mint.  Some people specialize in collecting "varieties" of circulating coins.

COMMEMORATIVES:  "Commems" have been struck to mark special anniversaries or occasions.  The "old commems"  were usually silver half dollars but quarters and gold were also struck.  "Modern commems" usually include copper/nickel halves, silver dollars and gold.  The modern commemorative programs are usually a means to raise money for whatever program can convince Congress that they are worthy to receive special recognition and funds. 

COLONIALS:  These were usually copper pieces (a few were silver) struck during the 17th and 18th centuries, and served as circulating coins in the years prior to America's independence.  Before the first U.S. mint opened in 1793, coins used were issued by the individual states, private coiners or foreign mints. 

PIONEER GOLD and PATTERN:  During the mid-19th century and throughout the Gold Rush of the 1850's and 1860's, several private mints issued gold coins.  Today, these fascinating relics of Americana are quite rare.  Patterns are trial or experimental pieces struck as examples of proposed design or metal.  Most of the designs--or patterns--were never adopted for regular-issue coins and were struck in very limited quantities.

WORLD COINS:  Coins have been struck since about 700 B.C., and have been issued by nearly every nation in the world.  People who appreciate history, geography, languages or culture will find unlimited opportunities in the field of world coins.  Sub-categories of world coin collections include: "holed coins", animals, insects, geographic region, time periods, or "Foreign Coins Struck at United States Mints".  

PRIMITIVE:  These are items that are not "coin" as we think, but were still used as a medium of exchange in commerce.  Examples include: Shell money, Stone money, bullet money, wire money, arrowhead money, bracelet money, etc.  There is much variety and requires research as not much has been written regarding this collectible area.

ANCIENTS:  Ancient coins were invented by the Greeks in Ionia just after 700 B.C.  The invention of coinage meant the end of barter and beginning of international commerce.  The first coins, called "electrums", were made from a mixture of gold and silver nuggets found in streams.  Greek coins also were made from copper and bronze.  The most common denominations were silver drachms and tetradrachms, and gold staters.

    Greek coins are miniature sculptures of great beauty, depicting gods and goddesses of the city, and animals---especially lions, eagles and bulls. 

    Roman coinage used the same metals but carried lifelike portraits of the countries leaders.  The most common denominations were the gold aureus, silver denarius and bronze      sesterius.

    Byzantine coinage was issued primarily in gold solidi and copper folleses and usually bore a cross or portrait of Christ in addition to a portrait of the emporer.   

CURRENCY:  Some of the world's finest artists made their mark not through paintings or sculpture, but with paper money.  Designs on old currency, crafted by artists and engravers, reveal volumes of history.  They unravel the mysteries of rulers, the downfall of governments and shifts of world dominance throughout the centuries.

ARTISTICALLY ALTERED:  This is a little tricky area of collecting.  This can include: "HOBO" nickels, "Potty" dollars, "Satire" coins, "Punch-out" coins, as well as coins made into rings and buttons.  Fun area to research and collect but not always cheap.

COUNTERFEIT COINS:  These are coins that have been made or altered with the intent to deceive.  Examples can include total reproductions, added mintmarks, removed mintmarks, altered years, or plating.  As it is illegal to possess counterfeit coins (subject to seizure, fine and imprisonment), this is a very sensitive area to be collecting.

COIN RELATED ITEMS:  These are not coins or money themselves but are related to the coin manufacture or collecting community.  Such items that are collected include but not limited to: Coin Boards from around 1934-1938, Coin Banks ("Piggy" banks), Coin Glass (neat but expensive as this is fairly rare with most dating from 1890's), Coin reference books (you never have too many of these whether used for reference or as a collection), and coin advertising brochures (announcement material from the mint of upcoming coins such as the SBA dollar in 1979, the new "Shield Reverse" cent).  Some of this is cheap but has very little chance to be worth much in the near future.  

I am not indicating that these are the only areas of numismatic collecting.  There are probably many more of which I am not aware.  Set your own sights on the area that interests you and don't be intimidated by what others say or collect.  That is part of the beauty of numismatic collecting.

(Much of the above is taken from the PNG, Inc. publication "Money: History in Your Hands".  There has been some expansion and editing of the original text by Duane A. Higgins)