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Coin Collecting - Numismatics

Coin Collecting Clubs and Magazines

Coin Collecting - Numismatics

Coin collecting is probably one of the worlds most popular hobbies. Many metal detectorists are also coin collectors, or at very least, love to find old coins.

I have been collecting ancient coins for many years and one of my most treasured possessions is the first roman coin I ever found whilst metal detecting. I didn't find it with my metal detector (at that time a C-Scope 1220B), I spotted the coin before I even ran the search coil over it, just laying on the surface.

I have never understood the obsession many detectorists have with finding hammered silver coins, give me Roman or Celtic grots any day of the week! I still love to find the hammered, but they really aren't the be all and end all of metal detecting.

Coin collecting

While hoarding coins due to their value goes back to the beginning of coinage, coin collecting as pieces of art was a later development. Known as the 'Hobby of Kings', modern coin collecting is generally believed to have begun in the fourteenth century with Petrarch. Notes of Roman emperors having coin collections are also known, but it remains somewhat unclear whether these coins were studied, considered curiosities or possibly were merely hoarded.

Coin collecting specialties

Coin collectors often begin by saving coins they have received in circulation, but found interesting. These may be the remnants of change from an international trip, or an old coin found in circulation. Over time, if their interests increase, chance will not be sufficient to satisfy the demands for new specimens, and a potentially expensive hobby is born. Some become dedicated generalists, looking for a few examples of everything. If they have enough resources, this can result in an astounding collection, as that of King Farouk of Egypt, who collected everything (and not just coins either). Some are completists, wanting an example of everything within a certain set. For example, Louis Eliasberg was the only collector thus far to assemble a complete set of known coins of the United States.

At the very highest levels of coin collecting, it can become a highly competitive sport. Recently, this has exhibited itself in registry sets, where the most complete set of coins with the highest numerical grades assigned by grading services are published by the grading service. This can lead to astronomical prices as dedicated collectors strive for the very best examples of each date and mint mark combination.

Most collectors determine that they must focus their limited financial resources on a narrower interest. Some focus on coins of a certain nation or historic period, some collect coins from various nations, some settle on error coins or exonumia, such as currency, tokens or military challenge coins.

Every collector collects what interests them, and there are as many ways of collecting as there are collectors. However a few themes are common and are often combined to a goal for a collection.

A number of common collection themes include:

Country Collections

Many collectors attempt to obtain an example from every country which has issued a coin. In contrast to those who collect coins from all countries, many collect coins from only one country, often their own.

Year Collections

Rather than collecting one example of a type, some collectors prefer to collect by year, and thus collect one Lincoln cent for every year from 1909 to the present. This is possibly one of the most possible ways to collect US currency. Most bookstores sell specially designed books just for the purpose of collecting coins by year.

Mintmark Collections

Many collectors consider that different mint marks give sufficient differentiation to justify separate representation in their collection. This increases the number of examples needed to complete a collection from one per year to several per year. Some mintmarks are more rare than others and harder to find. This is what makes collecting different mintmarks exciting for collectors.

Variety Collections

As the mint issues many thousands or millions of any given coin, there are generally multiple sets of dies used. Occasionally these dies will be slightly different, generally in a very small detail, such as the number of leaves on the ear of corn on the recent US Wisconsin state quarter. Varieties are more common on older coins, when the dies were hand carved.

Error Collections

The automation of coin manufacturing processes during the 19th century has decreased the number of error coins produced, and somewhat perversely, increased their collectability. Collectors of modern coins find errors desirable because modern processes make the likelihood of their production very limited. Examples of coin errors include doubled dies, re-punched mint marks, overdates, double strikes, off metal coins, displaced or off centre coins, clipped coins, and mules (different denominations on two sides of one coin). -Recently the Wisconsin quarter was found to have an error. It was noticed that some of the quarters contained varying amounts of leaves on the tails side. A fun and collectible example of a recent error collection.

Subject Collections

Collectors with an interest in a subject (i.e. ships or dogs) may collect only coins depicting such certain interest.

Composition Collections

For some, the composition of the coin itself is interesting, for example there are a number of collectors of only bimetallic coins. for example gold, silver, copper... normally only precious metals like gold, silver and now platinum fit this category.

Period Collections

Many collectors restrict themselves to coins issued after the 18th or 19th century, while others collect ancient and medieval coins. Coins of Roman, Byzantine, Greek, Indian, Celtic, Parthian, Merovingian, Ostrogothic, Snappic, and ancient Israelite origin are amongst the more popular ancient coins collected. Specialties tend to vary greatly, but some approaches include the collection of coins minted during a particular emperor's reign, or a representative coin from each emperor.

Coins are often a reflection of the events of the time in which they are produced, so coins issued during historically important periods are especially interesting to collectors.

While many of these themes appear simple at first glance, the more serious the collector becomes, more problems surface. Where someone collects coins from every country, eventually the issue of what is a country will arise, especially in areas beset by civil war. When a collectors aim is every year and mintmark of a particular type, then there will often be one coin which is significantly more rare and expensive than the others

Coin collecting details

In coin collecting the condition of a coin is paramount to its value; a high-quality example is often worth many times as much as a poor example-although there are always exceptions to this general rule. Collectors have created systems to describe the overall condition of coins. One older system describes a coin as falling within a range from 'poor' to 'uncirculated'. The newer Sheldon system, used primarily in the US, has been adopted by the American Numismatic Association. It uses a 1- 70 numbering scale, where 70 represents a perfect specimen and 1 represents a coin barely identifiable as to its type.

Several coin grading services will grade and encapsulate coins in a labelled, air-tight plastic holder. This process is commonly known as 'slabbing', and is most prevalent in the US market. Two highly respected grading services are the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). However, professional grading services are the subject of controversy because grading is subjective-a coin may receive a different grade by a different service, or even upon resubmission to the same service. Due to potentially large differences in value over slight differences in a coin's condition, some commercial coin dealers will repeatedly resubmit a coin to a grading service in the hopes of a higher grade. Buyers are encouraged to look into the quality and features of the various grading services before deciding to purchase a coin based solely on the grade given by a service. The grading services came into being (PCGS being first) in an effort to bring more safety to investors in rare coins. While they have reduced the number of counterfeits foisted upon unsuspecting investors, and have improved matters substantially, because of the differences in market grading (which determines the price) and technical grading, the goal of creating a sight-unseen market for coins remains somewhat elusive.

Damage of any sort, such as holes, edge dents, repairs, cleaning, re-engraving or gouges, can substantially reduce the value of a coin. Specimens are occasionally 'whizzed'--cleaned or polished in an attempt to pass them off as being higher grades or as proof strikes. In general, the buyer is cautioned to be careful of any unknown seller's claims. Because of the substantially lower prices for cleaned or damaged coins, some specialize in their collection. There is a market for almost any rare or obsolete coin.

Many people search loose change and bank wrapped rolls of coins for collectible coins. Amazingly, old coins continue to circulate. Some over 100 years old! Search for terms like 'coin roll hunting' to see web sites that are dedicated to this hobby.

Coins as an investment

A common reason given for purchasing coins is as an investment. Coin prices can be cyclical, and prices may drop for coins that are not in great long-term demand. In addition to demand, condition and rarity (which can be estimated via mintage figures) are also determinants in pricing. Age of a coin per se is not a significant factor.

Many of the reasons given for investing in coins are similar to those given for investing in stamps or gold. As with most collectibles, a coin collection does not produce income until it is sold, and may even incur costs (e.g. for safe deposit box storage) in the interim.

While collecting for pleasure makes an enjoyable hobby, people entering the field primarily to make a profit are warned to study before buying. Certain companies, some of whom may advertise on television, in newspapers, or in popular magazines, are alleged to make outlandish claims about the present and future values of their wares. After learning the basics of the field it is often possible to make better purchases from reputable dealers.

Coin collecting trivia

The first international convention for coin collectors was held in August 15- 18, 1962, in Detroit, Michigan, sponsored by the American Numismatic Association and the Canadian Numismatic Association. Attendance was estimated at 40,000.

The scientific study of coins is known as 'numismatics'. A numismatist may or may not be a coin collector. A coin collector may or may not be a numismatist.

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