Wheat pennies, Morgan dollars, proof sets — are they worth more than face value or should you put them in your car’s console for parking meters and vending machines? Coin collecting doesn’t have to be a mystery. Learn a little more about it and start a coin collection today.
Why Become a Numismatist?
Numismatist? A fifty-cent word for a coin and money collector. So why would you want to become one?
Most of us start collecting something because it’s fun — especially the thrill of the hunt, tracking down a missing part of a set or series. You can learn a lot as you build a collection, too, not just about the items themselves, but the history around them and how they were used. Did you know the US Mint made 3-cent coins until 1889?
Money is worth its own face value, so your collection keeps at least a fixed starting value (more than Beanie Babies can say). Of course, the better your collection is, the more you add to that starting value.
What Makes Old Coins Collectible?
Age & Rarity
True of most antiques, the combination of age and rarity is important in determining value, which is also true for coins. For example, most wheat pennies are worth about 3-4 cents, but a 1909 version with the engraver’s initials (V.D.B.) can be worth nearly $120,000 because so few were produced. Coins with errors such as double-strikes in the die or being stamped on the wrong metal can add value, too.
Gold and silver coins, because of the intrinsic value of the metal, can hold greater value and appeal for many collectors. Unusual materials such as steel and zinc pennies or tombac (a brass alloy) emergency coins from wartime Canada can add value, too.
In the world of coin collecting, condition is key, and can make dramatic differences in price. For example, a Morgan silver dollar might be worth about $50 in average circulated condition, but can be as much as $250,000 in mint, uncirculated condition.
How to Get Started Coin Collecting
That’s the easy part. Gather coins around the house and stop to examine them. Any wheat pennies? They’re worth a few cents to ten dollars! Pre-1965 quarters or dimes? They’re 90% real silver. Look online at lots of coins, what catches your eye? Maybe it’s the state quarter series, Morgan silver dollars, or mint coins from your birth year. Learn about what you like, then try a coin show and visit coin shops and antique stores, and see what’s out there.
Coin Collecting Tips
- Collect what you like, don’t just aim for high value. You’ll have more fun!
- Try some easy starter collections such as coins minted in a certain year, a particular material, coins with a theme such as sports or animals, or coins from as many countries as possible.
- Handle coins properly — use cotton gloves to keep oils from your hands from discoloring and damaging coins and store them safely in coin folder albums, mylar, or special coin holders.
- Start small and work your way up to larger purchases — it’s easy to make mistakes until you feel more experienced.
- Enjoy it!