An Open Letter to New Numismatists (Coin Collectors)
To start, ask yourself the following question. What is your PURPOSE in collecting coins?
There are many aspects to the world of collecting coins you can consider.
That old dollar you have in your collection could have once been snatched by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid while they were robbing banks.
That same dollar, minted in 1896, could have been in the possession of Henry Ford, as he drove the first Ford vehicle through the streets of Detroit.
When filming GONE WITH THE WIND, Clark Gable may have had in his pocket a 1939 half dollar that now sits in your coin book.
History is always an interesting aspect in the world of coins. AND, knowing the history around coins helps you to determine its value.
There are several factors one should consider when attempting to place a value on a coin.
A. What condition is the coin in? Grading coins is a science in itself. You can study this yourself, or you can send your coins to a company like NGC (Numismatic Guarantee Corporation) who will grade if for you for a fee.
B. What are other collectors willing to pay for a coin?
If you want to find out what a coin is actually worth you can search completed listings on eBay to see what the last several sold for. You could also go to coin shows and talk to other collectors. But remember, you are interested in what the coin actually sells for, not what people are trying to sell it for. For example, I found a wheat penny in my pocket a week ago that was in nice condition. I looked it up online. It sells for about fifteen cents. Yet, there was at least one dealer online who was attempting to sell it for fifteen thousand dollars. So, you can plainly see, you have to look at what the coin is actually selling for.
C. What is the melt value of the coin?
Typically, a coin will be worth more than its weight in the metal it is stamped on. But, not always. Occasionally, the price of silver (or other common coin metal) will exceed the value of a coin. When such times happen many people will melt down their old silver (or other metals). You can check out the melt value of coins on websites such as coinflation.com. (See the References section below.)
D. What is economical, yet effective way to start collecting?
If you are worried about value when you start your collection, start with coins that are worth nearly face value or silver melt value. For example, you could start a half dollar collection by buying a box of halves from your bank. Sort out the best example of each year and mintmark you can find. Then you can take the rest back to the bank, or just spend them, and you only have 50 cents in each half in your collection. Occasionally you can find a silver half (1970 and earlier, these are worth a few dollars each). This probably would be a good exercise for children too (for the silver content in them), if you were trying to get them interested in coin collecting.
Now that you have started a collection with circulated coins, you could move up to uncirculated coins. “Uncirculated” means they are sold from the mint directly and have not been pawed over by the general populace, OR the coin is in such good condition it appears as if it has never been touched. If you purchase a Mint Set will give one an example of each circulated coin for that year in its own packaging so that it stays nice. A Proof Set presents coins of that year with superior minting, also in its own protective packaging.
Eisenhower Dollars are a good coin for a beginning collector. In 1974 there are proof sets and mint sets available, as well as a couple Silver Eisenhower Dollars. The “Blue Pack Ike” (called such because they come in a blue envelope) and the “Brown Box Ike” (which come in a brown box) are both made of a 40% silver alloy.
There are several types of Eisenhower Dollars, where the wording on the back of the coin is either in bold letters or extremely bold letters. There are other interesting aspects to the coin as well, which you will learn about as you start collecting them.
Special Coin Collecting Words
Collecting coins is a special field which has its own set of terms. You will be lost if you don’t know look up these words when you come across them. The U.S. Mint has a good glossary on their website. Our website also provides a glossary.
For beginners I would suggest that you collect what you like. If you like the state quarters then that might be just what you are looking for. If you do decide to collect all the state quarters, great! There are several different of these quarters to collect, such as uncirculated examples from the both the Denver Mint and the Philadelphia mint. There are clad and silver proof series from the San Francisco mint as well.
Stick to your budget and shop around for the coins you want and like.
Hope this helps and have fun collecting coins!