What to collect is entirely up to the collector. It will normally be a specialization that holds some interest for the collector and is within his or her budget.
Among the most popular types of collections are world coins (coins from several countries), ancient coins, and coins of a particular country. Some specialization within these categories is ordinarily helpful. If collecting from a particular country, you can work on one or more series, a type set, commemoratives, errors, die varieties, paper money, etc. You may also want to set bounds on the grades of coins you collect, e.g. all G-VG, VF or better, or un-circulated.
You could collect an entire series. The goal of a series collector is to acquire one of each date and mintmark made, usually including any major design differences. For example, the U.S. Standing Liberty quarter was produced from 1916 to 1930 at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints (coins were not made at all three mints every year, and none were produced at any mint in 1922); a major change to the obverse was made in 1917, and the full set is generally considered to include both designs for that year from each mint.
A collector building a type set seeks to have one of each series and major design variation within each series. Examples would be 20th century Canadian coinage or U.S. gold coins.
You may choose to focus on ancient coins. That is coins that were minted prior to 500 A.D. Many of these are in a theme and that is one way to focus your collection.
Experts say that the gold, bronze, and silver coins of the ancient world are actually quite readily available today and can be had for not a huge investment.
Tokens are also popular with collectors. When the government ignored the needs of the people and refused to issue sufficient low value coins the traders took matters into their own hands and issued tokens. In Great Britain this took place in the mid 1600’s, the 1790’s and the 1810’s. These formed a local currency and it took several acts of Parliament to ban them. The bans were never completely successful and ‘advertising tickets’ continued to be issued through the mid 1800’s. These were conveniently the same size as farthings, the coin still in very short supply, and undoubtedly circulated as such.
By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign the need for tokens had gone but there were all sorts of other similar pieces being used. Pubs issued checks but because they were such an everyday occurrence nobody thought the record how they were used!
The co-operative societies used checks to record the value of purchases made so that the correct amount of dividend could be paid. Fruit pickers received tallies to depending on the quantity of fruit picked. The most recent use of tokens is probably the ones used in gaming and vending machines, as well as the one used by the many transport undertakings.
Although less valuable than coins, tokens are nevertheless much more interesting if you are interested in local history and like to do research.
You may want to look into collecting proof sets. Proof coins are specially manufactured for sale at a premium to collectors and sometimes for exhibition or for presentation as a gift or award. Proofs are generally distinguishable from ordinary coins by their mirror-like fields, frosty devices (especially in recent years) and extra sharp details.
To obtain these qualities, each proof coin die is polished to produce an extremely smooth surface and used for a limited number of coins. Planchets are hand fed to the coin press, where they are struck at a higher than ordinary pressure. Struck coins are removed by hand with gloves or tongs. Modern proof coins are usually packaged in clear plastic to protect them from handling, moisture, etc.
For many years the Mint has sold annual sets of proof coins. These “regular” proof sets usually contain one proof coin of each denomination minted.
Since 1992, the US Mint has also offered Silver Proof Sets, which include 90% silver versions of the proof dime, quarter(s) and half dollar. From 1992 through 1998, the Mint also offered a Premier Silver Proof Set. The two types of silver proof sets contain the same coins, with the premier set housing them in fancier packaging.
You could also collect slabs. A certified coin, or slab, is a coin that has been authenticated, graded and encased in a sonically sealed, hard plastic holder by a professional certification service. The holder affords protection from subsequent wear or damage but is not airtight and therefore will not prevent toning. Because any tampering with the holder will be obvious, it also prevents replacing the certified coin with something else.
Counterfeit and altered coins slabbed by major certification services are not unknown but are uncommon. The authenticity of a coin may be guaranteed by the company that slabbed it. Therefore, a coin slabbed by a major certification service offers some protection, especially when fakes are known to exist and the prospective buyer is not able to reliably determine its authenticity.
As we will discuss later, grades are opinions. The same coin may receive different grades if submitted to different services or even if “cracked out” and resubmitted to the same service. Furthermore, grading standards for some uncirculated coins have changed since slabs were first produced (1986), so a coin in an early slab may receive a different grade if resubmitted now.
The grade indicated on a slab represents the opinions of no more than a few persons who examined the coin at the time it was submitted, and not the final word on the subject.
As a result, slabbed coins given identical grades may have different market values. Whenever possible, buy the coin, not the holder.
Prices range from $7.50 to $175.00 per coin, depending on the service and turnaround time, plus shipping costs in both directions.
The skills and equipment needed to encapsulate coins in slab-like holders can be acquired more easily than the expertise needed to accurately authenticate and grade coins. Holders from the services listed above are not the only types that appear in the marketplace.
However, slabs from some “services” may not be regarded by experienced numismatists as legitimate and may not even be backed by a guarantee of the coin’s authenticity. Learning about the service’s reputation and soliciting other opinions about a coin’s condition may save you from paying considerably more than its true market value.
Some collectors concentrate on world coins. This is the term given to collections of relatively recent modern coins from nations around the world. Collectors of world coins are often interested in geography. They can “travel the world” vicariously through their collecting.
A popular way to collect world coins is to acquire representative examples from every country or coin issuing authority. Some collect by subject. This could be finding coins from around the world that feature animals.
Because world coins are usually very inexpensive, this may be a good starting point for children. Many children find foreign coins by looking under change-to-cash machines where customers throw away assorted coins found in their penny jars. Some of these can be from Canada, South Africa, or Mexico.
Here are some suggestions on ways to categorize your coin collection and focus your efforts.
- Collect coins of a specific country or group of countries.
- A collector by type or series aims to acquire one of each type or series of coins, for example, Canadian maple-leaf, a specific Monarch or denomination.
- You may wish to concentrate on coins made of a particular metal such as gold or silver coins.
- Consider collecting coins with a particular theme such as coins with animal designs, boat designs or various commemorative coins such as Olympic coins.
- Some collectors focus on coins issued with some error in the coin’s design, composition, date or inscription.
- Another specialty is the collection of non-monetary “coins” such as war medals and commemorative tokens.
- Save a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter from the year you were born. Try to find one from each mint. Coins from the Canadian Mint in Ottawa and the Mint in Winnipeg do have some minor differences.
- Create a coin set from every year since you were born. Try to find them from both mints.
- Find coins from around the world. Locate their countries on the map. Learn what the coins’ pictures mean to that country.
It’s all really up to you what and how you collect your coins, but as we’ve said before, don’t start by collecting in too many styles – it could be overwhelming. Start small with one kind of collection and expand as you become more proficient.
Guide to Coin Collecting – Index