Coin collecting

Last updated

Coin collecting is the collecting of coins or other forms of minted legal tender.


Coins of interest to collectors often include those that circulated for only a brief time, coins with mint errors and especially beautiful or historically significant pieces. Coin collecting can be differentiated from numismatics, in that the latter is the systematic study of currency as a whole, though the two disciplines are closely interlinked.

A coin's grade is a main determinant of its value. Commercial organizations offer grading services and will grade, authenticate, attribute, and encapsulate most coins.


Portrait of a Man with a Roman Medal by Hans Memling, depicting a Renaissance collector with a sestertius of Nero Hans Memling 054 small.jpg
Portrait of a Man with a Roman Medal by Hans Memling, depicting a Renaissance collector with a sestertius of Nero

People have hoarded coins for their bullion value for as long as coins have been minted. [1] However, the collection of coins for their artistic value was a later development. Evidence from the archaeological and historical record of Ancient Rome and medieval Mesopotamia [2] indicates that coins were collected and catalogued by scholars and state treasuries. It also seems probable that individual citizens collected old, exotic or commemorative coins as an affordable, portable form of art. [3] According to Suetonius in his De vita Caesarum (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars), written in the first century CE, the emperor Augustus sometimes presented old and exotic coins to friends and courtiers during festivals and other special occasions. [4]

Contemporary coin collecting and appreciation began around the fourteenth century. During the Renaissance, it became a fad among some members of the privileged classes, especially kings and queens. The Italian scholar and poet Petrarch is credited with being the pursuit's first and most famous aficionado. Following his lead, many European kings, princes, and other nobility kept collections of ancient coins. Some notable collectors were Pope Boniface VIII, Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire, Louis XIV of France, Ferdinand I, Henry IV of France and Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, who started the Berlin Coin Cabinet (German: Münzkabinett Berlin). Perhaps because only the very wealthy could afford the pursuit, in Renaissance times coin collecting became known as the "Hobby of Kings." [5] [6] [7]

During the 17th and 18th centuries coin collecting remained a pursuit of the well-to-do. But rational, Enlightenment thinking led to a more systematic approach to accumulation and study. Numismatics as an academic discipline emerged in these centuries at the same time as coin collecting became a leisure pursuit of a growing middle class, eager to prove their wealth and sophistication. During the 19th and 20th centuries, coin collecting increased further in popularity. The market for coins expanded to include not only antique coins, but foreign or otherwise exotic currency. Coin shows, trade associations, and regulatory bodies emerged during these decades. [3] The first international convention for coin collectors was held 15–18 August 1962, in Detroit, Michigan, and was sponsored by the American Numismatic Association and the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association. Attendance was estimated at 40,000. [5] As one of the oldest and most popular world pastimes, coin collecting is now often referred to as the "King of Hobbies". [8] [9]


Two 20 kronor gold coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union. Two 20kr gold coins.png
Two 20 kronor gold coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union.

The motivations for collecting vary from one person to another. Possibly the most common type of collectors are the hobbyists, who amass a collection purely for the pleasure of it with no real expectation of profit.

Another frequent reason for purchasing coins is as an investment. As with stamps, precious metals or other commodities, coin prices are periodical based on supply and demand. Prices drop for coins that are not in long-term demand, and increase along with a coin's perceived or intrinsic value. Investors buy with the expectation that the value of their purchase will increase over the long term. As with all types of investment, the principle of caveat emptor applies and study is recommended before buying. Likewise, as with most collectibles, a coin collection does not produce income until it is sold, and may even incur costs (for example, the cost of safe deposit box storage) in the interim. [10]

Coin hoarders may be similar to investors in the sense that they accumulate coins for potential long-term profit. However, unlike investors, they typically do not take into account aesthetic considerations; rather they gather whatever quantity of coins they can and hold them. [ citation needed ] This is most common with coins whose metal value exceeds their spending value. [11]

Speculators, be they amateurs or commercial buyers, may purchase coins in bulk or in small batches, and often act with the expectation of delayed profit. [10] They may wish to take advantage of a spike in demand for a particular coin (for example, during the annual release of Canadian numismatic collectibles from the Royal Canadian Mint). The speculator might hope to buy the coin in large lots and sell at a profit within weeks or months. [10] Speculators may also buy common circulation coins for their intrinsic metal value. Coins without collectible value may be melted down or distributed as bullion for commercial purposes. Typically they purchase coins that are composed of rare or precious metals, or coins that have a high purity of a specific metal. [12]

A final type of collector is the inheritor, an accidental collector who acquires coins from another person as part of an inheritance. The inheritor type may not necessarily have an interest in or know anything about numismatics at the time of the acquisition. [12]

Collector types

Casual coin collectors often begin the hobby by saving notable coins found by chance. [13] These coins may be pocket change left from an international trip or an old coin found in circulation.

Usually, if the enthusiasm of the novice increases over time, random coins found in circulation are not enough to satisfy their interest.[ citation needed ] The hobbyist may then trade coins in a coin club or buy coins from dealers or mints. Their collection then takes on a more specific focus.

Some enthusiasts become generalists and accumulate a few examples from a broad variety of historical or geographically significant coins. [14] Given enough resources, this can result in a vast collection. King Farouk of Egypt was a generalist with a collection famous for its scope and variety. [15]

Most collectors decide to focus their financial resources on a narrower, specialist interest. Some collectors focus on coins of a certain nation or historic period. Some collect coins by themes (or 'subjects') that are featured on the artwork displayed on the coin. Others will seek error coins. Still others might focus on exonumia such as medals, tokens or challenge coins. Some collectors are completists and seek an example of every type of coin within a certain category. Perhaps the most famous of these is Louis Eliasberg, the only collector thus far to assemble a complete set of known coins of the United States.

Coin collecting can become a competitive activity, as prompted by the recent emergence of PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) and NGC (Numismatic Guarantee Corporation) Registry Sets. Registry Sets are private collections of coins verified for ownership and quality by numismatic grading services. The grading services assess collections, seal the coins in clear plastic holders, then register and publish the results. This can lead to very high prices as dedicated collectors compete for the very best specimens of, for example, each date and mint mark combination. [16] [17]

Common themes

Some coins of Ceylon Lk-colonialcoins.jpg
Some coins of Ceylon
Coins from Germany, the United States and Mexico featuring eagles Eagle coins.jpg
Coins from Germany, the United States and Mexico featuring eagles
Silver tetradrachm from Ancient Greece issued posthumously in the name of Alexander III the Great. Alexander the great temnos tetradrachm.jpg
Silver tetradrachm from Ancient Greece issued posthumously in the name of Alexander III the Great.

A few common themes are often combined into a collection goal:

A fantasy 20 Lira coin, dated 1927. With the head of Benito Mussolini on the obverse, this is an obvious fake. Italian coins during the fascist period bore the portrait of King Victor Emmanuel III. Italia 20 lire argento Mussolini.JPG
A fantasy 20 Lira coin, dated 1927. With the head of Benito Mussolini on the obverse, this is an obvious fake. Italian coins during the fascist period bore the portrait of King Victor Emmanuel III.

Collecting counterfeits and forgeries is a controversial area because of the possibility that counterfeits might someday reenter the coin market as authentic coins, but US statutory and case law do not explicitly prohibit possession of counterfeit coins. [23]

These sorts of collections are not enjoyed by mainstream collectors and traditional collectors, even though they themselves may have in the past or continue to have pieces which could be considered part of an aesthetic collection. One of the issues with this category is that the coins can be seen to have less perceived value to speculators and appraisers. Secondly the coins may be produced artificially, that is coins can be exposed to substances which can create effects similar to those sought for aesthetic collections. This means that coins which may be worth more to historians, numismatists and collectors for their purposes will be destroyed by the process.

Grade and value

In coin collecting, the condition of a coin (its grade) is paramount to its value; a high-quality example is often worth many times more than a poor example. Collectors have created systems to describe the overall condition of coins.

In the early days of coin collecting—before the development of a large international coin market—extremely precise grades were not needed. Coins were described using only three adjectives: "good", "fine" or "uncirculated". By the mid 20th century, with the growing market for rare coins, the American Numismatic Association helps identify most coins in North America. It uses a 1–70 numbering scale, where 70 represents a perfect specimen and 1 represents a barely identifiable coin. Descriptions and numeric grades for coins (from highest to lowest) is as follows: [32] [33] [34]

This Deutsche Mark coin shows blemishes and rim dents that would detract from its grade in appraisal. 3D red cyan glasses are recommended to view this image correctly. Deutsche Mark Anaglyph 1.jpg
This Deutsche Mark coin shows blemishes and rim dents that would detract from its grade in appraisal. 3d glasses red cyan.svg 3D red cyan glasses are recommended to view this image correctly.

In addition to the rating of coins by their wear, Proof coinage occurs as a separate category. These are specimens struck from polished dies and are often packaged and sold by mints. This is frequently done for Commemorative coins, though annual proof sets of circulating coinage may be issued as well. Unless mishandled, they will stay in Mint State. Collectors often desire both the proof and regular ("business strike") issues of a coin, though the difference in price between the two may be significant. Additionally, proof coins follow the same 170 grading scale as business strike coins, though they use the PR or PF prefix.

Coin experts in Europe and elsewhere often shun the numerical system, preferring to rate specimens on a purely descriptive, or adjectival, scale. Nevertheless, most grading systems use similar terminology and values and remain mutually intelligible. [35] [36] [37]

When evaluating a coin, the following—often subjective—factors may be considered:

  1. "eye appeal" or the aesthetic interest of the coin;
  2. dents on the rim;
  3. unsightly scratches or other blemishes on the surface of the coin;
  4. luster;
  5. toning;
  6. level of detail retained, where a coin with full details obviously is valued higher than one with worn details. If the coin is judged favorably in all of these criteria, it will generally be awarded a higher grade. [32]

Damage of any sort (e.g., holes, edge dents, repairs, cleaning, re-engraving or gouges) can substantially reduce the value of a coin. Specimens are occasionally cleaned or polished in an attempt to pass them off as higher grades or as uncirculated strikes. Because of the substantially lower prices for cleaned or damaged coins, some enthusiasts specialize in their collection. [38]

Certification services

Third-party grading (TPG), aka coin certification services, emerged in the 1980s with the goals of standardizing grading, exposing alterations, and eliminating counterfeits. For tiered fees, certification services grade, authenticate, attribute, and encapsulate coins in clear, plastic holders. [39] [40] [41]

Coin certification has greatly reduced the number of counterfeits and grossly over graded coins, and improved buyer confidence. Certification services can sometimes be controversial because grading is subjective; coins may be graded differently by different services or even upon resubmission to the same service. The numeric grade alone does not represent all of a coin's characteristics, such as toning, strike, brightness, color, luster, and attractiveness. Due to potentially large differences in value over slight differences in a coin's condition, some submitters will repeatedly resubmit a coin to a grading service in the hope of receiving a higher grade. Because fees are charged for certification, submitters must funnel money away from purchasing additional coins. [42] [43] [44] [45] [46]


Coin collector clubs offer variety of benefits to members. They usually serve as a source of information and unification of people interested in coins. Collector clubs are popular both offline and online.

Recently, coin collecting has been a popular hobby on the viral video-sharing platform TikTok. Popular content creators like CoinHub and The Coin Show urge TikTok users to examine their coins for errors and varieties before returning them to circulation.

See also


Related Research Articles

Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, medals and related objects.

1943 steel cent U.S. currency

1943 steel cents are U.S. one-cent coins that were struck in steel due to wartime shortages of copper. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints each produced these 1943 Lincoln cents. The unique composition of the coin has led to various nicknames, such as wartime cent, steel war penny, zinc cent and steelie. The 1943 steel cent features the same Victor David Brenner design for the Lincoln cent which had been in use since 1909.

Coin grading is the process of determining the grade or condition of a coin, one of the key factors in determining its value. A coin's grade is generally determined by five criteria: strike, preservation, luster, color, and attractiveness. Several grading systems have been developed. Certification services professionally grade coins for tiered fees.

1955 doubled die cent

The 1955 doubled die cent is a die variety that occurred during production of the one cent coin at the United States Mint in 1955.

50-cent piece (Canadian coin) Canadian coin

The fifty-cent piece is the common name of the Canadian coin worth 50 cents. The coin's reverse depicts the coat of arms of Canada. At the opening ceremonies for the Ottawa branch of the Royal Mint, held on January 2, 1908, Governor General Earl Grey struck the Dominion of Canada's first domestically produced coin. It was a silver fifty-cent piece bearing the effigy of King Edward VII.

American Gold Eagle Gold bullion coin of the United States

The American Gold Eagle is an official gold bullion coin of the United States. Authorized under the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985, it was first released by the United States Mint in 1986. Because the term "eagle" also is the official United States designation for pre-1933 ten dollars gold coins, the weight of the bullion coin is typically used when describing American Gold Eagles to avoid confusion. This is particularly true with the 1/4-oz American Gold Eagle, which has a marked face value of ten dollars.

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) is an American coin grading, authentication, attribution, and encapsulation service founded in 1985. The intent of its seven founding dealers, including the firm's former president David Hall, was to standardize grading. The firm has divisions in Europe and Asia, and is owned by parent company Collectors Universe. PCGS has graded over 42.5 million coins, medals, and tokens valued at over $36 billion.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation American coin certification organization

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) is a privately owned, international coin certification service based in Sarasota, Florida. It has certified more than 49 million coins. NGC certification consists of authentication, grading, attribution, and encapsulation in clear plastic holders. NGC is a member of Certified Collectibles Group (CCG), which owns six collectible certification services. NGC has been the official grading service of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) since 1995 and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) since 2004.

Quarter eagle Gold coin issued by the United States

The quarter eagle was a gold coin issued by the United States with a denomination of two hundred and fifty cents, or two dollars and fifty cents. It was given its name in the Coinage Act of 1792, as a derivation from the US ten-dollar eagle coin. Its purchasing power in 1800 would be equivalent to $71.12 in 2015 dollars.

1913 Liberty Head nickel Rare United States coin

The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is an American five-cent piece which was produced in extremely limited quantities unauthorized by the United States Mint, making it one of the best-known and most coveted rarities in American numismatics. In 1972, one specimen of the five cent coin became the first coin to sell for over US$100,000; in 1996, another specimen became the first to sell for over US$1 million. In 2003, one coin was sold for under three million dollars. In 2010, the Olsen piece sold for US$3.7 million at a public auction.

Silver center cent American bimetallic pattern coin

The Silver center cent is an American pattern coin produced by the United States Mint in 1792. As a precursor to the large cent it was one of the first coins of the United States and an early example of a bimetallic coin. Only 12 original examples are known to exist, of which one is located in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Two more specimens exist but contain fabricated plugs added after minting.

1974 aluminum cent

The 1974 aluminum cent was a one-cent coin proposed by the United States Mint in 1973. It was composed of an alloy of aluminum and trace metals, and intended to replace the predominantly copper–zinc cent due to the rising costs of coin production in the traditional bronze alloy. Of the 1,571,167 coins struck in anticipation of release, none were released into circulation. To encourage congressional support for the new alloy, the Mint distributed several examples to US Congressmen. When the proposed aluminum cent was rejected, the Mint recalled and destroyed those coins. However, despite the recall, a few aluminum cents were not returned to the Mint, and those coins may remain at-large. One example was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, while another was alleged to have been found by Albert P. Toven, a US Capitol Police Officer. A 1974-D specimen was found in January 2014 by Randall Lawrence, who said it was a retirement gift to his father, Harry Edmond Lawrence, who was Deputy Superintendent at the Denver Mint. Randall planned on selling it in a public auction, but the Mint demanded its return, saying that the coin was never authorized for release and therefore remains U.S. Government property. Lawrence ultimately surrendered the coin when the Mint showed that the aluminum cent had never been authorized to be struck in Denver, and there was no evidence that the coin had been a gift of any kind.

Q. David Bowers

Quentin David Bowers is an American numismatist, author, and columnist. Beginning in 1952, Bowers’s contributions to numismatics have continued uninterrupted and unabated to the present day. He has been involved in the selling of rare coins since 1953 when he was a teenager.

Louis E. Eliasberg American numismatist

Louis Edward Eliasberg, Sr. was an American financier and numismatist. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he is best known in the numismatic community for putting together the only complete collection of United States coins ever assembled, with attention to coins in the best possible condition. Although the set was not truly "complete" by modern standards, it is still the most comprehensive U.S. numismatic collection to date.

Certified Acceptance Corporation (CAC) is a Far Hills, New Jersey coin certification company started in 2007 by coin dealer John Albanese. The firm evaluates certain numismatically valuable U.S. coins already certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

The Sheldon Coin Grading Scale is a 70-point coin grading scale used in the numismatic assessment of a coin's quality. The American Numismatic Association based its Official ANA Grading Standards in large part on the Sheldon scale. The scale was created by William Herbert Sheldon.

Michael "Miles" Standish

Michael "Miles" Standish is an American businessman, author, rare coin expert, sports memorabilia expert and philanthropist. He is co-founder of Collectors Universe. He currently serves as vice president of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

Gold coin Coin made from gold

A gold coin is a coin that is made mostly or entirely of gold. Most gold coins minted since 1800 are 90–92% gold, while most of today's gold bullion coins are pure gold, such as the Britannia, Canadian Maple Leaf, and American Buffalo. Alloyed gold coins, like the American Gold Eagle and South African Krugerrand, are typically 91.7% gold by weight, with the remainder being silver and copper.

1804 dollar Coin worth one US$

The 1804 dollar or Bowed Liberty Dollar was a dollar coin struck by the Mint of the United States, of which fifteen specimens are currently known to exist. Though dated 1804, none were struck in that year; all were minted in the 1830s or later. They were first created for use in special proof coin sets used as diplomatic gifts during Edmund Roberts' trips to Siam and Muscat.

<i>Numismatic News</i> American numismatic magazine

Numismatic News is an American numismatic magazine which has been in circulation since 1952.


  1. "The Origins of Coinage:The earliest coin hoard". The British Museum:Explore/Money. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  2. "Coin Collecting".]. Retrieved 14 December 2010. Quote: "The Nestorian scholars and artisans who served the princes of the Jazira (Mesopotamia, now Iraq, Syria, and Turkey) in the 12th and 13th centuries designed a magnificent series of coins with motifs based on ancient Greek and Roman issues. Some of these so accurately render the details of the originals that even the inscriptions are faithfully repeated. Others were modified in intriguing ways. [...] The great variety and the sophisticated use of these images reveal the existence of well-studied collections."
  3. 1 2 "Coin Collecting". Britannica Online. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  4. "Tranquillus, C. Suetonius The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, (1 CE) Section LXXV". Retrieved 23 August 2009.
  5. 1 2 "The Coin Collection History". Archived from the original on 12 September 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  6. "Brief History of Coin Collecting". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  7. "Coin Collectors: Emperor Maximilian". Archived from the original on 10 February 2013. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  8. "Coin Collecting". BBC. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  9. "Brief History of Coin Collecting". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  10. 1 2 3 "Collecting And Investing in Coins". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  11. 1 2 "Coin Hoards". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  12. 1 2 "What is a Coin Collector?". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  13. "Types of Coin Collectors". The Happy Coin. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  14. "10 Rules of Coin Collecting | Coin Collection Tips | American Numismatic Association". Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  15. Lester, Carl N. "Numismatic "Gumshoe:" On the Trail of King Farouk". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  16. "PCGS Set Registry". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  17. "NGC Collectors Society". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  18. "Coin Collecting Themes-One From Every Country". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  19. Eggleston, Gary. "7 Popular Coin Collecting Themes". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  20. "Coin Collecting Themes". Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  21. Eggleston, Gary. "7 Popular Coin Collecting Themes". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  22. 1 2 "Coin Collecting: Common Coin Collecting Themes". Archived from the original on 19 October 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  23. 1 2 Goldsborough, Reid (2008). "Counterfeit Coin Detection" . Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  24. "Governors". Reserve Bank of India: India's Central Bank. Archived from the original on 16 September 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
  25. Hardelt, Claus; Barbara Hardelt. "Fälschungen / Pseudomünzen" [Falsifications/Pseudo-coins]. (in German). Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  26. "20 Lire dorato del Duce Benito Mussolini" [Gold 20 Lira Coin of Duce Benito Mussolini]. (in Italian). 22 July 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  27. "Fakes and forgeries". The British Museum:Explore/Money. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  28. Marotta, Michael. "Genuine Counterfeit Ancients: Plated Coins in Greek and Roman Times" (PDF). Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  29. Hopkins, Edward C. D. (30 October 2019). "Counterfeits & Forgeries".
  30. "Welcome to the Great American Coin Company". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  31. Eggleston, Gary. "7 Popular Coin Collecting Themes". Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  32. 1 2 "History of Grading". Slater Numismatics, LLC. 2008. Archived from the original on 27 September 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  33. Hight, Mitch. "Grading U.S. Coins". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  34. "Grading". NGC Grading. Retrieved 17 July 2008.
  35. Herbert, Alan (20 September 1999). "European Collectors Stick With Verbal Grading System". Professional Coin Grading Service. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  36. Guth, Ron (2009). "German Coin Grading". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  37. "Grading Standards". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  38. Eggleston, Gary. "Can Damaged Coins Find A Home?". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  39. "The History of Rare Coin Grading". Austin Gold Information Network. Archived from the original on 6 September 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  40. "Coin Grading Services: Who They Are and What They Do". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  41. "Coin Grading Systems - The History of Coin Grading Scales". Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Retrieved 13 December 2009.
  42. "NGC". NGC. Retrieved 2015.Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  43. "PCGS Coin Facts". Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  44. Travers, Scott. "THE 10 GREATEST MYTHS OF 'SLABBED' COINS". Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  45. "A Companion to Rare Coin Collecting - Grading Services". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  46. "PNG, ICTA Announce Results of 2006 Grading Services Survey". Professional Numismatists Guild. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2015.