Numismatics had been the hobby of relatively few until the
discontinuation of the copper cent and the advent of the Flying Eagle
cent in 1857 spawned nationwide interest.
The Philadelphia Mint provided Proof coins each year. These were
usually sold as minor sets, with the cent, 2-cent piece (starting in
1864), copper-nickel 3-cent piece (1865 onward), and copper-nickel
5-cent piece (beginning in 1866). Silver coins from the 3-cent “trime”
to the dollar were sold in separate sets, and gold coins from the
dollar to the $20 double eagle were available as single coins.
Although records have been found of the quantities of silver and
gold Proof coins made, the earliest documentation of minor coins is
that of 1878 when 2,350 sets were produced. A Guide Book of United
States Coins helpfully suggests, for example, that the mintage
for minor sets in 1868 was “600+,” the 600 figure being that for
Likely the + was a lot more — two or three times the production of
silver Proof coins. Not many people know this, and the Guide
Book silver mintages are often given for minor coins as well,
including by well-intentioned auction catalogers.
Mint-marked coins were not collected at all, and few numismatists
took notice of them. Collecting by date was popular and was the
practice followed by the keepers of the Mint Cabinet.
Among current items, postal currency notes of 1862 and fractional
currency notes of 1863 and later were very popular. Equally or more
popular were bronze Civil War tokens with patriotic themes and,
separately, advertising messages.
Historical Magazine, launched in 1857, had many numismatic
entries, but no coin periodicals were published yet. That changed in
July 1866 when the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society
began publishing the American Journal of Numismatics. Its first
several issues were dominated by listings and information on Civil War tokens.
Dealer lists and auction catalogs often contained useful
information. There were no price lists nor were there grading
standards. To be a successful numismatist, you needed to learn a lot
on your own.
This made the hobby all the more interesting as it became a way of life.
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