Getting started in numismatics

Young or old, affluent or not, all sorts of people find coin collecting an accessible hobby. Many famous collectors started as children or young adults, and this is also the kind of hobby and vocation that gets passed to generations within families and shared with friends. Because studying numismatics also involves learning about history, politics, art and much more, this hobby has educational value. Of course, coin collectors also find this hobby exciting and sometimes, profitable. The first step for novice coin collectors usually includes learning the language of coin collecting. Special terms describe a coin's condition, type and appearance. Mastery of basic terms opens the door to gaining more knowledge.


collectionStart Your Collection

Learning coin terminology and acquiring basic collecting knowledge are important first steps for those entering the numismatic hobby.




historyCoin History

From the U.S. Mint’s first facilities, to the discovery of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, read about the historical places, people and events that have shaped numismatics.




metalsPrecious Metals

Bullion investing and coin collecting go hand in hand. Learn all about the basics of investing and the many different bullion coins available.




coinsKnow Your U.S. Coins

What’s so special about the Morgan dollar? How many different types of Lincoln cents have there been? Get familiar with all U.S. coins, past and present.



Making coins come alive

The very first American colonists had little need for coins in the wilderness. They bartered with trade goods, Native American wampumand tobacco. As civilization grew, the British did not always give the Americans permission to mint their own coins, but the colonists found alternative sources of coins and on occasion, struck coins without royal authority. For example, the Massachusetts Bay Colony set up its own mint in Boston in 1652 during a period when England lacked a king and continued striking 1652-dated silver coins for decades. Thus, early examples of U.S. Colonial coins were born. In April of 1792, the U.S. Mint was established in Philadelphia, the nation's capital at the time.

Numismatics, the studying of coins, and the collecting of coins both stand apart from investing in coins for their bullion value. Still, the bullion value of most collectible coins still needs to get considered. Even today, the U.S. Mint and mints of other nations’ produce bullion coins that are different from regular coins intended for currency. Through much of history, coins derived most of their value from their metal content. While people used coins as currency for thousands of years, the practice might have been closer to trading small bits of copper, silver, gold and other precious metals. However, as gold and silver rose in value, the intrinsic worth of the precious metals in the coins began to exceed their face value. In the U.S., for example, the replacement of 90 percent silver coins with base metal coins began in 1965.

Learning about U.S. coins means learning about the history of the country. Very often, decisions about a coin's content, value and design were made because of political, economic or social events of the time that they were minted. In some cases, political figures or mint executives even made decisions because of favoritism, nepotism or personal competitions — and learning these details makes old coins come alive.


What does 'E Pluribus Unum' mean?

The Latin phrase "E Pluribus Unum" translates to “Out of many, one.” It was the national motto of the United States until replaced in the 1950s by "In God We Trust" and appears on the Great Seal of the United States of America as well as the Seal of the President of the United States.

The phrase has been mandated to appear on every coin struck by the U.S. Mint since an 1873 law. (Not every U.S. coin issued before and after the implementation of the 1873 act bears the motto, though, so some latitude was granted. ) 

According to a 1995 Coin World article by Michael Hodder, the motto’s presence on coinage goes back quite a bit further than that 1873 law.

"Pride of having been the first coinage to display the national motto goes to the 1786 New Jersey state coppers. Their reverse design incorporates the Union shield in the center with E PLURIBUS UNUM inscribed around it,” Hodder writes. "The E PLURIBUS UNUM motto did not appear on federal issue coins until the 1796 quarter eagles. Both varieties of that date, With and Without Obverse Stars, have as their reverse types the arms of the United States. Of course, the eagle on the arms bears a scroll in its beak on which is inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM.”

The national motto has also appeared on the back of $1 notes since 1935, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury

As for the motto itself, Hodder writes that it likely came from a popular magazine in Great Britain, of all places.

"For many years one of the sayings found on the title page of Gentleman's Magazine was our own motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM. It came from a paraphrase of part of a line from one of the Roman author Virgil's Eclogues, and it originally referred to many bees cooperatively making one sweet product, their honey,” Hodder’s article reads. " E PLURIBUS UNUM appeared on the front of Gentleman's Magazine for many years and it must have become a very familiar sight to the readers of the magazine.”

According to Hodder, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin — who first suggested in 1776 that the phrase appear on the Great Seal of the United States of North America — would have likely been subscribers. Gentleman's Magazine, founded in London 1731, ran for nearly 200 years.

"Its sentiments, that many different hands can unite to create something sweeter and greater than existed before, would have appealed to their republican ideals,” Hodder writes.

The triumvirate’s seal design was turned down due to its inclusion of the arms of Britain along with those of the other European countries that contributed to North American colonization. However, E PLURIBUS UNUM would appear on the heraldic eagle seal designed by William Barton and Charles Thomson that would be adopted by the Continental Congress in 1782.

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