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.


American Eagle gold coin: Bullion Bio

The U.S. Mint's gold bullion program has been an option for precious metals buyers since 1986.

Images courtesy of APMEX

The coin: American Eagle gold bullion coin

Struck by: U.S. Mint

Available sizes: 1-ounce; half-ounce; quarter-ounce; tenth-ounce

Denomination: $50; $25; $10; $5

First issue: 1986

Design: Coin World Senior Editor Paul Gilkes described the obverse and reverse designs as mandated by the Bullion Coin Act of 1985 in the Sept. 17, 2007, issue of Coin World

"The act mandates a reverse design of a family of eagles, according to an article in the October 2006 issue of Coin World’s Coin Values magazine. The reverse design is of two adult and two younger eagles, and is intended to reflect American family values. The reverse design is credited to artist Miley Busiek, now known as Miley Tucker-Frost. The obverse design of Striding Liberty is a modified version of the original Augustus Saint-Gaudens classic portrait, which first appeared on the gold $20 double eagle from 1907 to 1933."  

How to buy them: More from Gilkes:

"The Mint does not sell the regular Uncirculated bullion coins directly to the public. Instead it sells the bullion coins to a network of authorized purchasers, who acquire the coins from the Mint for the spot price of the precious metal on a given day on the metals market plus a small premium. The authorized purchasers may then sell the bullion American Eagles to dealers and the public."

The U.S. Mint provides a web page collectors and investors can use to find dealers who sell the bullion coins.

Fun fact: The American Eagle tenth-ounce gold bullion is the smallest U.S. coin currently minted in diameter, Gilkes writes, smaller even than the dime. The coin's diameter is 16.5 millimeters, which is slightly smaller than the dime's. The gold coin weighs 3.393 grams (0.11 ounce), which is heavier than both the cent and dime. 

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