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.


Know your U.S. coins: Late Date large cent

Late Date Coronet cents were struck between 1840 and 1857

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

Better is not always best.

The increasing sophistication of minting technology at the second Philadelphia Mint was a godsend for production, but it all but eliminated significant die varieties on U.S. coins, including the Late Date Coronet cents of 1840 through 1857. Die variety collectors lament the sameness of production that arose with those improvements. For them, better is not best.

The improvement in die production did not completely eliminate large cent die varieties, but it made those that were produced less interesting, at least in the eyes of some. Varieties are primarily though not strictly limited to the dates.

Among the interesting Late Date varieties: the 1843 Coronet, Obverse of 1842, Reverse of 1844 cent; the 1844/81 variety, in which the engraver punching the date into the die attempted to stamp the first two numerals into the die upside down, where the 4s were meant to be; and the 1855 cents, some with slanting 5s and others with upright 5s.

However, despite the improvements in die production, the Late Date large cent series remains extremely collectible.

COIN VALUES: See how much Late Date large cents are worth today

Researchers generally record 1840 as the first of the Late Date cents, although one 1839 obverse die, the Head of 1840, variety is identical to the portraits used from 1840 through 1843. New hubs were created in 1843, which show a slightly repositioned portrait and other modifications. The same hubs were used for the remainder of the series.

Annual mintages from 1840 through 1856 ranged from a low of 1.57 million (1855) to a high of 9.88 million (1851).

The large cent was an anachronism by the 1850s. Its heavy weight versus its limited buying power made it unpopular in commerce. Rising copper prices made the cent unprofitable to coin. An alternative became necessary.

A growing interest in a copper-nickel coinage (nickel lobbyists were powerful at the time) led to the approval of a smaller copper-nickel cent in 1857 to replace the aging large cent. The new, smaller 1857 Flying Eagle cent, authorized in the Act of Feb. 21, 1857, was released in quantity on May 27.

It was the end of one era, and the beginning of another.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:


Dimes and half dimes:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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