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: Early dimes

Liberty never wore her hair completely free and unfettered by a ribbon or turban on the first dimes, unlike the allegorical figure on the Flowing Hair half dimes, half dollars and dollars. Instead, Liberty appeared in her Draped Bust guise on the first dime (or disme, as it was alternatively spelled then) in 1796, her hair restrained (though only lightly) by a ribbon bound in back.

COIN VALUES: See how much your Early dimes would are worth today

Dimes took a somewhat different design path than did the half dimes. Introduced as they were two years after the first half dimes, half dollars and dollars, the 1796 dimes went into production with the Draped Bust design, introduced in 1795 on the silver dollar and in 1796 on the half dime, quarter dollar and half dollar.

Like the half dimes of 1794 through 1805, the first dimes (1796 through 1807) bear no representation of their 10-cent denomination, either on the Small Eagle reverse of 1796 to 1797 or the Heraldic Eagle reverse of 1798 to 1807. The Draped Bust obverse design was used with both reverse designs. The Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle designs were replaced in 1809 with the Capped Bust, Lifted Wings dime, the latter designation given to the eagle reverse in Early United States Dimes: 1796-1837, the standard reference work on the subject. Unlike the two previous reverse designs, the Lifted Wings reverse bears a denominational marking in the form of 10 C. (the C. is the abbreviation for Cents). Both designs were used through 1837, although slight modifications were made when the close collar was introduced to replace the open collar about 1827-28.

The five authors of Early United States Dimes: 1796-1837 believe that the classification of Capped Bust dimes as Large Diameter and Small Diameter varieties is incorrect. Instead, they believe the changes in diameter resulted from changes in minting equipment, specifically the collar, in the late 1820s.

Prior to 1828, edge designs were applied to silver planchets in a separate process before striking (generally). Planchets were placed into a Castaing machine, which applied the reeding, lettered inscription or other edge design appropriate for the denomination and date.

In order to not damage the edge design elements during striking, an open collar was used. The opening in the collar was larger than the planchet. During striking, the metal of the planchet spread slightly, but not to the limits of the open collar (as long as the planchet was centered properly on the anvil die).

The introduction of the close collar, however, changed minting procedures. The open collar was replaced with a close, reeded or grooved collar with a smaller opening. The planchet spread during striking, with the metal of the edge flowing into the grooves inside the collar. The use of the close collar eliminated the need for the open collar and Castaing machine, since the designs for all three sides of the coin – obverse, reverse and edge – were generated at the moment of striking.

The authors of Early United States Dimes find no clear separation between Large Diameter and Small Diameter dimes. Instead, they find a gradually reducing diameter from 1827 to 1832, and a gradually increasing diameter from 1834 to 1837. They believe the open collar and close collar explain the differences in diameter.

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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