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: Shield 5 cents

Nearly 75 years after the first silver 5-cent coin (Flowing Hair half dime) was struck, the copper-nickel Shield 5-cent coin began its relatively short (24 years) span from 1866 to 1889.

The date of authorization for the new composition 5-cent coin was May 16, 1866. Less than one month later on June 11, 1866, the coins were officially struck and released to the public. For seven years, the United States Mint struck two compositions of the 5-cent denomination, as production of the silver half dime continued through 1873.

COIN VALUES: See how much your 5 cent coin is worth today 

The Shield 5-cent coin was designed and engraved by James B. Longacre. Its copper-nickel metallic content is 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. The edge of the coin is plain and because all of these 5-cent coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, the coin has no Mint mark.

Collectors of this series have the choice of obtaining coins struck as Proof or as business strikes. However, coins dated 1877 and 1878 were struck only as Proof.

The design used during the initial year, 1866, features rays on the reverse extending outward from the 5. The Rays design was discontinued in 1867, with both Rays and No Rays versions struck.

The 1880 coin ranks as the No. 1 rarity as a business strike for the series. It is certainly a key date.

The only overdate in the series was struck during the last year of production for the series. The 1883/2 is a semi-key and desired by collectors in all circulated grades.

Besides the Proof 1877, the 1866 and 1867 Rays 5-cent coins are very popular among collectors. The key Proof of the series is the 1867 With Rays variety, with an estimated 15 to 25 known specimens.

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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