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: Eisenhower dollar

The Eisenhower dollar traces its birth to the March 28, 1969, death of military hero and 34th president Dwight David Eisenhower.

Soon after his death, legislation calling for a dollar coin depicting his likeness was introduced in Congress. A dollar coin had not been produced since 1965, when 1964-D Peace dollars were struck (and destroyed before entering circulation).

Up to that time, the last circulating dollar had been produced in 1935 bearing the Peace designs.

COIN VALUES: See how much Eisenhower dollar coins are worth today

The proposal for the dollar coin for Eisenhower had widespread, nonpartisan support. Richard M. Nixon, who served as vice president during Eisenhower's presidency, was sworn in as president two months before Eisenhower died.

Debate on the dollar coin measure, however, bogged down over metallic composition. Should the coin be struck in copper-nickel clad, as the Treasury Department wanted, or in the same 40 percent silver clad alloy still is use for the Kennedy half dollar, as favored by Western mining interests?

U.S. Mint Director Mary Brooks stated the Mint would not oppose an amendment to include the production of a silver clad coin. Even though the Senate had passed legislation in October 1969 authorizing a silver Eisenhower dollar, the powerful chairman of the House Banking committee, Rep. Wright Patman, D-Texas, an opponent of circulating silver coins, kept the legislation from moving in the House for more than a year.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department switched gears, opting to seek authorization to remove all silver from the half dollar and support a circulating 40 percent silver clad dollar. So sure the measure would pass quickly, the Mint produced obverse and reverse galvanos dated 1970.

The bottleneck was cleared when the One Bank Holding Act of 1970 came up for a vote. Patman had sought passage of the act for more than a decade, so he did not object when the Coinage Act of 1969 – seeking to remove silver from the Kennedy half dollar and authorizing Eisenhower dollar production – was added as an amendment to the banking legislation.

President Nixon signed the bill into law Dec. 31, 1970, minutes before a pocket veto would have killed the measure.

Silver and clad supporters were both appeased: circulation strikes would be copper-nickel clad; some struck for sale to collectors would be 40 percent silver clad.

The Mint's Chief Sculptor-Engraver, Frank Gasparro, designed Eisenhower's obverse portrait and modified the Apollo 11 space mission patch for the reverse. Production began in 1971 and continued through 1974 with minor design modifications.

Major changes were recommended for the coins for the nation's Bicentennial, and plans began three years before the event. Production of the coins began in 1975 and continued throughout 1976 to produce a sufficient quantity for circulation. Since all three coins were planned for a 1975 release, the Mint froze the 1974 date on the quarter, half dollar and dollar, with none of the coins bearing the 1975 date. The Bicentennial coins, including the dollar, have the dual dates 1776-1976.

A design by Dennis R. Williams was selected for the reverse of the dollar coin. Williams retained the moon concept to illustrate the modern era and superimposed it over the Liberty Bell. Soon after production began in mid-1975, Gasparro modified the reverse, especially the lettering, to improve its appearance.

All 1975-S Proof sets and 1975 Uncirculated Mint sets contain the Thick Lettering Reverse dollar. All six-coin 1976-S Proof sets and 1976 Uncirculated Mint sets contain the Thin Lettering Reverse dollar. The 1971-1974 eagle reverse resumed for the 1977 and 1978 dollars.

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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