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: Native American dollar

The 2009 Native American dollar reverse design, based on the theme of agriculture, features a Native American woman planting seeds in a field of corn, beans and squash. It was designed and sculptured by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Norman E. Nemeth.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

Few Americans ever encountered a Sacagawea dollar coin in circulation. But Native Americans took pride in the fact that Sacagawea, the young Shoshone who was a guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest from 1803 to 1806, was selected to grace the obverse of the circulating dollar coin introduced in 2000.

Dismayed at the Sacagawea dollar's lack of circulation and disturbed that it would be reduced to storage in Treasury vaults if the Presidential dollars succeeded in capturing the public's attention, the Native American lobby found a powerful ally in North Dakota Sen. Byron L. Dorgan.

Sacagawea's statue is one of the primary attractions in Bismark, N.D. Dorgan's constituents pressed the case that his state would suffer economically due to a loss in tourism at various historic sites associated with Sacagawea if the design were replaced by the Presidential series.

At first Dorgan negotiated an amendment to the Presidential dollar coin authorization that required for every three Presidential dollars struck, one Sacagawea dollar had to be made. However, concerned that the Sacagawea dollar would become a collector-only series, he took a page from Castle's playbook and drafted new legislation mandating a new reverse design each year, believing that would lead to greater circulation of the coin.

Titled the Native American $1 Coin Act, Dorgan's approach authorizes a new reverse design annually beginning in 2009 for the Sacagawea dollar and the placement of incused lettering on the coin's edge. President Bush signed the measure (PL 110-82) into law Sept. 20, 2007.

COIN VALUES: See how much Native American dollar coins are worth today

The law mandates that the reverse designs commemorate Native Americans and the important contributions that Indian tribes and individual Native Americans have made to the development and history of the United States. The law cites some Native American contributions that could be recognized, including the creation of the Cherokee written language, the Iroquois Confederacy, the Pueblo Revolt, Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, Ely S. Parker (a general on the staff of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and later head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs), code talkers who served the United States Armed Forces during World War I and World War II, and Olympian Jim Thorpe.

The law specifies that the Sacagawea obverse designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre be retained on the obverse and that any reverse design to be paired with Goodacre's design is not to represent a portrait so as not to create a two-headed coin. It also requires that at least 20 percent of all dollar coins issued for circulation in a given year bear the Sacagawea designs.

The 2009 reverse design, based on the theme of agriculture, features a Native American woman planting seeds in a field of corn, beans and squash. It was designed and sculptured by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Norman E. Nemeth.

The year of issue, Mint mark and motto E PLURIBUS UNUM are incused on the edge of the Native American dollars. The legends LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST are on the obverse. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and denomination expressed as $1 appear on the reverse.

Native American dollars are made of the same alloy as the Sacagawea and Presidential dollars and retain all of the size and weight specifications of the other golden colored dollar coins.

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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