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: Washington, D.C./U.S. Territories quarters

Six quarters were issued during 2009 with reverses honoring the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands (pictured here) and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

Soon after the 50 States quarter dollar program was launched, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., began her quest for recognition of the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories on the reverse of the circulating Washington quarter dollar. She introduced legislation five times, gaining passage in the House of Representatives. However, her initiatives were blocked in the U.S. Senate because the legislation was viewed by opponents as a backdoor attempt to gain statehood for the federal district.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., who was the chief sponsor of the legislation that created the 50 State quarters program, declared his support for quarter dollars honoring the district and the territories soon after the launch of the State quarters program and joined Norton in working to obtain its passage. They achieved success at the close of the 110th Congress by attaching the bill to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (PL 110-147) signed into law Dec. 21, 2007, some 10 years after the approval of the 50 States quarters law.

COIN VALUES: See how much Washington quarter coins are worth today

Six quarters were issued during 2009 with reverses honoring the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. According to the Mint they were issued in equal sequential intervals throughout the year. The District of Columbia quarter was issued Jan. 26.

The John Flanagan's obverse design of George Washington modified by William Cousins (unchanged from the 50 State quarters obverse) appears on each. The reverses honor the District of Columbia and the territories.

The authorizing laws required the secretary of the Treasury to approve each reverse design after consulting with the chief executive of the District of Columbia or the territory being honored and the Commission of Fine Arts, after review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

The authorizing law provides for the coins to be struck for commerce, Uncirculated and Proof versions, as well as a 90 percent silver. 

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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