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: Capped Bust $10 eagle

Was the Capped Bust $10 eagle a failure? Let's look at the facts.

· It failed to circulate widely.

· It had so much gold content that it was more profitable to melt than use for its $10 value.

· Much of the production was shipped overseas.

· When production of the $10 denomination was halted after fewer than 136,000 coins were struck, none were produced for more than 30 years.

Sounds like a failure, doesn't it?

COIN VALUES: Know how much your Capped Bust $10 eagle gold coin is worth today

All of these problems were the result of a fatal blunder by Congress when it authorized the denomination in 1792.

Congress first considered a $10 gold coin, called the eagle, in 1786, when it proposed a coinage system that included a $10 gold coin containing 246.268 grains of pure gold. That proposal never became law.

When in 1792 Congress finally authorized a national coinage, it pegged the relative value of silver to gold at 15 to 1. That was a mistake, and it doomed the $10 eagle three years before the first specimens were ever struck.

The market relationship between the two precious metals was closer to 16 to 1 than 15 to 1. At 15 to 1, gold coins could be melted and sold for more than their face value in silver, notes Q. David Bowers in his United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History.

The $10 eagle was not a popular size. Its value was too high for small transactions but it was too small for convenient transportation. Compounding the problem was a decision by Congress to permit foreign gold coins to have legal tender status in the United States.

Because of the improper valuation, and ready sources of more convenient foreign gold coins, the Capped Bust eagle did not circulate widely during the period in which it was struck: 1795 to 1804. Production during that 10-year period totaled 135,592, which very small when compared to 21st century production levels.

The final straw occurred in 1803 when France revised its silver-to-gold ratio to 15.5 to 1. Large numbers of U.S. gold coins were exported or melted.

President Jefferson ordered a halt to production and Mint Director Elias Boudinot stopped production in 1804 after 3,757 eagles were struck.

No $10 eagles were struck for 30 years. A handful of 1804-dated eagles were struck in 1834 and 1835 for inclusion in Proof sets to be presented to foreign rulers. Those post-dated 1804 eagles can be distinguished from the "real" thing by the Plain 4 each of the 1834 and 1835 strikes bear (versus the Crosslet 4 of the originals).

The unpopularity of the Capped Bust gold eagle when it was in production has only enhanced its collectibility today.

While none of the coins can be considered common, complete sets can be built, for a price. Collectors may want to collect two type coins, based on the two different reverse designs.

The Capped Bust obverse was mated to two distinctly different reverses. A Small Eagle design was used in 1795, 1796 and 1797, before a Heraldic Eagle design was introduced in 1797. Die variety collectors will find several interesting pieces to collect: two 1798/7 overdates, different numbers of leaves on the reverse of the 1795 coins, different arrangements of stars in 1798, and several star-related varieties in 1803.

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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