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: Franklin half dollars

Produced from 1948 through 1963, the Franklin half dollar features the Liberty Bell on the reverse.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

The Benjamin Franklin half dollar is a series that may ring your bell. Produced from 1948 through 1963, the Franklin half dollar features the Liberty Bell on the reverse.

U.S. Mint Chief Sculptor-Engraver John R. Sinnock's design on the reverse of the Franklin half dollar is also unusual. Although it complies with laws that dictate an eagle must appear on the coin, the small eagle to the side of the Liberty Bell almost appears to be an afterthought. (Sinnock also designed the obverse.)

The obverse of the Franklin half dollar was based on a bust modeled from the original Jean-Antoine Houdon bust sculptured from life when Franklin was ambassador to France.

COIN VALUES: See how much Franklin half dollar coins are worth today

The Commission of Fine Arts rejected the obverse and reverse designs for the Franklin half dollar. However, Treasury officials chose to ignore the commission's recommendation for a design competition and approved both designs.

One of the commission's concerns was that derogatory remarks might be made about the prominent crack depicted on the Liberty Bell. This proved to be unfounded. However, Sinnock's JRS initials appearing on the truncation of Franklin on the obverse were later rumored to stand for Joseph Stalin, the premier of the Soviet Union! The eagle appearing to be flexing its muscles to the right of the Liberty Bell on the reverse is a focal point for many of the varieties of the Franklin half dollar.

There are both high relief and low relief eagle varieties of some dates, as well as variations in the number of feathers depicted on the eagle.

Another variety of interest is the 1955 "Bugs Bunny" coin on which Franklin has the appearance of buck teeth due to clashed die marks.

The mintage figures range from about 2.7 million to about 67 million for the Franklin half dollar series. This was substantial for the series at the time the coins were struck. However, due to melting of many of the coins for their silver content, some of the dates are now scarcer than their mintages indicate.

Based on mintage figures, the key dates in the series are 1948, 1949-S, 1953 and 1955. The most common coin, based on mintage figures, should be the 1963-D.

Proof specimens were struck for Mint sets between 1950 and 1963. The lowest Proof set mintage is 1950. The highest mintage in Proof is 1962.

Cameo finish Proofs appear in some sets. These are early strikes with frosted devices. Such strikes bring a premium value above the price of typical Proof strikes.

The Mint mark D for Denver and S for San Francisco appears above the Liberty Bell on the reverse of Franklin half dollar coins.

There is no Mint mark for coins struck at Philadelphia.

Uncirculated specimens are usually collected by "bell lines." Fully struck bell lines appearing near the bottom of the Liberty Bell on the reverse are desired and bring a premium value higher than Uncirculated specimens without full bell lines.

In his book The Franklin Half Dollar Collector/Investor Guide Lyman L. Allen describes full bell lines: "When the Franklin half is encountered fully struck it will exhibit the three wisps of hair as mentioned, and two sets of horizontal parallel lines near the bottom of the bell on the reverse. These two sets of parallel lines are composed of three raised (four incuse) lines in the upper set, and two raised lines (three incuse) at the bottom. ...

"To qualify all seven incuse lines must show completely across the bell on the reverse, and the three wisps of hair to the right of Franklin's ear must be distinct and not blended together on the obverse."

Allen rates the 1953-S and 1954-S as the poorest strikes in the series, with 1949-S, 1951-S and 1952-S striking quality as "below average."

Rumors of a 1964-dated Franklin half dollar have never been substantiated. The design was changed in 1964 to honor the assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

The Franklin design was used for 15 years.

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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