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: Indian Head $10 eagle

The $20 gold double eagle designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint.

Yet another Saint-Gaudens creation, the Indian Head $10 gold eagle, is somewhat overlooked in comparison, even though the designs for the eagle denomination were originally intended for the double eagle.

It was the first coin produced by the Mint using the Janvier lathe, a new reducing machine that Saint-Gaudens recommended the Mint purchase to achieve the quality in numismatic art then being produced in Europe, especially in France.

It also appeared without the motto "In God We Trust," sparking Congress to enact legislation mandating its restoration.

COIN VALUES: Find out how much your Indian Head $10 eagle goin coin is worth today 

Buttressed by President Theodore Roosevelt's deep personal interest in United States coinage, Saint-Gaudens was presented with the challenge in January 1905 of creating new designs for the eagle, double eagle and cent. Roosevelt was particularly enamored with the aesthetic qualities of the coins of ancient Greece.

Saint-Gaudens undertook his task of new coin designs with great vigor as he prepared sketches soon after his return to his studio in Cornish, N.H. Preliminary sketches centered on designs for the $10 gold eagle.

Saint-Gaudens tried his hand at representations of a standing eagle, one of which eventually graced the reverse of the special 1905 presidential inaugural medal. Adaptations of that standing eagle design would eventually be used on $20 gold double eagle patterns and ultimately on the adopted reverse of the $10 Indian Head eagle.

Saint-Gaudens was inspired by the classical figure of Nike, or Victory, when he created preliminary designs for a winged, full-standing figure of Liberty for the double eagle's obverse. For the cent's obverse, Saint-Gaudens designed a profile from the head of Victory that he had originally prepared for the Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman Monument in 1905, but did not use.

It would later be adapted, with the olive wreath replaced by a feather headdress, for the obverse of the $10 eagle.

Roosevelt, however, had emphatic ideas about what he wanted depicted on the coins.

"... Is it possible to make a Liberty with that Indian feather head-dress? ... Would the feather headdress be any more out of keeping with the rest of Liberty than the canonical Phrygian cap which is never worn by any free people in the world?" Roosevelt wrote in a Nov. 14, 1905, letter to Saint-Gaudens.

There was no legal basis for the use on coins of the motto "In God We Trust," which first appeared in 1864 on the 2-cent coin. Roosevelt considered the inclusion of a reference to God on a coin as sacrilegious, so the motto was dropped from the eagle and double eagle denominations of 1907. The public clamor from what was construed as a blasphemous act and abuse of executive power was remedied by Congress, which mandated by law in 1908 the inclusion of the motto on all U.S. coins.

There were, however, certain legal requirements at the time with which Saint-Gaudens struggled: the date, the wordliberty, the phrase e pluribus unum, 13 stars for the original 13 Colonies, 46 stars for the number of states then in the Union, the coin's denomination and the inscription united states of america.

Saint-Gaudens resolved the issue on the $10 eagle by using 46 raised stars to replace the previously reeded edge.liberty was placed on the band of the Indian headdress, with the date in Roman numerals below the trunk of the bust and 13 stars around the top border.

Because of Saint-Gaudens' recurring setbacks from cancer, New York sculptor Henry Hering, a former classmate at the Art Students League, modeled the coin designs.

By January 1907, Saint-Gaudens had settled on the profile Indian head for the obverse and the standing eagle for the reverse of the $10 coin. Roosevelt – determined in seeing the gold coins in circulation before Congress convened in January 1908 – gave the order to the secretary of the Treasury to begin releasing the gold coins by Sept. 1, 1907, a month after Saint-Gaudens' death.

Chief Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber resisted the order, since he only had workable dies for the $10 eagles, not $20 coins. The $10 eagles were subsequently produced from dies made from Barber's modification of Saint-Gaudens second high-relief models.

Two types of pattern $10 eagles were struck during this period. On both, the reverse dies have periods before and after the legends.

The first type had the designs higher than the rim, prohibiting the coins from stacking properly. The defect was corrected on the second. Elimination of "In God We Trust" created a public outcry and congressional furor that Roosevelt had not foreseen.

Congressional hearings were held and the motto restored by Act of Congress. Roosevelt withdrew his previous objections and directed that the motto be placed on the coins. The motto appears on all coins issued after July 1, 1908.

Lofty prices are received for the 1907 Wire Rim, Periods variety pattern, of which 500 were produced, and of the 1907 Rolled Rim, Periods (only 42 were struck).

However, as a rule, premiums are not necessarily analogous to lower mintages where the $10 eagles are concerned. The 1911-S, with just 51,000 pieces struck, has almost no premium in the circulated grades. Yet the 1920-S, with 126,500 struck, carries a significant premium even in Fine 12 condition because most of the mintage was melted at the Mint and not released.

The cream of collecting is the 1933 eagle, the only collectible coin of the final date of circulating U.S. gold coinage, with possibly only 20 pieces known. Even though 312,500 pieces were struck, only a small number made it out of the Mint. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order of April 5, 1933, recalling gold coinage, snuffed out their widespread release.

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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