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: Roosevelt Dimes

The Roosevelt dime has been the 10-cent U.S. coin since 1946.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's sudden death of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, compelled Treasury officials to recommend the late president's portrait to be immediately placed on a coin of regular issue without having to wait for the centennial of his birth as had been done with Abraham Lincoln for the cent.

The dime was one of only three circulating coin denominations available for use for the memorial without introducing special legislation. The other two were the Lincoln cent and the Walking Liberty half dollar. The Act of Sept. 26, 1890, permitted the Secretary of the Treasury to change the designs on circulating coins after 25 years without the need for congressional approval.

COIN VALUES: See how much Roosevelt dimes are worth today

Chief Sculptor-Engraver John R. Sinnock's adopted obverse shows a portrait of Roosevelt facing left, with LIBERTY along the border before his face. IN GOD WE TRUST appears below Roosevelt's chin, with the date to the lower right of the truncation.

There is some possibility that Sinnock actually adapted the design from two bas relief models black sculptor Selma Burke produced for a commissioned plaque before the president's death.

Sinnock's reverse design is not much different from Adolph Weinman's design for the Winged Liberty Head dime, except for the elimination of the fasces in favor of a torch and making the vegetation more recognizably an olive branch of peace.

The finished coin was rushed into production in January 1946 to coincide with the 1946 March of Dimes birth defects fund-raising campaign. The intimate connection the Roosevelt dime had with the March of Dimes and the war against polio is often misjudged by collectors.

Because of the need to produce dimes in sufficient quantity to be used in the infantile paralysis drive that year, the first year of issue was also the highest mintage of the dime struck in silver, with more than 344.1 million coins produced.

The key to the series is the 1949-S, even though more than 13 million were struck at the San Francisco facility.

With silver prices rising and supplies dwindling, Treasury looked at a number of compositional alternatives to reduce costs. The Coinage Act of July 23, 1965, resulted in the composition of the dimes and quarter dollars being changed to two layers of copper-nickel bonded to a core of pure copper. The half dollar was changed to a reduced silver clad composition.

All 1965-67 coins were struck at the various Mint production facilities, but none bear Mint marks. The omission of the Mint marks was a continuation of the Mint's misguided belief that collectors were responsible for the coin shortages of 1963-65. The Mint did not want collectors hoarding the new dimes and preventing their use in circulation.

From 1946 to 1964, the Mint mark appeared on the reverse, to the lower left of the torch, just above the E in ONE. Beginning in 1968, the Mint mark was moved to the obverse, above the date. The P Mint mark for Philadelphia Mint-struck dimes did not appear on the coin until 1980.

Not long after Sinnock's new dime design appeared in circulation on Jan. 30, 1946 (the anniversary of Roosevelt's birth), rumors were buzzing that the designer's initials, JS, located at the base of the trunk of the neck opposite the date, stood for Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union. The rumor indicated the initials were put there because of a pledge that Roosevelt had made to Stalin when the two leaders met along with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The rumor had no basis in fact. The initials were to designate the design as the work of John Sinnock.

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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