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.

Numismatic

Know your U.S. coins: Walking Liberty half dollar

Walk right into the world of collecting Walking Liberty half dollar coins, a series struck between 1916 and 1945.

Adolph A. Weinman's obverse design for the Walking Liberty half dollar has been hailed as one of the greatest of all time. It depicts a full-length allegorical Liberty striding left, garbed in the stars and stripes of Old Glory. Liberty carries in her left hand branches of laurel and oak. Her right hand is outstretched as she walks toward the dawn of a new day represented by the rising sun with rays. A large, plain field is on the right, at Liberty's back. Dominating the reverse is a left-facing fearless and powerful eagle captured with his wings about to unfold to begin flight from his perch atop a mountain crag. In the foreground is a mountain pine sapling springing from a rift in the rock. Open field space occupies a very small portion of the reverse.

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

Weinman had a busy year in 1916. His models for the dime and half dollar won coinage design contests. They have remarkably similar heads, although the depiction of Liberty on the half dollar does not have a winged cap.

The D Mint mark for Denver or S for San Francisco appears in the obverse field on all 1916 and early 1917 issue Walking Liberty half dollars. The Mint mark was moved to below and to the left of the mountain pine near the rim on the reverse beginning later in 1917. Various repunched Mint mark varieties are cataloged for the series. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint without a Mint mark.

A problem encountered throughout the series is the typical weak strike. The obverse facial details and hand holding a branch are typically weak. The hand is directly in line with the high points of the eagle's breast and left leg on the reverse, which is also typically either weakly struck or the first place to wear.

There simply wasn't enough metal to properly fill those design elements.

There are a number of challenging key dates to seek out in this series. Nine issues have a mintage of less than 1 million pieces each. These are 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D (on obverse), 1917-S (on obverse), 1919, 1921, 1921-D, 1921-S and 1938-D. The lowest mintage of all is 1921-D at 208,000 pieces.

The Walking Liberty half dollar appears in U.S. Proof sets of 1936 to 1942. The 1936 has the lowest Proof mintage at 3,901 pieces. The highest mintage is 21,120 pieces for 1942.

There are early dated Proofs struck individually, rather than for sets. There are, as an example, at least three known Satin Finish Proofs of the 1917 half dollar.

There are two varieties of the 1941 Proof coin, with and without the designer's initials.

It took seven revisions before the Weinman design could be used on the half dollar. This was due to the high relief in several places. Patterns exist of the Walking Liberty half dollar in several stages of its development.

Although officially none of these patterns were ever released, examples are known in private hands.

The design for the half dollar could be legally changed after July 1, 1941, 25 years having passed since its introduction.

However, wartime demands on the Mint allowed this design to continue through 1947. The Walking Liberty half dollar was replaced with a design depicting Benjamin Franklin in 1948.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:

Nickels:

Dimes and half dimes:

Quarters:

Half dollars:

Dollars:

Gold coins:


Community Comments