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: Washington, 50 states quarter

The 50 States quarter program proved Americans like change. From the outset in 1999, the public embraced the new designs, providing undeniable proof the mindset long engrained at the United States Treasury that insisted Americans would find new circulating designs confusing and therefore reject them was premised on nothing more than bureaucratic inertia.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., shepherded through Congress legislation that became Public Law 105-124, a 10-year initiative commemorating each of the 50 United States with a reverse on the circulating Washington quarter dollar.

During the 10 years of issue (1999 to 2008) the U.S. Mint reported that more than 140 million Americans were collecting the 50 State quarter dollars. And at its conclusion in 2008, the series was hailed as the most successful coinage program in the history of the U.S. Mint.

COIN VALUES: See how much Washington quarter coins are worth today

State quarters were struck for general circulation, but they were also offered in a multitude of collector products in different finishes in both the copper-nickel clad alloy and 90 percent silver. The U.S. Mint produced five new reverse designs each year in 10-week intervals in the order the states entered the union.

A modified version of John Flanagan's portrait of George Washington serves as the common obverse. To accommodate state designs on the reverse, the legends united states of america, quarter dollar, liberty, and IN GOD WE TRUST all appear on the obverse. Each reverse design has a different theme and carries the name of the state being honored, the year it entered the union and the year it was issued.

States chose a variety of ways to decide upon appropriate themes and design concepts, from public competitions to committee recommendations. The U.S. Mint reviewed design concepts for coinability and both the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts provided recommendations regarding the artistic merits and historic appropriateness. Ultimately each reverse design was recommended by the governor of the state being honored with final selection by the secretary of the Treasury.

All final design were rendered by U.S. Mint sculptor-engravers, contracted designers or Artistic Infusion Program artists contracted by the Mint from design concepts or word descriptions.

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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