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: Winged Liberty Head dime

Let's set one fact straight from the very beginning: Adolph A. Weinman never intended his design for the obverse of the new dime introduced in 1916 to represent Mercury, that male, fleet-of-foot, Roman god of messengers. The female visage (there's no hint of androgyny about her portrait, so how she could be mistaken for a male god is a mystery) on the new dime is that of Liberty, her winged cap symbolizing, in Weiman's own words, "liberty of thought," not fleetness of foot.

The Winged Liberty Head dime – popularly though erroneously known as the "Mercury dime" – is considered by many the most attractive U.S. 10-cent coin.

COIN VALUES: See how much Winged Liberty Head dimes are worth today

Weinman's dime was issued during the renaissance of U.S. coinage design, which began in 1907 and 1908 with the new gold designs; continued in 1913 with the Indian Head 5-cent coin; and reached its zenith in 1916 with stunning new designs for the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar.

The introduction of the 1916 Winged Liberty Head dime prompted nearly universal praise from the coin collecting community. Weinman's designs were instantly recognized as brilliant.

There are no truly rare dates in the Winged Liberty Head dime series, although there are some scarce die varieties that are not essential for a date and Mint mark set.

If the figure on Adolph A. Weinman's dime isn't Mercury, who was she? She was Elsie Kachel Stevens, the young wife of poet Wallace Stevens, was Weinman's model.

Wallace and Elsie Stevens rented rooms in a house owned by Weinman. The artist-sculptor asked Elsie to pose for a sculpture bust about 1913. She agreed.

Weinman used his bust of Elsie Stevens as a model for the dime, when he began designing it in 1915. A profile photograph of the bust shows the obvious inspiration for the dime.

Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Weinman's bust is unknown. It disappeared after Wallace Stevens' death, and after their daughter declined to accept it as a gift from her mother.

One thing collectors should be aware of is the large numbers of Winged Liberty Head dimes with machine doubling, especially in the date area. Machine doubling is caused by a mishap in the minting process and while considered collectible by a few, generally adds no premium to a coin. Machine doubling should not be mistaken for doubled die doubling.

Two doubled die varieties are among most desirable coins. The most significant die varieties in the series are the 1942/1 and 1942/1-D Winged Liberty Head, Doubled Die dimes, commonly called overdates.

The coins are not overdates in the traditional, pre-20th century sense (i.e., no one punched the numeral 2 over the numeral 1 in the date). Instead, they are doubled dies, just like the famous 1955 and 1972 Lincoln, Doubled Die cents.

The two varieties were created when two dies, one intended for the Philadelphia Mint and the other for Denver, were impressed first with a hub dated 1941, and then impressed a second time with a hub dated 1942.

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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