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.


Royal Canadian Mint's Maple Leaf bullion coins

The Royal Canadian Mint introduced its .999 fine gold Maple Leaf in 1979 in 1-ounce, quarter-ounce and tenth-ounce sizes.

The Canadians did not overlook the success of the South African Krugerrand or the failure of the American Arts Gold Medallions program. The Canadians studied the U.S. experiment and did extensive market research in the United States—potentially their largest single market at start-up. The study showed that a legal tender status coin with reeded edges was what the public wanted.

The Royal Canadian Mint introduced its .999 fine gold Maple Leaf in 1979 in 1-ounce, quarter-ounce and tenth-ounce sizes. The composition was changed to .9999 fine in 1982, making the Maple Leaf the purest gold bullion coin in the world.

Production of the Maple Leaf gold bullion coins has at times consumed more than half of all the gold produced by Canadian gold mines.

MORE:'s precious metals basics

In 1985 sales of the Maple Leaf reached 1.878 million ounces, an 87.4 percent increase over 1984. This amounted to a 65 percent share of the worldwide market for gold bullion investment coins in 1985. Bans on importation of the Krugerrand and other government and private sector sanctions against South Africa played a major role in driving the gold-buying public to the Maple Leaf.

In June 1986 the Maple Leaf half-ounce gold bullion coin was introduced. (Denominations assigned to the coins are $50 for the 1-ounce coin, $20 for the half-ounce coin, $10 for the quarter-ounce coin and $5 for the tenth-ounce coin.)

To try to capture some of the silver bullion coin market dominated by the United States’ American Eagle silver dollar, Canada began issuing a silver Maple Leaf, and upped the ante to include a platinum series, both introduced in 1988. The original silver coin is a 1-ounce piece, though Canada has issued several different sizes over the years, often to mark special occasions.

Canada introduced a platinum Maple Leaf program in 1988, eventually offering tenth-, quarter-, half- and 1-ounce coins. Canada stopped issuing platinum bullion coins in 1999 as mintages decreased annually.

In 2007, the Royal Canadian Mint introduced Maple Leaf .9995 fine palladium 1-ounce coins, after experimental palladium strikes conducted two years prior. Palladium bullion coin production has continued since.

Canada has marketed various special bullion coins. The Canadian Timber Wolf .9999 fine silver half-ounce coin was first struck in 2006, then reintroduced in 2010 in a 1-ounce size as part of a Wildlife silver bullion coin series. Plans call for two coins to be issued each year over a three-year period. 

The Royal Canadian Mint does not sell its bullion coins directly, instead offering them through a network of dealers and distributors, for a varying percentage above spot price, depending on the order size, similar to the U.S. Mint’s system of distributing its American Eagle bullion coins.

The above is an excerpt from the eighth edition of the Coin World Almanac, published by Amos Media Company in 2011.

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