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.


New U.S. Mint bullion issues: Precious metals basics

The Mint began striking American Buffalo 1-ounce $50 gold bullion coins in 2006.

The decade beginning the 2000s saw the introduction of three new series of bullion coins from the U.S. Mint and the authorization of a fourth.

The first new bullion coin program made its debut in 2006, when the Mint began striking American Buffalo 1-ounce $50 gold bullion coins under authority granted in the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005. These first .9999 fine gold coins of the United States have been struck by the U.S. Mint from 2006 to present. The Mint has produced bullion and collector versions of the American Buffalo gold coins: 1-ounce Proof and bullion versions every year from 2006 to 2010; and collector (Burnished) Uncirculated 1-ounce, half-ounce ($25), quarter-ounce ($10) and tenth-ounce ($5) coins in 2008 only.

All of the American Buffalo gold coins are struck at the West Point Mint, but only the collector versions bear the W Mint mark.

RELATED: U.S. Mint's American Eagle bullion coins

The second new bullion coin program was also authorized under the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005. Under the act, First Spouse gold $10 coins were first struck in 2007 to coincide with the Presidential dollar coin series. Though many in the hobby view them as commemorative in nature, the authorizing legislation defines them as gold bullion coins.

In 2010, in conjunction with the America the Beautiful quarter dollar program commencing that year, the U.S. Mint struck the third new program: America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver bullion coins. Though officially denominated as “quarter dollars,” the 3-inch-diameter coins were intended as investment pieces. The designs of the bullion coins match the designs of the quarter dollars, though instead of the quarter’s reeded edges, the 5-ounce bullion coins have smooth edges with an incused edge inscription reading .999 fine silver 5.0 ounce.

What does the future look like for U.S. bullion coins? While silver, gold and platinum coins will likely continue to be struck, collectors can look forward to bullion coins in a new precious metal—

The American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (H.R. 6166) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 14, 2010. It calls for the production of a 1-ounce .9995 fine palladium coin, denominated $25. The source material is to be mined from natural deposits in the United States purchased within one year from when the ore was mined.

MORE:'s precious metals basics

Production of the new bullion coins, however, is contingent on completion of a study ensuring that the coins can be produced and sold with no net cost to American taxpayers.

The coins would be struck in both Proof and Uncirculated finishes, but “the surface treatment of each year’s proof or uncirculated version [must differ] in some material way from that of the preceding year.”

The obverse would be a high-relief likeness of the obverse design of the Winged Liberty Head dime of 1916 to 1945. The reverse is slated to bear a high-relief version of the reverse design of the 1907 American Institute of Architects medal, along with the legally required inscriptions on both sides. The obverse and reverse designs to be duplicated on the palladium coin were originally designed by sculptor Adolph A. Weinman.

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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