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.


Collector Basics: Philadelphia Mint is main U.S. Mint

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Coin World Collector Basics posts on facilities under the U.S. Mint’s jurisdiction.

The Philadelphia Mint is the original federal Mint, authorized by Congress through the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792. Since then, the Philadelphia Mint has existed at four different locations.

Until the 1830s, the Philadelphia Mint was the nation’s sole federal Mint. Starting in the mid-1830s, Branch Mints were opened in other cities, with the Philadelphia Mint being the “main” or “mother” Mint and site of the Mint director’s offices.

The Branch Mint era ended with the Mint Act of 1873; Mint headquarters was moved to Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Mint and the former Branch Mints were placed on equal footing, though for most of its history, the Philadelphia Mint was the sole facility with the capability of making the hubs and dies for striking coins.

The first U.S. Mint at Philadelphia was built on Seventh Street in 1792. It was there in the facility’s several buildings that many of the nation's first patterns and coins were struck, including 1792 silver half dismes, 1792 Birch cents and 1792 Silver Center cents; 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain and 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cents; and 1794 Flowing Hair dollars.

Since 1792, the Philadelphia Mint has been the sole home to the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff of sculptor-engravers and medallic sculptors. Today, the Philadelphia facility, at Fifth and Arch streets, also houses all of the technology and design development staff and produces most of the tooling for the production of coins.


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