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.


American Eagle platinum coin: Bullion Bio

The coin: American Eagle platinum bullion coin

Struck by: U.S. Mint

Available sizes: 1-ounce; half-ounce; quarter-ounce; tenth-ounce (fractional versions last struck in 2008)

Denominations: $100; $50; $25; $10

First issue: 1997

Hiatus: From 2009 to 2013, no American Eagle platinum bullion coins were sold by the U.S. Mint. Sales resumed in 2014, and were expected to continue in 2015, though sales had not resumed as of March 18.

Design: The obverse design features a recognizable shoulders-up portrait of the Statue of Liberty. The reverse portrays a soaring eagle.

Erik Martin notes the designs in a profile of the platinum American Eagle program in the Oct. 4, 2010, issue of Coin World:

"The Statue of Liberty design of the obverse was sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti. The reverse, featuring an eagle in flight above a rising sun, was the work of Mint Sculptor-Engraver Thomas D. Rogers Sr." 

How to buy them: Coin World Senior Editor Paul Gilkes wrote about the buying method in the Sept. 17, 2007, issue of Coin World:

"The Mint does not sell the regular Uncirculated bullion coins directly to the public. Instead it sells the bullion coins to a network of authorized purchasers, who acquire the coins from the Mint for the spot price of the precious metal on a given day on the metals market plus a small premium. The authorized purchasers may then sell the bullion American Eagles to dealers and the public."

The U.S. Mint provides a web page collectors and investors can use to find dealers who sell the bullion coins.

Fun fact: In the past the U.S. Mint has offered tenth-ounce, quarter-ounce, half-ounce and 1-ounce platinum bullion coins. Since the series' reintroduction in 2014, no fractional pieces have been sold.

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