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.


What is the SS Central America and why is it important to hobby?

Bob Evans is shown more than 20 years ago with the “Eureka bar,” an 80-pound gold ingot that remains the largest such piece recovered from the wreckage of the SS Central America.

Coin World image by Paul Gilkes.

Editor's note: The following post is part of's 'Collecting Basics' series, which provides novice readers with an introduction into the numismatic hobby.

The SS Central America is a steamship that capsized in a hurricane off the South Carolina coast during an 1857 trip between Panama and New York City. 

Why is it important in numismatics? The 3 tons of gold it was carrying at the time it wrecked might have something to do with that.

The “Ship of Gold,” as it is nicknamed, was carrying gold bars (or ingots) and coins, including more than 5,000 Mint State 1857-S Coronet $20 double eagles, for commercial firms. The human death toll from the shipwreck was 477.

The recovery of gold from SS Central America shipwreck site began in 1989 after the wreck was discovered off the coast of South Carolina in 1987. Years of legal battle between the salvors who found the coins and the insurance companies that had paid off claims after the 1857 shipwreck delayed the gold’s entry into the market for a decade.

Another lengthy legal battle took place after the chairman of Columbus Exploration LLC, the company that had been handling the recovery effort, sold gold from the wreck to a consortium of coin dealers in 2000 while allegedly shutting out original Columbus investors.

The second dispute led to a long hiatus in recovery dives during the first 14 years of the 2000s. But in 2014, the recovery effort was renewed.

Odyssey Marine Explorations has been pulling gold from the wreckage after it was announced in March 2014 that the company had been awarded a contract by Recovery Limited Partnership, which has exclusive salvage rights to the site.

Odyssey's recovery dives began in April 2014.

In the first five months, the Odyssey Explorer recovery ship brought to surface 15,500 gold and silver coins, 45 gold bars, hundreds of gold nuggets, gold dust, jewelry and other artifacts, according to a Coin World story by Paul Gilkes published online Sept. 17.

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