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: The Dalles Mint never finished for U.S. Mint

Image of original blueprint illustrates what The Dalles Mint in Oregon would have looked like had its construction been completed.

Image in public domain.

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

With gold discovered in Idaho and a gold rush in eastern Oregon, the need arose in 1860 in the Pacific Northwest for a Mint to produce coinage.

Currency in The Dalles came in the form of raw gold dust that often was shipped to the San Francisco Mint for processing and conversion into federal gold coins.

Demand grew for construction of a Mint closer to the gold mines. Legislation was passed by Congress on July 4, 1864, which authorized a new Branch Mint of the United States at The Dalles, then known as Dalles City, for the production of gold and silver coins.

The superintendent of the planned Branch Mint, William Logan, was en route to The Dalles aboard the SS Brother Jonathan on July 30, 1865, when that ship sank near Crescent City, Calif., taking his life, along with many others (and a shipment of gold).

The basement and first floor of the planned two-story Mint were completed in 1869. Further construction was suspended in 1870 and the project abandoned in 1873 amid the waning gold rush. The Dalles Mint became obsolete before any coins could be produced.

The structure was turned over in 1875 by the federal government to the state of Oregon, which sold it to private interests. 

Community Comments