If you are a beginning coin collector, you may ask yourself which coins you should collect and what is the best way to do it?
The best answer to these questions is "it depends."
Why are you interested in starting a coin collection? People start collecting coins for various reasons. Some do it hoping for a profit. The rise in gold and silver prices over the last few years have inspired many people to start buying gold and silver bullion and that translated into a passion for collecting coins.
Some people start by being interested in a particular type of coin. The U.S. Mint's State Quarters program, beginning in 1999, is a good example of a type of coin that many people started collecting.
Others inherit a coin collection from their father or grandfather and are inspired to start collecting coins.
But, beware, regardless of the reasons to start collecting coins, you should know beforehand just how addicting the hobby can become.
There are several ways to collect coins. Most coin collectors start by examining pocket change and circulating coins looking for anything rare and worth keeping. I once found a 1918 Lincoln Cent in a parking lot, but that doesn't happen very often.
Coins can be collected by series. Meaning, a coin collector can start by trying to obtain one example of each coin from a specific type. Again, the U.S. State Quarters are a good example. Many people tried to get one coin from each state as it was issued.
Another example of collecting a series is trying to find one of each issued Lincoln Cent. Pennies are a common first coin as they are relatively common, therefore cheap, and modern issues were minted in vast quantities, so they are easy to find. But, there are some rare and therefore very expensive coins in even this series.
Which brings up the most important point - education. Before starting to collect coins beyond the "pocket change" phase, it is important to do your homework. This will do two things. First, it will save you a lot of money. Knowing which coins are rare and having a good idea of what the values are of any coin you're interested in collecting will spare you buyer's remorse when you learn you paid way too much money for a comon coin.
Secondly, studying coins will guide your collecting efforts and purchases. Every coin has a story. There are the 3-cent pieces that were driven by the price of postage stamps and having friends in high places, or the "racketeer nickels" that were 5-cent pieces colored gold by thieves that forced the mint to change their coins, and the designer vain enough to put his initials on his coins without asking permission, for just a few examples.
As you learn more of the history, stories and details that is American numismatics, you'll start to build a collection that best fits your interest and your wallet.
One quick note on the "naming" of coins. Each coin is generally named by the date, location of the mint where it was made and then the type of coin. For example a 1970-D Washington Quarter means that this coin was minted in 1970 in the Denver (D) mint and is a Washington 25 cent piece (quarter).
As you advance in coin collecting, the condition of the coin will be added to this description. The above example could have been 1970-D Washington Quarter Mint State 66. I'll cover the grades and codition of coins in a subsequent article.
So, if you are just starting out collecting coins, my best recommendation is to study your subject. There are many very good references available in print and online with which to start. These include Coin World, USmint.gov, and especially your local coin shop.
If you happen to have a coin shop near you, or a coin show, go. Browse, ask questions, get to know the proprietors and learn. You don't have to buy anything. Get to know what you're doing first.
In the world of coin collecting, you can spend as little as $1 or as much as $10 million for one coin. The first objective in this hobby is to know the difference.
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