Part 2 of 2: Collecting and Investing Topics
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Coin Collecting FAQ written by Chuck D'Ambra, Mike Locke, Michael Caver,
Andrew Andison, Mike Marotta, Andrew Tumber, John Muchow, Tony Clayton,
Clint Cummins, Lou Coles and Mike Dworetsky.
FAQ Maintained and Master Copy is Hosted by:
Last updated 27 November 2001
This FAQ may be copied for noncommercial use provided
that this notice and all credits to the authors are included unmodified.
This FAQ addresses a few of the most commonly asked questions about coin
collecting. It is intended only as an introduction to the hobby. Years of
research and even entire careers have been devoted to in depth study of
specialized topics, and many detailed reference works have been published
(a few are listed below). While some of the material is applicable to other
numismatic collectibles, the emphasis here is on coins. In some cases, more
complete information is provided for U.S. coins.
Inclusion of a product, dealer or company in this FAQ does not constitute
an endorsement or recommendation.
1. What are my coins worth?
2. What is numismatics?
3. What coins do people collect?
4. What's the best way to get started?
5. Where to find collectible coins
6. How to handle coins
9. What's the best way to clean my coins?
10. How can one tell when a coin has been cleaned,
especially if it was cleaned long ago?
11. How should I store my coins?
12. Tools of the trade
13. How can I protect my collection from loss by fire
14. Numismatic Newsgroups
15. Numismatic Web sites
16. Other numismatic resources available on computer
17. Are lists of coin values available online?
18. Risks of investing in coins
19. Bullion coins
20. Rare coins
21. Numismatic Publications
22. What are proof coins? What's the difference between
the various proof sets offered in recent years by the U.S. mint?
23. What are slabs?
24. How can coins be removed from slabs?
25. What materials
have been used to make coins?
Written and hosted by Tony Clayton
26. What's the best way to send coins to someone?
27. Clubs and other collector organizations
A simple definition of numismatics is the the collection and study
of coins, paper money, tokens and medals, and indeed these are the
most widely collected and studied numismatic materials. Other items representing
current or past financial assets or liabilities are also included under
the numismatic umbrella. These include other objects used as money, as well
as stock certificates, checks and notes of financial obligations.
Numismatic items are collected and studied for many reasons, including
their historical significance and artistic merits, as well as their role
in commerce. When significant demand exists, they may obtain numismatic
value beyond their current monetary value (if any).
Coin collecting is perhaps the most popular part of the hobby
and is sometimes used to refer to the entire numismatic spectrum (e.g. the
newsgroup rec.collecting.coins is a forum for all numismatic topics). There
are several specializations in coins and other branches
of numismatics. With such breadth of material, numismatics offers virtually
inexhaustible opportunities for exploration, learning and enjoyment.
What to collect is entirely up to the collector. It will normally be
a specialization that holds some interest for the collector and is within
his or her budget.
Among the most popular types of collections are world coins (coins from
several countries), ancient coins, and coins of a particular country. Some
specialization within these categories is ordinarily helpful. If collecting
from a particular country, you can work on one or more series, a type set,
commemoratives, errors, die varieties, paper money, etc. You may also want
to set bounds on the grades of coins you collect, e.g. all G-VG, VF or better,
The goal of a series collector is to acquire one of each date and mintmark
made, usually including any major design differences. For example, the U.S.
Standing Liberty quarter was produced from 1916 to 1930 at the Philadelphia,
Denver and San Francisco mints (coins were not made at all three mints every
year, and none were produced at any mint in 1922); a major change to the
obverse was made in 1917, and the full set is generally considered to include
both designs for that year from each mint.
A collector building a type set seeks to have one of each series and
major design variation within each series. Examples would be 20th century
Canadian coinage or U.S. gold coins.
Contributed by Mike Marotta (email@example.com)
From the invention of coinage in Ionia about 650 BC to the last Roman
emperor of 450 AD, the gold, silver and bronze of ancient world are surprisingly
available. A common silver drachma issued by Alexander the Great might cost
about $60. A common silver denarius from one of the early Roman emperors
might cost $30. Gold costs more. Bronze -- being more common -- costs less.
For $10 or $20, you can own a bronze coin that circulated during the time
of Archimedes or St. Paul. Most collectors of ancients work on themes: the
Twelve Caesars, the town of Carthage, the goddess Diana, etc.
Tokens, Tickets, Tallies and Checks.
Contributed by Andrew D N Andison (Andrew@dorothy.demon.co.uk)
When the government ignored the needs of the people and refused to issue
sufficient low value coins the traders took matters into their own hands
and issued tokens. In Great Britain this took place in the mid 1600's, the
1790's and the 1810's. These formed a local currency and it took several
acts of Parliament to ban them. The bans were never completely successful
and 'advertising tickets' continued to be issued through the mid 1800's.
These were conveniently the same size as farthings, the coin still in very
short supply, and undoubtedly circulated as such. By the end of Queen Victoria's
reign the need for tokens had gone but there were all sorts of other similar
pieces being used. Pubs issued checks but because they were such an everyday
occurrence nobody thought the record how they were used! The co-operative
societies used checks to record the value of purchases made so that the
correct amount of divident could be paid. Fruit pickers received tallies
to depending on the quantity of fruit picked. The most recent use of tokens
is probably the ones used in gaming and vending machines, as well as the
one used by the many transport undertakings.
Although less valuable than coins, tokens are nevertheless much more
interesting if you are interested in local history and like to do research.
Buy the book before you buy the coin is frequently offered and
Coins can be rewarding for the collector who makes the effort to study
the hobby and the market. Someone who does not make that effort is more
likely to waste money on overgraded, problem or counterfeit coins. Before
spending a lot of money on coins, invest in your knowledge of the hobby.
This FAQ is a start, but for your own protection you should have at least
one reference book covering your area(s) of interest. Reading a few issues
of periodicals is another good idea.
Collecting coins from circulation is a great place to start. The risk
is negligible (you can always spend the coins), and you can learn a lot
examining your coins carefully and seeing what your reference book says
Join a club! Local coin clubs are usually great for learning more
about the hobby, getting material for your collection, and you just might
make some good friends, too.
When the coins you're interested in collecting are not available in circulation,
it's time to look for other sources (see previous topic). That almost always
means purchasing coins. Among places to buy coins are
- Coin shops
Dealers with their own stores can be good resources for information as
well as coins.
- Coin shows
Here you can shop from several dealers at once. The selection will obviously
be better than at most shops, and you may be able to get better prices
due to the presence of competition.
- Mail Order
Coins can be purchased from many dealers through the mail. Check any of
the periodicals listed below for advertisements. Unfortunately, it is all
too common to receive overgraded and/or problem coins from some mail order
sources. Make sure the source has a reasonable return policy before ordering,
examine the coins carefully on receipt to ensure they're satisfactory (get
an opinion from a more experienced collector/dealer if you are unsure),
and return them if they are not.
- On the Web
Hundreds of dealers offer coins on the Internet and online services,
including many of the conventional mail order advertisers. Again, make
sure the source has a reasonable return policy before ordering, examine
the coins carefully on receipt to ensure they're satisfactory (get an opinion
from a more experienced collector/dealer if you are unsure), and return
them if they are not. Also, watch out for the occasional scam artist who
may pocket your money and not send anything in return.
- The rarest and most expensive coins are often available only at auctions
promoted by major specialty auction firms, such as Stack's, Heritage and
Bowers & Merena.
- Numerous auctions are conducted online. In some of them anybody can offer
coins to the highest bidder. Before bidding, check feedback on the seller,
if the auction service makes it available. Make sure the seller has a reasonable
return policy, examine coins carefully on receipt to ensure they're satisfactory
(get an opinion from a more experienced collector/dealer if you are unsure),
and return them if they are not. It is not uncommon for bids in these auctions
to go considerably higher than prices for comparable coins from other sources.
Check prices in shops, mail order ads and/or web sites and limit your bids
to those prices to avoid paying too much.
- Relatively common collector coins are sometimes included in auctions
of antiques, other collectibles, etc. The collector is forewarned that
material in these auctions is more likely than usual to be overgraded,
have problems not mentioned (if even known) by the auctioneer, and/or to
garner inflated prices. Better material at lower prices can often be readily
obtained from other sources.
- Other collectors
It's not often easy to locate another collector selling what you want,
but when it happens, you may get a better price. Post what you're looking
for in rec.collecting.coins or attend some local coin club meetings.
- Flea markets, bazaars, etc.
Coins are sometimes available at flea markets, antique shows, craft fairs
and other events where they are not the primary focal point. Because there
is little if any competition for the seller and many potential buyers are
not well informed about the hobby, these venues can be used to move problem
coins and prices may be inflated. While the collector always needs to be
able to evaluate the quality of potential purchases and fairness of their
prices, extra caution is warranted in these situations.
In general, collectible coins should be handled carefully to avoid the
possibility of causing wear or introducing substances that may lead to spots
or color changes. Many holders will provide adequate protection for ordinary
handling. Before removing a coin from its holder, consider whether it's
Never touch an uncirculated or Proof coin anywhere but the edge. Fingerprints
alone may reduce the coin's grade and consequently its value. Handling on
the edge only is mandatory when examining another person's coins, regardless
of grade. Get in the habit of picking up collectible coins by their edges,
and it will soon become routine.
Avoid holding numismatic items in front of your mouth. Small particles
of moisture may eventually cause spots.
When setting a coin down outside of a holder is necessary, place it on
a clean, soft surface. A velvet pad is an ideal surface and essential for
regular handling of valuable material. A clean soft cloth or clean piece
of blank paper may be sufficient for less valuable items. Do not drag coins
across any surfaces.
If you will be handling very valuable coins or lots of uncirculated and/or
higher grade circulated coins, wearing clean white cloth or surgical gloves
and a mask may be advisable.
The condition of a coin is commonly summarized by a grade. Because the
value of collectible coins often varies dramatically with grade and overly
generous grading is not uncommon, reasonable grading proficiency is an important
skill for collectors. The material presented here is intended only as an
introduction to the subject. Grading is a skill that can only be developed
over time through referrals to grading guides, consultation
with experienced collectors and dealers, and lots of practice.
Published standards set objective criteria for grading, yet some amount
of subjectivity is inevitable -- even expert graders will often assign slightly
different grades to the same coin. While you can often ask an experienced
grader for an opinion, being able to make your own reasonable assessment
of grade is your best protection.
An overview of American Numismatic Association standards follows. ANA
standards are widely used in the U.S. but are not the only system used.
Much of the rest of the world uses the grades Fair, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely
Fine, Uncirculated and Fleur-de-coin.
Numerals used in coin grades have been taken from the Sheldon scale (see Glossary).
Coins with no wear at all are referred to as uncirculated or
in mint state (MS). Grades from MS-60 to MS-70 in one point increments
are used for mint state coins. Criteria include luster; the number, size
and location of contact marks; the number, size and location of any hairlines,
and the quality of the strike and overall eye appeal..
An MS-60 coin may have dull luster and numerous contact marks in prime
focal areas, as long as there is no wear. To merit MS-65, a coin should
have brilliant cartwheel luster (attractive toning is permissible), at most
a few inconspicuous contact marks, no hairlines, and nearly complete striking
details. Grades from MS-61 to MS-64 cover intermediate parts of this range.
Truly exceptional coins may be graded MS-66, MS-67 or, if absolutely flawless,
as high as the theoretical maximum of MS-70. Many numismatists consider
MS-70 to be an unobtainable ideal.
Terms such as brilliant uncirculated (BU), choice BU, gem BU, select
BU and premium BU are still used in lieu of numerical grades by some dealers,
auctioneers and others. Correlations between these terms and the numeric
MS grades are difficult at best, because of inconsistent usage and in some
Market values for many uncirculated coins vary dramatically from one
grade to the next. Remember that whether a coin is described with a numerical
or an adjectival grade, it's only someone's opinion. Until you are comfortable
with your ability to grade uncirculated coins, make liberal use of other
opinions, such as those available with slabbed coins or from experienced
collectors and dealers you trust, or concentrate on circulated coins.
For circulated coins the grade is primarily an indication of how much
wear has occurred and generally does not take into account the presence
or absence of dings, scratches, toning, dirt and other foreign substances
(though such information may also be noted).
ANA grading standards recognize 11 grades for circulated coins (listed
here with brief, generic descriptions):
- AU-58, very choice about uncirculated: just traces of wear on
a coin with nearly full luster and no major detracting contact marks
- AU-55, choice about uncirculated: small traces of wear visible
on the highest points
- AU-50, about uncirculated: very light wear on the highest points;
still has at least half of the original mint luster
- EF-45 or XF-45, choice extremely fine: all design details are
sharp; some mint luster remains, though perhaps only in "protected
- EF-40 or XF-40, extremely fine: slightly more wear than a "45";
traces of mint luster may show
- VF-30, choice very fine: light even wear on high points, all
lettering and design details are sharp
- VF-20, very fine: most details are still well defined; high
points are smooth
- F-12, fine: major elements are still clear but details are worn
- VG-8, very good: major design elements, letters and numerals
are worn but clear
- G-4, good: major design elements are outlined but details are
gone; for some series the date may not be sharp and the rim may not be
- AG-3, about good: heavily worn; date may be barely discernable
While coins more worn than AG are rarely collected, two additional grades
are nevertheless used to characterize them:
- F-2, fair -- very heavily worn; major portions may be completely
- P-1, poor, filler or cull -- barely recognizable
While not included in the ANA standards, intermediate grades like AU-53,
VF-35, F-15 and G-6 are used by some dealers and grading services. When
a grader believes a coin is better than the minimum requirements but not
nice enough for the next higher grade "+" or "PQ" may
be included (e.g. MS64PQ or VG+) or a range may be given (e.g. F-VF).
When there are significant differences between the obverse and reverse
sides, a split grade may be assigned. Split grades are denoted with a "/".
For example, "F/VF" means that the obverse is F and the reverse
The overall grade is often determined by the obverse. An intermediate
value may be appropriate when the difference is significant, especially
if the reverse is lower. A coin graded MS-60/61 would be considered to have
an overall grade of MS-60, and another at MS-65/63 could be considered to
have an overall grade of MS-64.
Coin prices are a function of supply and demand. Market prices decline
when inventories cannot be moved at current levels and eventually rise when
insufficient quantities are available to meet current demand. Of course,
if the buyer or seller is unaware of current trends, a transaction may occur
outside the normal range of prices.
Demand is ultimately established by collectors and investors but often
more directly by dealers, who must sell coins for more than they pay for
them to cover expenses and make a profit. Consequently, there are multiple
tiers of prices for any particular collectible coin. Retail refers
to prices dealers charge most collectors and investors, while wholesale
means prices they charge each other. Collectors and investors with a substantial
market presence (spending considerable amounts, especially on a regular
basis with the same dealer) may be able to buy at or near wholesale levels.
Published price guides list typical prices for retail
and wholesale transactions -- actual prices may be somewhat higher or lower.
Dealers will usually pay less than wholesale when buying coins from the
public. Therefore, collectors and investors should be aware that it is difficult
to "get their money back," should the need arise to sell their
holdings. Of course, they may do better by bypassing a dealer altogether,
but it is seldom easy to find another collector or investor looking for
the specific coins one wants to sell, and even then the potential buyer
will consider it an opportunity to acquire the coins at a discount. In addition,
there are some advantages to purchasing coins from a dealer. A reputable
dealer will guarantee the authenticity of the merchandise. He or she will
be knowledgable enough to form reasonable opinions on grades, to detect
problems that may be missed by less experienced persons and will usually
be willing to share knowledge with the public, especially customers.
In most cases, the best answer is DO NOT CLEAN COINS. While you
might think they'll look nicer if shiny, collectors prefer coins
with an original appearance. Cleaning a coin may reduce its collector
value by half or more.
Cleaning coins is similar to restoring works of art - they're both jobs
best left to professionals who have the knowledge and experience to know
when it's advisable, what techniques will work best and how to use them
Never abrasively clean coins. Even wiping with a soft cloth will
cause small but undesirable scratches, which will reduce the coin's value.
If the surface of a coin appears to be tarnished, it is best left alone.
The color change is the result of a natural process, which collectors call
toning. Atoms on the surface of the coin have reacted chemically, often
with sulfur compounds. The reaction cannot be reversed. "Dips"
which strip molecules from the surface are available. Dipping is the quintessential
example of a technique that should be used only by professionals, if at
all. Additionally, natural toning sometimes increases the value of a coin
(i.e. when it's considered attractive).
Dirt and other foreign substances adhering to a coin can sometimes be
safely removed. Try soaking the coin for a few days either in olive oil
or soapy water, followed by a thorough rinse with tap water. Dry the coin
with compressed air or allow it to air dry. Do not rub the coin. Commercial
coin cleaners may also be carefully used to more quickly loosen foreign
Contributed by Mike Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If the coin has been cleaned with an abrasive, the coin will have hairlines.
Have a look at the coins in Overton's half dollar book; a large proportion
(maybe 20%) of them appear to have been harshly cleaned with an abrasive.
Also, abrasive cleaning often leaves some crud in the recesses of the coin
(untouched dirt or left over abrasive).
If the coin has been dipped, it may or may not be detectable. A bright
white 1801 half dollar is immediately suspect. Although it is possible for
such an original coin to exist, it is unlikely. Also dipping can strip the
lustre off of the coin, with the end result that there is no lustre where
you would expect it to be for a coin in said condition (XF and better coins).
A natural coin has a particular appearance which reflects the history
of its storage. Haphazardly stored coins tend to have a "dirty"
appearance to the toning. Coins that have lived for a long time in a coin
cabinet tend to have spectacular colored toning. Coins stored in a clean
metal vault (such as an old style "piggy" bank) may stay white
(or red) for a long time. Coins stored in albums develop either the familiar
"ring toning" (slide type albums) or the much less desireable
"one sided toning" (all cardboard albums). Coins stored in mint
bags often show spectacular rainbow toning, similar to that seen on coins
stored in coin cabinets.
Copper/bronze/brass coins that have been cleaned have an unnatural color,
often looking like a toned gold coin. Even after they retone, they tend
it tends to be uneven and a slightly odd color (watch out for dark areas).
See that red in the recesses of that VF copper coin? Not a good sign! Naturally
toned, *circulated* copper tends to be very uniform in color, although they
might be dark and dirty around the lettering and similar protected areas.
Uncirculated copper may tone very unevenly (especially proofs), so do not
automatically count this against such a coin.
Exactly the other way around, silver coins that have been cleaned tend
to be extremely uniform in color after they retone, including the tops of
the letters and protected areas. Silver coins with natural toning will usually
show some variation in the color at these places. Be aware that a uniform
slate gray color can be produced on silver very easily with a number of
chemicals. Finally, a heavily toned and subsequently dipped silver coin
will tend to have a gray appearance caused by surface roughness rather than
tarnish. This can be detected by careful examination with a strong magnifier.
The ANA advises that sudden "hard line" changes in color do
not occur on naturally toned coins. Naturally toned coins exhibit a gradual
change in color or darkness. In any event, its mostly a matter of looking
at a lot of coins and forming your own opinions. Assuming that you are buying
coins for your personal collection, in the final say, it is *your opinion*
that really matters.
A relatively constant, moderate temperature and low humidity are preferable
for long term storage of numismatic collectibles. Placing packets of silica
gel in coin storage areas helps control atmospheric moisture.
Several types of "containers" for coins are available. Most
anything will do for coins with little numismatic value, while nearly airtight
holders made of inert materials are a good idea for valuable coins.
- Bags, jars and boxes are adequate for pocket change and circulated
- Paper envelopes of various sizes are sometimes used for one
or more coins. Be sure to use envelopes made explicitly for holding coins,
or your coins may change color (tone) over time due to reaction with sulfur
or other chemicals present in the paper.
- Various brands of folders and albums are sold for series and
type sets. When properly used, they offer some protection from wear and
handling. Over several years coins may tone due to reaction with sulfur
or other chemicals present, and they are therefore not a good choice for
long term storage of higher grade coins.
- Plastic flips are available in various materials. "Soft"
flips are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which decomposes over time
with disastrous results for coins. They are therefore not suitable for
long term storage. Mylar and acetate flips do not contain PVC. However,
they are hard (may scratch the coin if not inserted and removed carefully)
and brittle. While not airtight, they are reasonable choices for moderate
value coins that will be "left alone" for multiple years but
less so for coins to be shipped or that will be removed and reinserted.
- Mylar-lined cardboard, often called "2x2s" but also
available in other sizes, are similar to plastic flips. A coin is placed
between the two halves, which are then stapled together (some brands contain
- Tubes are plastic containers designed to hold a number of
the same size coins. They are fine for bulk storage of circulated coins
and can be used for higher grade coins, provided the coins do not move.
A disadvantage is that the coins cannot be viewed without being removed
from the tube.
- Hard plastic holders are preferable for more valuable coins.
They are not known to contain any materials that harm coins and offer good
protection against scratches and other physical damage. They are available
for individual and small sets of coins.
- Slabs are sonically sealed hard plastic holders for individual
coins. They offer good (though still not perfect) protection. Because of
the expense of having a coin slabbed, they are generally suitable only
for more valuable coins.
What tools and other resources does a numismatist need? The answer depends
on the material being collected and its value. At a minimum, collectors
should have a magnifier and an applicable reference book, though someone
collecting only coins from circulation may be able to get by without them.
A comfortable location with a suitable light source for examining coins
is also advisable.
All sorts of magnifiers are available. For grading, 4-10 times magnification
is sufficient, with 7x magnification considered by many to be ideal. Collectors
of die varieties need 10x magnification or more.
Anyone purchasing coins should own at least one general reference book
with information on dates and mintmarks, major varieties, grading guidelines
and prices. Additional references examining topics in more detail (e.g.
grading, counterfeit detection or die varieties) are often useful. Periodicals
will have more recent pricing information and news. Good reference works
can pay for themselves several times over by helping you avoid bad decisions.
Recommended lighting for examining coins is an incandescent source of
about 75 watts (higher if other light sources are in the room) located within
half a meter of where you'll hold the coins. Some people prefer halogen
lamps, while fluorescent lights should be avoided. Find a comfortable location
in your home where you won't be frequently distracted.
Depending on the collector's interests and value of the collectibles,
other useful tools sometimes include a microscope, gloves, mask, velvet
pad, additional references, metal detector, scale and/or photographic equipment.
A number of precautions can be taken to minimize the possibility of loss
by fire or theft. Which ones make sense depend on the value of the collection
and the relative risks. Note that most homeowner insurance policies specifically
exclude coins and other numismatic items from coverage. A rider can be obtained
for an additional premium, or a separate policy can be obtained. ANA offers
optional insurance for collections to its members. Maintain records about
your collection and store a copy separately from the coins.
Most safes providing protection from fires do not provide very good protection
from theft, and vice versa.
A fire can damage or destroy numismatic collectibles. Even if the flames
don't touch your coins, the heat may be sufficient to melt them. One option
is to keep your collection in a home safe providing protection from fires.
Another option is to keep the collection (or at least the most valuable
parts) in a bank safe deposit box.
Top priority for preventing theft should be measures to prevent or dissuade
a burglar from entering your home, such as lighting and locks. More extensive
tips are available from law enforcement agencies. Consider storing your
collection (or at least the most valuable parts) in a safe deposit box.
Be discrete about being a coin collector. Avoid telling anyone you don't
know well and trust, and when the subject does come up, be sure to mention
that you keep the coins in a safe deposit box or the collection isn't worth
much (even if not strictly true). The more people you tell about your collection,
the more likely that information will eventually reach the wrong person.
If you regularly receive coins and/or promotional materials in the mail,
consider getting a post office box and having all numismatically related
mail sent there. (A PO box offers little additional security in the UK,
where anyone can write to the PO to obtain the real address behind it.)
Two newsgroups on the Usenet portion of the Internet exist for discussions
of numismatic topics:
If you need help accessing these or other newsgroups, contact your service
These groups are distributed just about everywhere in the world where
Internet access is available, and articles are posted by participants from
several countries. While most articles are written in English, posts in
other languages are part of the international nature of the groups.
In addition to usual "netiquette" (see news.announce.newusers),
please keep the following guidelines in mind when posting articles to these
- Only write about subjects that are "on topic" for the group,
as defined in the group's charter (see below). Any area of numismatics
is ok in rec.collecting.coins. Articles without numismatic relevance are
- When requesting information about a numismatic item, provide as much
identifying information as possible, including (when known) what country
issued it. Dollars, pennies, and many other denominations have been minted
in multiple countries. Do not assume those who read your article will know
which one you mean.
- Never post images or other binaries. It's ok to post a text only article
with an offer to send images by e-mail or to view them on a web site, and
they may be posted to appropriate groups in the alt.binaries hierarchy.
- If posting about material you wish to sell, include "FS"
(for sale) or "FA" (for auction) in the subject header, e.g.
"FS: Ancient Greek Coins"
- If posting about material you wish to buy, include "WTB"
(want to buy) in the subject header, e.g. "WTB: Early U.S. Proof Sets"
- Limit the number of buy and sell offers you post. One per day is generally
accepted. More than 3 per day will get you a lot more enemies than customers.
Combine announcements about coins you are interested in selling or acquiring
into one post rather than separate posts for each item.
- Avoid reposting the same buy or sell offers too frequently. Once a
week for the same announcement is plenty. Most news servers save articles
for a week or more, and yours will still be there when each reader gets
around to checking the group.
Charter for rec.collecting.coins
[from the "call for votes" during the proposed group creation
rec.collecting.coins will be for the discussion of all things related
to coin collecting. Suitable topics will include:
- Tokens, currency, pattern, medal collecting
- News relevant to coin collecting
- Upcoming coin shows/programs
- History behind coins
- How not to get ripped off by dealers, mail order places, etc.
- Book reviews
- Rare finds in circulating currency
- Questions about particular coins-- identifying, appraising, etc.
- Offers for trades, price lists, auctions
New numismatic WWW sites are appearing almost every week. Places where
links are maintained include
Numerous registries and "search engines" such as Yahoo
maintain databases of web sites. Search on "coin collecting" or
other keyword(s) at these sites to get related web page listings.
- COINS mail list: a general numismatic e-mail list; offers to sell coins
are expressly forbidden. To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com
with an empty subject header and only SUBSCRIBE COINS in the body
of the message.
- NUMISM-L mail list: a mail list for numismatics from its beginnings
through the Middle Ages; offers to sell coins are expressly forbidden.
To subscribe, e-mail LISTSERV@UNIVSCVM.CSD.SCAROLINA.EDU with
an empty subject header and only SUBSCRIBE NUMISM-L your-real-name
in the body of the message.
- The American Numismatic Association (ANA) has a Web
site and other on-line resources:
- Internet e-mail:
- Anonymous ftp
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An online price guide for U.S. coins is available at the NumisMedia
web site. An online price
guide for U.K. coins is maintained by Tony Clayton.
posts prices realized from their auctions.
Precious metals spot prices are available at Kitco
This material is not investment advice. It is only an introduction
to coins sometimes purchased as investments and the risks inherent in this
form of investing. More extensive research is advisable before making a
decision to purchase any coins for investment purposes. The authors of this
FAQ are not responsible in any manner or extent whatsoever for the results
of any reader's investment decisions.
All investments entail risks. While coin collecting is a rewarding
hobby and is sometimes financially profitable, anyone purchasing coins with
the expectation that they may be a good investment should understand and
be prepared for the risks inherent in such investments.
Counterfeit and altered coins are not uncommon. Various techniques have
been used to produce counterfeits. Some are deceptively realistic. Common
coins have been altered to appear to be valuable collector coins, e.g. by
adding a mintmark. Coins certified by one of the major grading and authentication
services (see Slabs) offer a high degree of certainty
for authenticity. In the absence of reliable independent authentication,
the purchaser should know the diagnostics of genuine specimens of the coin
Coin values often vary markedly with grade. The buyer
must know if the coin is reasonably graded or has any problems, such as
cleaning, to determine if the seller's price is fair. The risk of overgraded
and problem coins is reduced with certified coins and bullion coins (see
topics below). However, the grade assigned by the certification service
is only an opinion, and it is not uncommon to find certified coins which,
in the opinions of other experts, are overgraded.
While markets for all commodities rise and fall, precious metal and coin
prices can be particularly volatile. This volatility creates both opportunities
for sizable returns and for dramatic losses. For example, in 1980 the price
of gold peaked at more than $800 per ounce and the price of silver at more
than $50 per ounce, approximately double and eight times, respectively,
what they are today.
Also to be considered are buy/sell spreads and liquidity. Higher value
rare coins are often sold at auction. It may take several weeks or months
from contacting the auctioneer to receiving payment (less auctioneer's commission).
Coins can be purchased from or sold to a dealer much faster. The difference
between dealer buy and sell prices can be substantially higher than the
commissions charged by brokers for other types of investments. Therefore,
a larger appreciation often must occur before coins can be sold at a profit.
Yet another risk is the possibility of material loss, such as by theft
or fire. Storage in a bank vault or home safe may reduce (but not eliminate)
this risk, but the added expense of such storage again increases the appreciation
necessary before the coin(s) can be sold at a profit.
Because the risks of investing in coins are higher than for many other
types of investments, they are not suitable at all for many investors. Even
for those investors willing to accept higher risks in exchange for possibly
greater returns, at most only a modest fraction of the portfolio (perhaps
5 to 15%) would be recommended by many investment advisors.
Coins composed primarily of a precious metal and with no significant
value beyond that of the metal are one form of bullion. Prices
for bullion coins vary with the spot price of the metal. Many investors
prefer coins to other forms of metals, such as bars, because coins do not
need to be assayed when sold.
Several governments produce gold bullion coins. Examples include the
South African Krugerrand, the Canadian Maple Leaf, the Chinese Panda, and
the American Eagle. Each sells for a small premium above the value of the
gold in the coin.
Silver and platinum bullion coins are also produced by some mints. For
example, the U.S. mint has made Silver Eagles (containing one ounce of silver)
each year since 1986. Uncirculated silver eagles sell at a premium above
spot silver, generally ranging from $1.35 to $4.00 per coin (depending on
quantity, dates and source).
Common date circulated silver coins are also bought and sold as bullion.
U.S. dimes, quarters and half dollars dated 1964 or earlier are 90% silver
and were made with 0.723 ounce of silver for each dollar in face value (as
some metal may have been worn off from circulation, 0.715 ounce/dollar is
often used to estimate the amount of silver still present). These coins
were often melted and refined to other forms.
Investments in rare coins are made with the expectation that their numismatic
value will increase. Technically, "rare" means very few examples
are known (e.g. no more than 75 to earn that designation on the Sheldon
Rarity Scale), but coins with much higher populations are sometimes promoted
as "rare coin investments."
Coins sometimes purchased for investment purposes include ancients, Morgan
dollars, Walking Liberty halves and older gold coins. High grade coins are
An investor might include some rare coins in his or her portfolio if
there is reason to expect demand from collectors and/or investors for those
specific coins to increase. A savvy investor understands the risks
inherent in coin investments and takes appropriate measures to minimize
A coin book bibliography is available at the Numismatic
Bibliomania Society (www.coinbooks.org).
Reviews of several numismatic books, including many concerning specific
coin series and other specializations, can be found at Mike
Locke's web site (http://users.scronline.com/lockem).
Descriptions of some of the books below and others are available on Chuck's
Books for Collectors
Book list compiled by John Muchow from the suggestions of rec.collecting.coins
- American Numismatic Association. Official A.N.A. Grading Standards
for United States Coins, 5th ed., Whitman, 1996.
- Ruddy, James F. Photograde, Bowers and Merena Galleries, 1990.
- The Standard Catalog of World Coins by Chester L. Krause and
Clifford Mishler. Four volumes, each covering a different century from
1601 to 2000. Each identifies and lists prices for coins from around the
- "The Red Book" (officially titled A Guide Book of United
States Coins), which is published annually, is a commonly used retail
price guide with a wealth of other useful information.
- More frequently published retail prices for U.S. coins are available
in Coin World, Coin Prices and Coin Age, which
may be found at many newsstands, supermarkets, etc.
- The principal price guide in dealer to dealer transactions is the Coin
Dealer Newsletter, popularly known as "the
Greysheet." CDN also publishes the Bluesheet, which lists
sight unseen prices for certified coins, and the Greensheet, which
covers paper money. You don't have to be a dealer to get these publications,
but they're ordinarily available only by subscription.
- A Handbook of United States Coins, commonly known as "the
Blue Book," is another guide dealers sometimes consult when buying
U.S. coins from the public
- Numismatic News, which is available at many magazine and coin
shops, publishes prices for all 3 levels (dealer buy, bid and retail).
- Official Guide to Coin Grading and Counterfeit Detection, published
by Professional Coin Grading Service.
- The Coin Collector's Survival Manual, by Scott A. Travers.
- One-Minute Coin Expert, also by Scott Travers.
- Let's Collect Coins, by Ken Bressett.
- The U.S. Mint and Coinage, by Don Taxay.
- The Art and Craft of Coinmaking, by Denis Cooper.
- Numismatic Art in America, by Cornelius Vermeule.
- Coin Clinic - 1,001 Frequently Asked Questions, by Alan Herbert,
Krause Publications, 1995.
- Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins,
by Walter Breen.
- The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, by John W.
- Commemorative Coins of the U.S. by Anthony Swiatek.
- United States Coins by Design Types, An Action Guide for the Collector
and Investor, by Q. David Bowers.
- United States Copper Coins, An Action Guide for the Collector and
Investor, by Q. David Bowers
- United States Three-Cent and Five Cent Pieces, An Action Guide for
the Collector and Investor, by Q. David Bowers.
- United States Dimes, Quarters, and Half Dollars, An Action Guide
for the Collector and Investor, by Q. David Bowers.
- United States Type Coins, by Norman Stack.
- The Coin World Encyclopedia
- A History of United States Coinage, as Illustrated by the Garrett
Collection, by Bowers.
- The Cherrypicker's Guide to Rare Die Varieties, 3rd. ed. by
Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton, Bowers and Merena Galleries, 1994.
- The Error Coin Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., by Arnold Margolis.
- Encyclopedia of U.S. Half Cents, by Walter Breen.
- Early United States Dimes 1796 - 1837, by Davis, Logan, Lovejoy,
McCloskey, and Subjack.
- Fractional Money, by Neil Carothers.
- Earlier Half Dollars Die Varieties, by Al Overton.
- Bust Half Fever, 1807-1836, by Edgar Souders.
- The Early Quarter Dollars of the United States, 1796-1838, by
A.W.Browning, completely updated by Walter Breen, c.1992.
- Coins of England and The United Kingdom (Standard Catalogue
of British Coins), by H.A. and P.J. Seaby
- The Charlton Standard Catalog of Canadian Coins.
- Standard Catalog of German Coins, compiled by N. Douglas Nicol.
- European Crowns and Thalers (various vols), by Davenport.
- Coins of the World 1750 -1850, by Craig.
- Monnaies Francaises, by Gadoury.
- A Handbook of Ancient Coin Collecting, by Klawans.
- Ancient Coin Collecting, Volumes 1-6, by Wayne Sayles.
- Roman Coins and Their Values, by David Sears.
- Guide to Biblical Coins, by David Hendin.
- The Celator (ancients), P.O. Box 123, Lodi, WI 53555
- Coin World, P.O. Box
4315, Sidney, OH 45365. 1-800-253-4555.
- Numismatic News, Circulation Dept., 700 E. State St., Iola,
WI, 54990. 1-800-258-0929.
- World Coin News, published bi-weekly by Krause
- Coins Magazine, published monthly by Krause Publications,
- Coin Prices, published bi-monthly by Krause Publications,
- Bank Note Reporter, published monthly by Krause Publications,
- The Numismatist, published monthly by the American
Numismatic Association. A subscription is included in most membership
- COINage, 4880 Market St. Ventura, CA 93003. Phone: 805-644-3875
- Canadian Coin News (CCN), 103 Lakeshore Rd. Suite 202, St.
Catherines, ON L2N 2T6 Canada
- Coin News, Published monthly by Token Publishing Limited,
105 High Street, Honiton, Devon, UK, EX14 8PE.
Proof coins are specially manufactured for sale at a premium to collectors
and sometimes for exhibition or for presentation as a gift or award. Proofs
are generally distinguishable from ordinary coins by their mirrorlike fields,
frosty devices (especially in recent years) and extra sharp details.
To obtain these qualities, each proof coin die is polished to produce
an extremely smooth surface and used for a limited number of coins. Planchets
are hand fed to the coin press, where they are struck at a higher than ordinary
pressure. Struck coins are removed by hand with gloves or tongs. Modern
proof coins are usually packaged in clear plastic to protect them from handling,
For many years the U.S. Mint has sold annual sets of proof coins. These
"regular" proof sets usually contain one proof coin of each denomination
minted. In 1983, 1984 and 1986-97, Prestige Sets were also sold.
Prestige Sets include all the coins in the regular set, plus one or two
commemorative coins issued the same year. Since 1992, the Mint has also
offered Silver Proof Sets, which include 90% silver versions of the
proof dime, quarter(s) and half dollar. From 1992 through 1998, the Mint
also offered a Premier Silver Proof Set. The two types of silver
proof sets contain the same coins, with the premier set housing them in
A certified coin, or slab, is a coin that has been authenticated,
graded and encased in a sonically sealed, hard plastic holder by a professional
certification service. The holder affords protection from subsequent wear
or damage but is not airtight and therefore will not prevent toning. Because
any tampering with the holder will be obvious, it also prevents replacing
the certified coin with something else.
Counterfeit and altered coins slabbed by major certification services
are not unknown but are uncommon. The authenticity of a coin may be guaranteed
by the company that slabbed it. Therefore, a coin slabbed by a major certification
service offers some protection, especially when fakes are known to exist
and the prospective buyer is not able to reliably determine its authenticity.
Some certification services will not slab coins that have been altered,
whizzed, cleaned (dipping is often acceptable), artificially toned or otherwise
damaged. Others slab the coin and identify the problem on the label.
Grades are opinions. The same coin may receive different grades if submitted
to different services or even if "cracked out" and resubmitted
to the same service. Furthermore, grading standards for some uncirculated
coins have changed since slabs were first produced (1986), so a coin in
an early slab may may receive a different grade if resubmitted now. The
grade indicated on a slab represents the opinions of no more than a few
persons who examined the coin at the time it was submitted, and not the
final word on the subject. As a result, slabbed coins given identical
grades may have different market values. Whenever possible, buy the coin,
not the holder.
Companies that slab coins include (in alphabetical order)
Prices range from $7.50 to $175.00 per coin, depending on the service
and turnaround time, plus shipping costs in both directions.
The skills and equipment needed to encapsulate coins in slab-like holders
can be acquired more easily than the expertise needed to accurately authenticate
and grade coins. Holders from the services listed above are not the only
types that appear in the marketplace. However, slabs from some "services"
may not be regarded by experienced numismatists as legitimate and may not
even be backed by a guarantee of the coin's authenticity. Learning about
the service's reputation and soliciting other opinions about a coin's condition
may save you from paying considerably more than its true market value.
Coins can be removed from NGC, ANACS, PCI etc. holders without great
difficulty. An even simpler technique works for PCGS holders. Wear safety
glasses or goggles when performing either method!
Tools required: vise, hammer, chisel; safety glasses or goggles Method:
Secure the slab in the vise along either long side. The vise should overlap
only enough plastic to ensure that the holder is secured (1/4 inch or so).
Tighten as necessary to avoid slab movement while you're using the hammer
and chisel. Position the chisel in the seam between the two pieces of plastic
near the upright corner further from the coin. Carefully tap the chisel
with the hammer until the plastic pieces separate. Ideally, the chisel will
wedge between the two pieces and can be used to pry them completely apart.
Carefully remove the coin from the separated/fragmented plastic.
Tools required: lineman's pliers or wire cutters; safety glasses or goggles
Method: Position the pliers along either long side of the slab at the middle
of the coin such that the cutting edges are outside the edge of the coin.
Squeeze forcefully. The plastic will crack across the entire width of the
holder. Carefully separate the plastic pieces and remove the coin.
25. What metals have been used to make coins?
Tony Clayton provides extensive information at http://www.tclayton.demon.co.uk/metal.html.
Here are some tips for packaging, addressing and shipping coins.
Coins should be packaged securely for shipping. Any stapled holders should
have the staples flattened with a pair of pliers before packaging. Safe-T-Mailers,
which are sold at many coin shops, are useful for a small number of flips,
2x2s, similar holders or slabs. You can also cut pieces of corrugated cardboard
and sandwich coins in these holders between them (make sure they cannot
slide out). The Postal Service does not allow "irregularly shaped"
objects to be sent in "regular" size envelopes. If your "sandwich"
is not much thicker than a greeting card, a letter or legal size paper envelope
may work. Otherwise, use a padded envelope (if not shipping by registered
mail) or box the coins.
For larger quantities of individual holders, bundle them tightly together
with rubber bands. When shipping rolls of coins in plastic tubes, place
a small piece of foam, cotton or bubble wrap in the end to prevent the coins
from moving and seal the cap in place with a piece of tape. Place bundles
of 2x2s, tubes, and multi-coin holders (e.g. proof sets) in a sturdy box.
Use bubble wrap, foam, styrofoam peanuts or newspaper to completely fill
extra space, ideally with some padding between the contents and every side
of the box.
To reduce the chances of the package being stolen, do not use any words
in the address or return address suggesting it may contain something valuable.
Omit words like Coin and Gold or abbreviate. For example,
use XYZ Company rather than XYZ Coin Company and AGE,
Inc. rather than Antarctic Gold Emporium, Inc.
Mail, rather than a private courier such as UPS, is generally preferable
for shipping coins. Some couriers will not insure packages containing coins.
Different types of mail service are available, and the best one depends
on the value of the package. For packages delivered by the U.S. Postal Service,
options include first class, third class, priority mail and registered mail.
For packages worth $600 or less, first class mail may be sufficient.
If the package weighs under 13 ounces, third class may cost a few cents
less. Packages weighing up to 2 pounds can be sent by priority mail to a
U.S. address (including APO) for $3.00. Insurance is additional. A package
can be insured for up to $50 insurance at a cost of 75 cents. This form
of insurance does not require a signature by the recipient. "Blue label"
insurance, which is available for packages valued at up to $5000, is supposed
to require a signature for delivery. The fee starts at $1.60 for up to $100
of insurance, and is more for higher insured values. The USPS will not accept
a claim for non-delivery of an insured package until 30 days after it was
Registered mail is the safest way to ship valuables and the only way
to insure for more than $5000. A registered package must be signed for by
every postal employee who handles it, as well as the recipient. Postal regulations
prohibit padded envelopes and all but paper tape (which does not include
masking tape) for registered shipments. For packages valued at more than
$400, registered mail may be cheaper than first class mail with insurance!
Nothing is gained by using certified mail for coins or other valuables,
and return receipts are only useful for proving that the addressee received
the package. If the package is sent by registered mail or is insured for
more than $50, it must be signed for on receipt anyway.
UK Supplement to sending coins through the post.
Contributed by Andrew D N Andison (Andrew@dorothy.demon.co.uk)
The British postal service is still an extremely safe way of sending
anything, including coins. There are of course some things you can do to
ensure that everything arrives safely. All the above information on packaging
should be followed. Ideally padded envelopes should be used to and the coins
placed more than 40mm from the top edge (the franking machine and coins
For low value packages of a few pounds (value) either first or second
class is fine. There is no compensation if it does get lost. The only advantage
to using recorded delivery is that someone has to sign for the package at
the destination - that is all - coins are specifically excluded from this
For anything more valuable then use registered (or registered plus) post.
This offers compensation of up to 500 pounds (or 2200 pounds) as appropriate.
Oh, and by the way, next day delivery is guaranteed.
Make sure that anything send by registered post is clearly identified
as numismatic specimens otherwise compensation may be paid on the face value
of coins. Documentation both in with the coins and sent under separate cover
is extremely useful if you ever have to make a compensation claim.
Local coin club listings
are available on the ANA web site. Here are several specialty, regional
and international organizations.
- Active Token Collectors Organization
Sioux Falls, SD 57101
- American Nickel Collectors Association
736-D St. Andrews Road, Suite 163
Columbia, SC 29210
- American Numismatic Association
818 North Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279
telephone 719/632-2646, FAX 719/634-4085
- Ancient Numismatic Collectors
P.O. Box 954
Fowlerville, Michigan 48836
- Barber Coin Collectors Society
P.O. Box 382246
Memphis, TN 38183-2246
- Bust Half Nut Club
P.O. Box 87641
Canton, MI 48187
- Canadian Numismatic Association (CNA)
P.O. Box 226
Barrie, Ontario, Canada L4M 4T2
- Classical & Medieval Numismatic Society
P.O. Box 956, Station B
- Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4)
Mr. Angel Pietri (Treasurer)
1560 Manchester Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919
- Colorado-Wyoming Numismatic Association
P.O. Box 102136
Denver, CO 80250
- Combined Organizations of Numismatic
Error Collectors of America (CONECA)
9017 Topperwind Ct.
Fort Worth, TX 76134-5501
- Early American Coppers, Inc. (EAC)
c/o Rod Burress
P.O. Box 15782
Cincinnati, Ohio 45215
- Fly-In Club (Flying Eagle and Indian Cents)
P.O. Box 257
Seahurst, WA 98062
- Full Step Jefferson Nickel Club
Susan and Rich Sisti
P.O. Box 363
Newfoundland, NJ 07435
- John Reich Collectors Society
P.O. Box 135
Harrison, OH 45030
- Liberty Seated Collectors Club
5718 King Arthur Drive
Kettering, OH 45429
- National Token Collectors Association
P.O. Box 4221
Oak Ridge, TN 37831
- New England Numismatic Association (NENA)
P.O. Box 3003
Nashua, NH 03061-3003
- The Original Hobo Nickel Society
Gail "Bo-ette" Kraljevich
P.O. Box 43
Malvern, PA 19355
- Society for U.S. Commemorative Coins
P.O. Box 302
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
- Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors
Dr. Sol Taylor
13515 Magnolia Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
- Society of Private and Pioneer Numismatics (SPPN)
c/o Dave Showers
P.O. Box 4423
Davis, CA 95617-4423
- Society of Silver Dollar Collectors
P.O. Box 2132
Sepulveda, CA 91313
- Standing Liberty Quarter Collectors Society (SLQCS)
P.O. Box 14762
Albuquerque, NM 87191-4762
- Texas Numismatic Association
P.O. Box 14711
Austin, TX 78761-4711
- Token & Medal Society
David E. Schenkman
P.O. Box 366
Bryantown, MD 20617
- Token Corresponding Society (British tokens)
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