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Coin Collecting: US Coins, Rare Coins, Silver Coins, Gold Coins and Coin Values

Coins are used as a medium of exchange and also acquired or collected and saved as a hobby.

Coins have been in use for more than 3,000 years, and people have collected them for nearly as long. The technical name for the practice of collecting coins is numismatics, an is derived from the Greek word nomisma, meaning coin.

Numismatics includes the study of coins, banknotes, medals, tokens, and other primitive forms of money. Governments and other official agencies issue billions of coins annually, and collecting coins is a popular hobby around the world.

On this web page we will deal with United States coinage only.

History of United States Coins

United States coins or American coin are manufactured by the United States Mint, an agency of the Department of the Treasury. The mint makes five coins for general circulation today, the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and half-dollar. The mint has periodically issued one-dollar coins for general circulation, such as the Sacagawea dollar released in 2000.

The United States established its first official mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1792. Regular coinage began the following year, based on a new unit of currency called the dollar. The word dollar was derived from the German thaler and later adapted to dollar. The dollar was the world's first unit of currency divided into decimal subunits, which simplified the use of money here in the United States and elsewhere. By the end of the 20th century, all developed countries had switched to a decimal system as their units of currency. In addition to the regular denominations in circulation today such as the cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, and dollar), the U.S. mint has produced half-cent, 2-cent, 3-cent, and 20-cent pieces as well as gold coins ranging from $1 to $20.

Traditionally, coins of higher value have been made of silver or gold, and small value coins were struck from copper alloys. In the 1930s and 1940s the United States stopped producing gold coins. Silver was replaced with nickel or nickel alloys and copper to make coins in the 1960s. Today's coins do not contain precious metals nor can they be exchanged for gold or silver.

From 1793 until the middle of the 20th century, most regular-issue U.S. coins portrayed a Miss Liberty. The principal exception was the Indian Head Cent, struck from 1859 to 1909. The practice of picturing deceased presidents on U.S. coins dates from 1909, when the first Lincoln Cents appeared during the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. George Washington's profile was used on the quarter-dollar of 1932. The design quickly became so popular that it was retained for regular-issue quarters and is still being used today. Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower are the other American presidents who have appeared on regular issue U.S. coinage.

Other historical figures have also been featured on U.S. coins. Statesman like Benjamin Franklin appeared on the half-dollars of 1948 through 1963. Susan B. Anthony, the noted feminist, was featured on the first small size dollar coins, struck from 1979 to 1981 and again in 1999. Representations of Native Americans Indians have been popular on U.S. coins such as the obverse of the Buffalo Nickels produced from 1913 to 1938. In 2000, the United States issued the first golden dollar coins honoring Sacagawea, a young Native American woman who guided Lewis and Clark in their exploration of the West.

Coin Collecting

Coins old and new have a special attraction for many hobbyists as well as professional dealers and investors.   Estimates of the number of active collectors worldwide range into the millions.

Many numismatists start with collecting coins from their own country because of easy availability. Every date, mint mark, and variation in design is counted as a different coin. A typical beginner method is to acquire one of each piece within a series.  A collector may continually attempt to find better quality specimens of the coins already acquired. The number of collectable coins found in circulation has become very limited, so a collector must usually resort to trading or buying coins to complete or upgrade their collection.

Another popular form of collecting is to assemble a type set coin collection. The word type refers to a classification of coins by their metal, denomination, and design. For example, instead of acquiring a specimen of every date and mint from a series of dimes, a collector obtains a single coin to represent this series. In this kind of collection every coin is distinct and has its own history.

The United States Mint has promoted coin collecting through various programs and efforts over the years, such as special commemorative coin issues, collectable sets such as Mint Sets and Proof Sets. One project of the United States Mint is the 50 State Quarters Program, which began in 1999. Under this program, the mint issues five new state quarters each year for ten years. Each coin featuring a special design that recalls something from that state's history or heritage. The effort has been very successful, attracting many new collectors, especially children.

Coin Values

The market value of any old coin is the a price that is determined by supply and demand or coin appraisal. Some coins are quite scarce, but their prices remain low because there is no great demand for them. Some coins are more available, but their prices are relatively high because there are far more numismatists who collect them. As with any collectible, the coin grading or condition of a coin is a major factor in determining what a coin is worth or its value.

When deciding on the purchase of expensive coins, collectors must do the research necessary for any other major investment. The collector must assess the current market value of the item, its current resale value, and its potential appreciation. Above all, the coin collector must be knowledgeable enough to know if a coin is genuine and properly graded as to condition or must have confidence that the coin dealer does.

Coin catalogs give some idea of the current coin price guide for various coins. However, dealer advertisements in coin magazines and newspapers are usually more up to date. Coin auctions such as the the ones conducted by eBay are an important feature of major coin collecting conventions. Catalogs of the items to be sold are issued ahead of time, and lists of the prices that the items sold for can often be obtained afterward. A coin show usually has tables where numismatists can consider the offerings of many dealers, and coin shops also often provide a wide selection. Web sites are a good source for information on the value and availability of coins.  Search for online coin price guide.

People have sold and traded goods and services for thousands of years. An early obstacle was finding a common medium of exchange. Ancient coins were developed to fill this need and continue to serve this purpose today.


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