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The Beginner's Guide: How to start a Coin Collection

Updated: May 1, 2021

Have you ever considered taking up coin collection or numismatics, but don’t know how or where to start? Worry no more, because this blog post has got you covered. It details all the tips and tricks that I was either taught by my grandfather or have learned myself, over the course of my coin-collecting journey when it comes to collecting coins and building a collection.

The best place to start is to really just develop an understanding of why coins are important. Coins don’t just act as monetary tools used for purchase, they document historical events, changes in socio-political scenarios, religious and cultural events. Coins can tell you significant details about any given period in time based on their metallic composition, weight, design, mintage, and how they’ve been maintained over the years. For example,

It’s natural that older, rarer or commemorative coins will automatically have a higher investment value. So whether you want to start collecting coins as a hobby for the sheer joy of it or you aim to actively build a collection as an investment, bear in mind that at some point in time, you may have valuable coins in your collection.

1) Learn the numismatics language

Since numismatics is considered by many to be almost like a discipline, it has its own ‘lingo’, if you will. Here are a few important terms:

  • Face value: The nominal value displayed on the coin (not what you paid for it).

  • Intrinsic value: The actual value of the coin, based on key factors including what you paid for it, plus the historic value, aesthetic features, mint year, scarcity/rarity (mintage), and collectability.

  • Mint: An industrial facility that manufactures coins (e.g., Royal Canadian Mint).

  • Minting: The process of manufacturing coins.

  • Mintage: The number of coins issued of a particular design.

  • Numismatics: The study or collection of coins or paper money.

  • Numismatist: A student or collector of coins or paper money.

  • Proof coins: Coins that are minted using a high-quality finish.

  • Uncirculated coins: Either a circulation coin that has never been circulated, or a coin with a brilliant field over a brilliant relief.

Another tool in your arsenal is this glossary, containing all the important terms when it comes to coin-collection! Once you use the glossary to familiarize yourself with the lingo, you’ll have the added advantage of getting along with other numismatists like a house on fire.

2) Examine and assess which coins you already have

A good way to start coin collecting is to just gather up every coin you already have and take stock of the lot. Looking at this will help you figure out where you see yourself headed, in terms of collecting. It’s important to set a goal for what coins you’d like to start off with collecting and then create sets based on that type. For example, do you want to continue collecting local coins or would you prefer collecting coins from different countries, etc.

For novice coin collectors, I would suggest starting local. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with coins from your own country, both present and past. Plus, this gives you a great opportunity to get to know your country’s history a little better! From there you can always move on to collecting the commemorative coins that are available for sale in your country, or even expand your collection to include coins from different countries.

3) Expanding your collection

With time, you’ll notice similarities in some groups of coins. Increasing the number and variety of coins in each group or set of coins, is a great place to kick off the expansion of your collection. For example, if you have a set of Re.1 coins, you may want to expand the set based on the years and the mints. Check out this post to learn more about the Indian mints.

A super simple and inexpensive way for a novice to start out with expansion is to actively increase your opportunities to get loose change. I know this sounds a little strange, but believe me- - there’s lots of hidden gems to start off with right there! So whether you request your local grocer to exchange a small denomination of notes for coins or ask your friends to trade, definitely try to increase the number of coins you have. Once you take stock of your newly gained coins, it’s easy to tell which ones you’ll need for your collection and which ones you can put back into circulation.

If you’re looking to actively grow your collection, there’s lots of great additional resources available. I’ve listed some of them down below:

  • A local numismatics association which gives you access to lots of new coins and opportunities to purchase them from dealers or fellow members;

  • Joining Facebook groups, composed of avid coin collectors;

  • Popular coin collecting magazines;

  • Your local government’s webpage dedicated to new and commemorative coin releases;

  • Coin auctions, coin shows and coin shops.

4) Cataloguing

Once you have a fair idea of how you’d like to proceed with your collection, the next step is to catalogue the collection. Now, there lots of different ways to catalogue. I’ve listed below, some popular cataloguing sets. You can try one of them or any combination to achieve the kind of collection you want.

  • By country

  • By denomination

  • By year

  • By mint

  • By design

  • By metallic composition

  • By time period

Personally, I separate all of my coins into country-wise sets. Once that’s done, I arrange them according to denomination, year and mint. I simultaneously make sure to record all my data entries about each coin. Check out this blog post to see how I like to catalogue my coin collection.

The unique thing about cataloguing is that it requires you to be strict while collating your data, but flexible when it comes to figuring out your cataloguing style. This means that you can be as flexible as you like when it comes to growing or modifying your collection, but no matter what style you choose, it’s important to be organized when it comes to recording all the data about each coin and organizing in it some kind of order chosen by you.

5) Invest in a Tool box

Using the right tools during coin collection can help with:

  • Handling your coins in a way that causes minimal damage to them;

  • Storing them safely to preserve their design and the engraving on them.

Wait… before you opt out of coin-collecting because you think that this toolbox is going to be overpriced and difficult to obtain, it’s not! This starter-kit toolbox is actually fairly inexpensive. The only things you need are:

  • A notebook (or its digital equivalent) to keep records of your growing collection;

  • A boxes (or boxes), lined with soft cloth to store the coins in;

  • A coin album or coin-holder sheets, to safely store and display your coin collection after cataloguing;

  • Gloves, to handle your coins;

  • A magnifying glass (preferably with at least 5x magnification), which comes in handy to see minute detailing on the coins up close.

6) Beware of unscrupulous dealers and scams!

Don’t rush to make a purchase and then fall for a bad deal or get cheated. Watch out for people trying to make a quick buck off you by selling you counterfeit coins, or selling coins at unbelievably low prices. When it comes to collectibles, you’’ learn that coins worth having definitely don’t come cheap. So take your time and make sure to check out all your options before making a purchase from a trustworthy, reputed dealer.

Now, you are well equipped to get started on collecting coins! Good luck!

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