U.S. Coin Price Guide

Coin Collecting

Buy Coin Supplies

How to Acquire Coins
By Coins Magazine

Pulling coins out of circulation is a time-proven method of getting started. There is a wide variety of coinage in circulation, and the quickest way to become acquainted with it is to go through your change coin by coin.

When you plunk a pocketful of coins on a table, you often see a wide variety of conditions. Cents range from the deep chocolate color of older pieces to a bright coppery red of newly struck coins. Various shades of color can also be detected as the modern nickel, dime and quarter wear.

Studying these coins may not make you rich, but this time is well spent and might someday prevent you from a making a mistake that could make you poorer. Becoming comfortable with the aging process of coins, comparing them side by side, and just plain fingering them for feel and texture helps the collector develop an eye for detecting wear and knowing what it is supposed to look like.

When checking the current coins in circulation, donít stop at just your change. In the past, searching bank-wrapped rolls almost became an art form with its own rules of etiquette. Conditions vary from place to place, and small towns have generally been friendlier to this mode of collecting than cities. It is up to individual collectors to see if this is possible in their own areas.

Another similar source of coins is a friend or relative who throws his or her change into a container of some sort. Sometimes these accumulations go on for many years. A search might yield many dates and mintmarks that have disappeared from general circulation.

Circulation finds may not be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but undertaking this form of collecting does have its value, as has been pointed out. One last point on this: When you search your change, consider the many millions of collectors, past and present, who also started this way. The activity forms a bond between many collectors. Coin-find stories also rank right up there with fish stories.

The U.S. Mint. Each year under present law, the U.S. Mint must make available for sale to the public a set containing one example of each of the currently circulating coins from each of the mints, cent through half dollar (or even dollar coins in the years they have been made). These sets are called mint sets. Current sets contain 20 coins, with examples of the cent, nickel, dime, half dollar and dollar from Philadelphia and Denver along with the Denver and Philadelphia strikings of the five statehood quarters for the given year.

Then there is the annual proof set.?It is currently a 10-coin set, with the cent, nickel, dime, half dollar and dollar and the five statehood quarters.

Since 1982, the United States has come close to striking commemorative coins each year. Since 1986, the Mint has struck gold and silver American Eagle bullion coins. In 1997, it added platinum American Eagles to its line. Collectors are given a chance to order proof versions of these as they become available.

Then there is the Mintís autumn sales catalog. It features medals and other special items the Mint produces.

Commercial channels.

There are four major ways to purchase coins in routine commercial channels, and they all are related to one another. Individuals involved in these areas are called coin dealers.

In the United States there are approximately 5,000 to 10,000 dealers; there is no accurate census. They range from part-time operators called vest-pocket dealers to full-time, very professional and very large and well-organized firms that employ dozens of people. It takes courage, knowledge and capital mixed in varying proportions to become a dealer.

1. The coin shop: If there is such a thing as a coin hobby mythology, the coin shop would loom very large in it. Over the years, especially since the advent of the modern mass hobby in 1934, coin shops scattered in cities and towns across America have provided hundreds of thousands of collectors a major point of contact with the coin hobby.

To understand the coin shop, you almost have to experience one. Most are not in the high-rent districts. They are small. They sometimes are furnished with items that probably saw their best years before the owner was born. But it was and is this special environment that gives the shop part of its character. The rest is provided by the owner, usually one friendly individual with a wide streak of independence.

What makes the coin shop what it was, and still is, are the many functions it performs. You would expect to find coins there and suppliesóand they are there in abundance. Sales of these give the owner his or her income. However, while collectors are there with their want lists and are looking through junk boxes containing hundreds of inexpensive coins, they get to know the dealer. From him or her they learn a good bit about the hobby.

A coin shop is a never-ending education seminar. Collectors can examine many more coins than they could ever hope to buy. Besides, most collectors wouldnít want six examples of 1932-D quarters in their collections anyway. They can learn how to spot counterfeits, altered mintmarks, and coins that have been cleaned. The shop is a source of current hobby news and gossip. It can be a social club, if there happens to be a regular Saturday-morning or Friday-night group that drops by.

If you choose to go to a shop regularly, spend some money. Buy some coins. After all, you would expect to pay to attend actual seminars. Remember, the dealer has to make a living too. He or she is more than willing to share his or her knowledge, but canít do so without a sale or two. This may sound a bit crude, but after a couple of visits to most shops, youíll understand.

2. The bourse: ďBourseĒ has a strange, almost exotic sound when a collector is introduced to it. It is a group of dealers situated in one place for the purpose of doing business, both buying and selling. They conduct their transactions from behind eight-foot tables, and they pay a fee to the organizer for the privilege of attending.

Organizers can be individuals or coin clubs. Bourses may be one-day affairs or stretch on for a week. They vary in size; they can have 10 tables or 600. Table fees vary with size.

Bourses are held somewhere virtually every week of the year, and taken together they have a dramatic impact on the commercial sector of the coin hobby. Price trends start on the bourse floors of major shows. Dealers come to these events to buy material to fill their collector-customer want lists, they may buy items to restock depleted shop inventory, and they come to sell material they may have purchased over the counter.

In the process, they get a feel for the state of the coin market. Uptrends, downtrends and just muddling-through trends become obvious to all participants during any major show.

Bourse floors are not just for dealers. The public is invited. Sometimes the public must pay an admission fee, sometimes not. It depends on the show sponsors. People often show up in droves.

At a large show, collectors can find just about anything they might need for their collections. They can also find specialists. Where a coin-shop operator needs to know a little about everything, a bourse-floor dealer can specialize. as a result, on a large bourse floor, you find dealers who handle just silver dollars or large cents or commemorative coins.

Behavior at shows is sometimes not as relaxed as in a coin shop. There usually are many people trying to perform multiple tasks at once. However, once you get used to the clamor of wheeling and dealing, it can be as much fun as being a kid in a candy store.

3. The auction: There are three types of auctions in the coin hobby. There is the traditional auction by public bidding, where auction-firm staff, auctioneer, and a crowd of people gather in one place. There is the mail-auction, which is generally conducted by a dealer or firm during a period of 30 to 45 days in which bids are submitted by mail.

The third method is a variant of the second. Coins are available for bid, and instead of making bids via mail, potential buyers sit down with their telephones or computers and make bids via electronic impulses.

Each type of auction has its own special rules, and it is important for any would-be buyer to obtain a copy of the catalog in which the coins are listed, described and often photographed. Each type of auction has its advantages and fans.

Primary advantage of the traditional auction by public outcry is the ability to examine the coins you are considering for purchase. However, because of the expense involved for the auction firm in hiring a public hall or a ballroom, an auctioneer, and other necessary personnel, the value of coins sold in this fashion are reasonably high. But there is little that compares to the thrill of watching bidders battle each other to purchase hobby rarities.

The mail-bid auction has much lower overhead, which allows individual lots to be less expensive. Normally, because you cannot see what you are bidding on, there is a return privilege.

Electronic auctions have a different type of overhead, but because they can be organized and conducted reasonably rapidly, the cost of overhead gets spread out over a greater number of sales. Also, there is a greater sense of participation. Bidders can use their telephones or computers to monitor other bids in the sale as they arrive and time their bidding to suit their own styles and preferences. Return privileges are a feature here as well because bidders canít examine what they are buying beforehand.

4. Purchase by mail: Just as many major retailing firms are geared to serving their customers through the mail, so too are many dealers. After all, collecting coins is a hobby. It should be relaxing. What better way is there to unwind than sitting in the privacy of your own home and doing a little shopping by mail to build your collection?

Generations of collectors have done so, and tens of thousands of hobbyists still take advantage of the convenience of this method of purchase. Some great collections of the past were largely assembled through mail-order purchases.

Hobbyists and dealers come together in two ways. The first is the advertisement. Dealers place display ads or word ads in publications that are geared toward serving coin collectors. You see something you like, and, presto, drop a letter and a check in the mail and you get it.

A second method of contact is very much dependent on the first. A dealer with whom you have done business will often send out a price list that outlines what he or she has to sell. These lists are usually issued on a set frequency. Dealers active in mail-order generally guard their mailing lists with their lives, because their businesses depend on them.

Understandably, there can be some reluctance with doing business with someone you donít know. That is why it is important to survey the field. The best method of doing this is by reading periodicals especially produced for coin collectors. They will help acquaint you with mail-order dealers. Numismatic News, Coins magazine, Coin Prices, Bank Note Reporter, and World Coin News protect buyers by test ordering their advertisers to see if they deliver what they promise, offer an avenue for complaint if a buyer doesnít get what he or she pays for. You also can find out about dealers from other collectors at shows or club meetings.

There are also rules governing mail order that protect buyers. The primary one among them is the return privilege. If you donít like it, send it back. You donít need any more reason than that.

If you want to sell coins to a dealer, always write or call him first. Unsolicited shipments donít have to be returned. If the dealer agrees to accept you coins, always include return postage and instructions for sending them to you.


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