By Coins Magazine
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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