1899 Morgan Dollar Obverse, Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions      1899 Morgan Dollar Reverse, Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions

Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions


A Primer On Numismatics

The 50-State Quarter™ program has introduced coin collecting to an astounding number of Americans. If all you want to do is collect these quarters, you simply need to plug them into a board or album and do no more.

However, if you've been bitten by the collecting bug, it's time to educate yourself before spending any of your hard-earned money. Numismatics (coin collecting) has an old saying: "Buy the Book Before the Coin."

In other words, learn something about what you're about to purchase. The same could be said for other areas of collecting, such as stamps, paper money or sports cards.

Why is a 1914-D (Denver minted) Lincoln cent worth considerably more than a 1915-D cent? Why is a 1950-D Jefferson nickel worth more than a 1953-S (San Francisco) nickel?

Coin values are generally based on the law of supply and demand. Original mintage figures are a starting point in determining availability, but don't necessarily reflect the actual number of coins that survive today, or their state of preservation.

The latter is determined by "grading" in which a coin is rated according to its physical condition. Generally accepted today is a numerical system by which coins are graded on a scale of 1 to 70. MS (Mint State) 70 would be a perfect coin with full mint luster and no scratches or other damage. A coin graded 1 would be a real dog.

MS-60 is the lowest grade a coin can receive and be considered uncirculated. Any thing rated below MS-60 will exhibit some degree of wear.

Grading is a subjective art in which opinions can and do vary. One person's MS-63 can be another's MS-65. The difference in value can range from a few dollars for common coins to hundreds or even several thousand dollars for truly rare ones.

Your education gets started by "buying the book," or newspaper or magazine for that matter. The most basic book is the annual "Guide Book of United States Coins," which is available at most coin shops and bookstores. It's also called the "Red Book" because of the color of its cover. There are two weekly newspapers you might want to consider: Numismatic News and Coin World. See the links page on this web site for information on contacting them.

You also can link to the American Numismatic Association's web site. All local clubs that belong to ANA are listed. See if there is a local club in your area that you can attend. Our web site shows our member local clubs that have web sites. Remember: not all local clubs belong to CSNS or ANA. Check your local library to see if it lists a club near you.

Our web site also lists dealers who will be participating in our anniversary conventions held in late April or early May each year. This list does not appear during the summer months. It is updated beginning in the fall as dealers sign up for the next convention.

This primer has been limited to some basics and is intended as a starting point. The rest is up to you.

Coin collecting can be a fun pastime and perhaps even a profitable one, providing you use some smarts in making your purchases. There is one other rewarding aspect to the hobby: You can meet a lot of new friends along the way.