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All hands on coins

I call this my numismatic vandalism endorsement.

Over the years I have noticed that too many collectors have entered the hobby with such a deep respect for packaging that they have rarely, or never, actually held many coins in their hands in order to carefully examine them.

There is no way to learn the finer points of collecting coins without rolling up your sleeves and doing this – and quite literally getting your hands dirty in the process as coins are not particularly clean. News ones can have residue on them from the production process and circulated ones are simply dirty to varying degrees.

I grew up in numismatics at the end of the circulation finds era, spending many hours poring over large numbers of coins.

Even if I did not find anything worth keeping, I was learning. Learning to grade coins is much easier when you see many pieces and can compare them to the line drawings and photographs of grading books.

The present generation of collectors is less likely to spend large amounts of time with masses of coins. The alternative of simply buying coins that have been slabbed by a third party is one that some have taken, but it is not a realistic possibility for many individuals who still consider themselves to be active collectors. They often simply focus on new issues from the Mint.

There is still quite a mass of unslabbed coinage out there that trade at local coin shows and other venues.

The best way to make intelligent purchases among these coins is to learn what genuine coins look like and learn to grade.

This is virtually impossible if the only coins encountered are fancily packaged or slabbed.

What is the solution?

Part of it is to buy some low cost proof sets and uncirculated coins sets, both clad and silver, and destroy the packaging so the coins can be closely examined.

What are the characteristics of a proof coin? An uncirculated coin? How do they look side by side? Compare the color of silver coins to clad coins. It is different, but many newcomers are at first blind to it.

We collectors respect packaging too much. If never opening a sealed set means not learning the basics of numismatics, that is too high a price to pay.

These vandalized sets won't be missed. There are tens of millions of common ones out there that can be converted into much more valuable learning aids.

I have made this point before, but it is important enough to repeat.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."