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Taking time to learn enhances hobby

Numismatics is a diverse and fascinating field. Only you can decide the extent of personal involvement. This paper is read by people of all skill levels. That’s why a few times in the past I have written an introductory column in the January issue. As I don’t recall the last one, it may be time for another now.


None of us starts out with all the answers, and the typical learning process is a roller coaster of fun, mistakes, discoveries, and disappointments. If you go slowly, taking the time to learn, most of your experiences will be positive. If you can take the time to find a dealer as a mentor, you should avoid many pitfalls awaiting the uninformed.

Every advanced collector or professional I know has taken a different path, yet there are some similarities. Anyone reading this publication is on the right path. That’s because knowledge comes from reading.

When I became interested in coins as a teen, I read a complete set of the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine and all the Numismatists from the early 1940s to the mid 1960s. I cannot see having the time to do that in our busy world today but I will recommend an inexpensive set of books, Selections from the Numismatist, which gives an overview of our hobby.

Join a coin club if one is close. Folks with more knowledge than you will be members, and can speed your learning process.

A coin seminar given by professional numismatists is another fast way to learn. Some of these are held at major coin shows, and they are free.

Join the American Numismatic Association. The organization’s library is a great resource, including videos on several subjects offered in seminars.

The Internet is your friend. The Professional Coin Grading Service has a video series on grading, and their Official site has a photo gallery of coins in various grades. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has a library of the newsletters they have published containing notes on counterfeit detection. Both services have pricing information.

Join the online coin forums, as it costs nothing. Four I recommend are Coin Talk, Collectors Universe (PCGS), Coin Community, and Collectors Society (NGC). There are many more I have not mentioned, including websites on specific coin types.

Although It is impossible to keep up with the thousands of daily posts, the archived information from years ago is well worth your attention and should be equivalent to my reading past issues of the Numismatist as a beginner.

After joining, you can either stay on the sidelines “lurking” or join in with your questions. I’ve found that most basic questions have been asked and answered several times in the past, so it is best to search the archives first.

Attend as many coin shows as you can. While you are learning, try to hold back on making any large purchases, especially if you do not know what aspect of numismatics interests you. I am still a generalist and never focused on a specific series. As a beginner, junk boxes and tokens kept me out of trouble from buying counterfeit or over graded coins and provided many interesting items.

One bit of advice I like to tell students came from a longtime employee in the numismatic collection at the Smithsonian Institution. He said if he could do it all over again, he would build a type set of U.S. Coins.

He reasoned that a complete collection of Morgan dollars is an impressive accomplishment, yet all the coins look the same and there are only a few “stories” connected with a single series of coins. A Type set has coins many have never heard of and offers hours of conversation.

Nevertheless, there is one significant advantage to forming a collection of one specific type. While you are collecting and studying the series, you may end up knowing more about your chosen field than most of the people you’ll be dealing with!

When you decide to “take the plunge” into coins, you should only purchase those that have been authenticated and graded by the four major Third Party Grading Services. Each is reputable, and the chance of purchasing a fake or over graded coin is lessened.

Comparing the pluses and minuses (there are many) of these four services would require another three pages; besides, opinions are easily found on the Internet forums I mentioned.

Also, when you learn to grade, you’ll not need to rely on these services as a crutch. There is a saying in numismatics: “Buy the coin, not the label.” This is because not all identical coins with the same grade are equal or worth the same amount of money. This will become more evident as you learn to grade.

Finally, having TPGS’s opinion of grade and protection from counterfeits are only two major things you’ll need to master. Learn how to recognize an original coin and how to examine it properly in order to evaluate it.

Since a coin’s color is one “key” to help detect originality, circulation wear, cleaning, and fraudulent surface alterations, the quickest way to recognize “originality” is to study untoned coins in TPGS slabs graded MS-65 and higher. You’ll want to memorize the color and types of surface luster you’ll see, as original luster can vary on different dates and mints in the same coin series.

Next, learn the proper way to examine a coin. Just about every professional has his or her own system. You’ll need to develop one, too. Examine each side, obverse first, as that is the most important. Many divide each side into quadrants so they do not miss a part.

Don’t forget the third side – the edge and rim. During your exam, you must tip the coin back and forth as you rotate in the light through at least 250 degrees. That will allow any marks or hairlines to be perpendicular to the light for at least a moment so you can detect them more easily.

It takes time to develop these habits, but once learned, it will pay for itself this year and forever.

Happy New Year!

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

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• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2017 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.