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Start a Creative Collection

I have known many numismatists who have gotten bored with their current collections, usually because the remaining pieces needed were too scarce and/or too expensive to obtain. Some of them have gone on to start a new collection just for the fun of the hunt. In the process, some have been quite creative with their themes.

5 Heller Coin

1908 5 Heller from German East Africa. (Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

I suppose I could include myself among them. With my two youngest children, I collect coins that have my last name, Heller, on them. A handful of European countries issued them over the past few hundred years, plus there are issues from German East Africa (now part of Tanzania). Since I have seen so much German notgeld denominated in Hellers, I never cared to go in that direction. One nice aspect of a collection of Hellers is that they tended to be the lowest circulating denomination, almost all struck in bronze or copper, where it is possible to get coins from the early 1700s sometimes for less than $5.

A collection that is more popular over time is assembling the worst quality set, especially coins that have been certified in the lowest possible condition.

Imagine trying to assemble a collection of coins with your name on it. It would be quite extensive if your name was Elizabeth. But there are many monarchs’ names like George, Edward, William, and so forth that could be challenging. There are several currency collectors that enjoy searching for obsolete notes or national currency that have their first or last names in the title.

I have also, like many other collectors, assembled collections of currency and exonumia from cities of interest to me. A long time ago, one of my company’s employees had to purchase a Michigan obsolete note because one of the names in the issuing company was a direct ancestor.

“Outside the box” collections to consider:

  • World coins issued in your birth year
  • An example of coins of as many different languages as you can find
  • Coins or paper money with all different monetary units (dollar, peso, franc, drachma, dinar, ducat, penny . . .)
  • Coins or paper money that feature a word such as “freedom” (one formed around issues with the word ‘liberty” would probably be too easy)
  • Coins or paper money depicting religious figures of your faith
  • Coins or paper money of as many different monetary units as possible (one obsolete bank in Michigan issued notes in the denomination of $1.25, $1.50, and $1.75)
  • One coin of each numeral from one through twelve to use to make a clock, or just a specimen from as many different numerals as possible
  • Paper money of extremely high denominations such as the Zimbabwe $100 Trillion note
  • Coins and currency depicting monarchs who were declared saints
  • While there are a number of collectors who specialize in a specific kind of animal such as dogs, horses, or elephants, how about assembling a collection with one for the first initial of each letter of the alphabet (albatross, bison, cougar, donkey . . . zebra)
  • A type set of coins that not only includes a representative piece of each type, but also an example from each mint that struck each type, though this could be expensive
  • At least one specimen from each country that existed at one time, but not today
  • As many different coins as you can find with the denomination of “2”
  • Coins from as many different nations as possible that depict a queen
  • Coins and paper money that depicts the same person on both the obverse and reverse like a Lincoln Memorial Cent, Series 1976 and later US $2.00 Federal Reserve Note, or a Roman Emperor Nero Gold Solidus
  • Issues of a particular coin or currency designer, or perhaps a designer of medals
  • As issue from each geographic area where Roman Emperor Hadrian issued his travel series of the silver denarius
  • The final coin or currency issues of a country before it collapsed
  • Paper money of one particular ink color
  • Topical issues such as ships, palm trees, butterflies, maps, food, space, and so forth
  • National bank notes of banks that were robbed by John Dillinger
  • A coin from as many different shapes or metal compositions as possible
  • Coins of the Great Lakes region or any other regional area
  • Instead of a type set or a first year of issue type set, how about a last year of issue type set
  • Coins of the “Greats” of history such as Alexander the Great, Darius the Great, Justinian the Great, Catherine the Great, Peter the Great

Use your imagination in coming up with a theme to collect for fun. By stepping beyond the bounds of your current collections, you open yourself to meeting new people and having more adventures.

If you have other creative ideas for forming a numismatic collection, please share them with readers by posting on this column.

Follow up for last week’s column.

The other three people specifically depicted on US paper money who were not born in what is now the United States of America are: Sir Walter Raleigh, born in Hayes Barton, England who is on the reverse of the $2.00 National Bank Notes from the First Charter Period, Hernando de Soto, born in Jerez de los Caballeros, Badajoz, Extremadura, Castille (now part of Spain), who is on the reverse of the $10.00 National Bank Notes from the First Charter Period, and General John Burgoyne, born in Sutton, England, who is on the reverse of the $500.00 National Bank Notes from the First Charter Period.

About the Author

Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award 2012 Harry Forman Dealer of the Year Award, and 2008 Presidential Award winner. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2017 and 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at