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Where to Start Collecting

All images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

All images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Collectors who have been active for decades can tell you just how much fun our hobby can be. Whether it is the challenge of trying to find something rare or uncommon in change, or collecting coins as souvenirs from trips abroad, or trying to make a date run from coins that are in circulation, there are plenty of ways to collect, and a great deal to learn along the way. But what advice do we give to someone who is just starting out? Where are some good points of entry when it comes to collectible coin series? There are certainly a lot of possibilities, but we’ll focus on just three. On purpose, we will look at one that is downright cheap, one that will cost more than pocket change, and one that might take some serious planning. Without further ado, here we go.

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First, United States quarters

There is probably a legion of collectors who remember collecting Lincoln cents from change and pulling out some of the wheat-back cents. But those of us who remember doing that are dating ourselves. A newer generation of collectors are probably much more familiar with yanking quarters from change and trying to build a collection that way. The buy-in to sit at this table, as it were, is only twenty-five cents since we are just plucking pieces from pocket change and everyday transactions. Importantly, this kind of collecting by searching gives us the opportunity to get our hands on every single twenty-five cent piece that has been issued since Caesar Rodney rode across the reverse of the Delaware quarter back in 1999. The P-marked coins as well as the D-marked coins are all available, although we might have to do some heavy duty searching to assemble a full set.

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Anyone gleaning quarters from circulation will quickly find out that the ever-changing reverses are not the only set of quarters that will turn up. Plenty of older pieces, going all the way back to 1965, are still circulating, doing what they were designed for decades ago. It won’t cost any more than twenty-five cents to get our hands on a Bicentennial reverse quarter, for example – the P or the D mint marked – or any of the P and D quarters that pre-date the States Reverse program. The challenge with these older pieces is finding them still in excellent condition. Some of them have, after all, been circulating for more than fifty years and are showing their age.

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We will also mention that a person could expand a quarters collection by adding proof examples to their holdings. Proof quarters will always be more expensive than anything we can pull from change. But they don’t come connected to sky-high price tags, since the Mint has been pounding out several million proof sets each year since 1968.

silver eagle

Second, the United States silver eagle one-ounce bullion coins

Okay, we’re going to take a big jump up here and suggest that a neat collection to build is the United States one-ounce silver Eagles. These silver bullion coins first came out of the main Mint in Philadelphia back in 1986 and have been produced at the Mint at West Point since 2000. There have been proofs produced each year of the program, but let’s start with what can be called the regular issues.

As far as the just mentioned “jump,” we’re referring to prices. These big, silver discs are never going to cost as little as pocket change. They are pegged to the price of silver on the world markets, which mean they will cost about $30 - $35 today. That’s a bit higher than the cost of the metal itself, but the dealers do have to make a bit of a profit. To quote some long-forgotten, hard-working salesman, “If it’s not a deli, you can’t eat what you don’t sell.” If you are in the business, silver bullion coins need to sell. That being said, assembling a date run of the regular silver Eagles that goes all the way back to the beginning in the 1980’s ought to be both fun and a neat hunting expedition. And as time passes the cost will probably be no real problem. Silver does tend to rise in value.

Now, there are a couple of other options when it comes to collecting one-ounce silver Eagles. The first is looking at the proofs. The United States Mint, and indeed all the world Mints, realize the collector community has an affinity for proof coins, and has met that with some amazing offerings in the past few decades. Proof silver Eagles are one of those offerings. They are not connected to the price of silver, since that proof designation means they are the best of the best when it comes to coin production. The premium we pay for proofs is something that can ultimately make for an eye-popping collection – and quite a few of the proofs are available for as little as $75 per coin. Some collectors may think any proof isn’t worth the extra expense, while others may have no problems in this area.

Beyond regular issue one-ounce silver Eagles and their proof siblings, there are also a few years in which we might opt for reverse proof, burnished uncirculated, or enhanced pieces. For the collector who has chosen to stick with regular issues, these somewhat fancier options may seem ridiculous, something cooked up just to separate painlessly a collector from his or her money. For the person who truly enjoys the proofs though, these further possibilities may be just what they want to expand and fill out their collection. Once again, each of these will come with some premium, meaning they cost more than just the value of precious metal in them. But also once again, the price tags are not through the roof.

10 gold

Third, the 1/10-ounce United States gold Eagle bullion coins

If the silver Eagles represent one jump up, well, this third series will seem like a real blast off from the launch pad – but it one worth considering. It’s fair to say that just about everyone likes gold. Collections of gold coins tend to be considered the biggest and best slice of the pie, we might say. Yet many of us also consider gold too costly for us. Assuming that’s the case, let’s look at an oft-forgotten United States coin, the gold, 1/10-ounce Eagle.

All the way back in 1986, the Mint came out with not one but four gold bullion coins. The big, one-ounce gold Eagles tend to get most of the limelight, but there are also 1/2-ounce pieces, as well as 1/4-ounce pieces, and the small, 1/10-ounce piece we are going to consider. As we get started, let’s do some math. It will help us determine whether or not buying these will be to our tastes.

Okay, assuming the price of gold is $1,800 per ounce, the cost of one of these “long rounds,” the one-ounce pieces, will probably be that plus ten percent, or $1,980. That leads us to believe that the cost of one of the “short rounds” we are looking at will be $198 – one-tenth of the big coin. The reality of it is that one of the 1/10-ounce pieces will probably cost about $220. For whatever reason, there is almost always a bit more of a premium connected to the small gold coins. This is true of most small denomination gold coins from any country, not just the U.S. 1/10-ounce gold Eagles.

Knowing the price tags though should not deter us from getting serious about getting our hands on some gold. If anything, it’s a reason to save up. These small Eagles go all the way back to 1986, and the price for the older ones is not all that much higher than that of the most modern.

The 1/10–ounce gold Eagles are also available as proofs, just like the silver Eagles were. A bit of good news related to this is that the cost of any of the proofs is not all that much higher than that for the regular pieces. The reasons for this are a bit nebulous but may have to do with the fact that regular or proof, most of these gold Eagles do not change hands all that much, and thus look sharp no matter the style of their minting or how old they are. Like we said, that’s some good news, should we choose to dive into this series of small but attractive gold coins.

More?

There are certainly more series that a person might delve into when starting out in this wonderful hobby. But we have seen here that coin collecting can be as low cost as pulling coins from our pocket change, or as upscale as collecting gold – and is filled with possibilities in between. Whatever you choose, good luck!