By Steve Carr
Like many other coin collectors my age (I’m 64), I got my start as a kid. I started saving coins in 1959, when the new memorial reverse cents appeared. I was able to plug a lot of holes in my Whitman albums, some from circulation and a few from coin shops or the local coin show, thanks to money I made on my paper route. But high school, girls, and cars distracted me severely until about 25 years ago. Then, I discovered the world of early American Coppers, half and large cents.
I am what you might call a serious collector on a limited budget. I save cents from 1793 through 1839 by die variety. Most I cannot afford, so I depended on finding unattributed rarer varieties. I also write about early coppers and teach courses on the subject at the ANA Summer Seminar.
During the last 25 years, I have seen a number of people start collecting coins. I have often wondered why some of these people stay active in the hobby while others leave. The key, I believe, is in learning about what you collect.
The following are ten guidelines I feel will make your venture into collecting more enjoyable and productive.
1)Get and use a book. A Red Book is probably the best way to start. Many people collect coins by Red Book variety. Red Books are available at any franchise book store or can be borrowed from most public libraries. Look at the pictures, read the mintages, and compare the values. Does one type or style of coin appeal to you? If so, start looking at these coins in coin shops, at shows, or on the internet. Buy a few inexpensive ones and study them. Do not spend too much money on a coin at this stage. That should come later.
2)Join a club. It seems there is a specialty club for just about all areas of numismatics, ranging from EAC, the Early American Coppers club to the American Tax Token Society. Find a club in your area of interest and join. You will learn quite a bit about your selected series from the club newsletter. If possible, attend a local club meeting. Introduce yourself to other collectors and, if you are so inclined, join the club.
If you are really serious about collecting, join a state, regional, or national club. You will not get the immediate camaraderie of a local club, but you will generally get a wider range of knowledge. You will learn about regional and national coin shows, clubs in your region, and you can borrow books, at least from the ANA (American Numismatic Association).
3)Learn how to handle and store coins. You may start collecting for the simple thrill of finding something new. But as you become more involved in the hobby, your collection will undoubtedly grow. Pretty soon, you will have some significant value in your collection. Mishandling the coins can cause damage, which will decrease the value. Environmental factors can also damage coins. Copper, for example, is a fairly reactive metal. If a copper coin is handled improperly or stored in the wrong environment, the result can easily be a coin in worse condition than when you bought it. Silver and gold are less reactive, but also should be handled properly. Store all of your coins in a cool, dry environment.
4)Learn how to grade and determine the condition of coins. Currently, ANA standards are used by the vast majority of collectors and dealers in determining coin grades. Determining condition is where many collectors have difficulties. Condition involves the strike (weak or strong strike), color (natural or artificial), and any impairments on the coin (nicks, scratches, corrosion). After all, two similar coins, with the same amount of wear, can look totally different. Some types of coins, like half and large cents, are almost always net graded, where grade and condition are both considered in the final grade.
5)Pick a collecting direction to follow. Which type of coin do you like? Each of us has differing tastes in coins, so collect what you like best.
These five guidelines are the just the basics. Once you have them under your belt, you should feel very comfortable collecting! Share your collection with family and friends. For anyone who wants to get a little more involved, here are five more guidelines to success.
6)Learn more about the series you decided to collect. If there are identified varieties, learn how to attribute them. Attributing is determining which specific set of dies were used to strike the coin. Attribution guides are available for almost all series of United States coins. Attribution guides show the different pick-up-points used to identify the variety of your coin. Some varieties are very rare, while most are common. Being able to identify rare varieties can help you cherry pick (buy them for less than their real value) these coins.
7)Buy more books! Or discover more coin information on-line. The more you know, the better you will do collecting.
8)Look at lots of coins in your area of specialization. The more coins you see, the more you will know what is available and in what grade and condition. Look locally, but if if there are no coin shows or stores near you, look on-line.
9)Solidify your grading skills. Take an ANA grading course, if possible. In reality, just looking at more coins in your specialty area will help you get better at grading. If you have questions about the grade of a coin in a dealer’s stock, ask why they graded the coin that way. Remember what you have seen (to the best of your ability) and apply it to the next coin you see.
10)Share your knowledge and expertise with other collectors. Who knows, you might plant a numismatic “seed” in someone else.
These guidelines are my suggestions on how you might increase your collecting pleasure. They are not inclusive – there are many other ways you can keep up your interest in numismatics. Find what “turns your crank” and get involved!