history of coins and coin collecting

A Short History of Coins and Coin Collecting

It is almost within the memory of living men, even in the West, that direct barter was the chief means of trade. Goods were exchanged between two parties and that was the end of it. But finding someone who wanted to exchange eggs for bread or shoes for butter is time consuming and results in many spoiled loaves.

Introducing a third party that has eggs and will accept shoes he doesn't need because he knows someone who will trade them for butter he does want is a step in the right direction. Keep moving down that road and sooner or later something is going to evolve as a standard medium of exchange.

Gold, silver, copper and a few other commodities in various places came to be that medium. Paper, until just a few decades ago, was nothing more than a marker for these commodities. As a result, coins made from those metals were produced.

Historians largely agree that the first coins were struck during the 7th century in Asia Minor, in an area that is now part of Turkey. 'Struck' is an appropriate term, since they were made by putting a blank metal piece between two die and striking the top with a hammer.

Those die often had the likenesses of kings, since they were the ones who declared laws forbidding anyone else to produce currency. It was both a way to enforce their rule and guarantee the authenticity of the money. He who has the gold makes the rules.

As culture and technology developed, metal coins came into wider use. During the 14th century coins came to be valued not only for their function in commerce, but as works of art in themselves. Petrarch is reported to have had a substantial collection of ancient coins.

During the late 18th and 19th centuries coin production technology evolved to the point that hand minting was surpassed by machine-made methods. Coin collecting at this stage took a radical turn.

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Hand-made coins, even when they have been carefully alloyed and weighed in the minting process, differ visibly. No matter how skilled or conscientious, even the most painstaking artisan can never produce two exactly alike. As a result, what qualified as an 'error', making a coin more rare, had an entirely different meaning in the earlier era.

Machine minting, however, can eaily mass produce coins of uniform alloy and shape.

Still, subtle, and sometimes, not so subtle, mistakes can happen...even in the most carefully controlled and monitored process.

For example, double-striking, incorrect plates used, wrong dates and any number of human errors can cause machine made coins to differ from the standard.

Because of their rarity, those 'bad' coins can have substantial value in coin collecting. Rarity, after all, even when the intrinsic value might otherwise be low, is a key element in the value of a collectible coin.

By the mid-20th century - August 15, 1962 to be exact - saw the debut of the first international coin collecting convention in the U.S. Sponsored by the American Numismatic Association, this event ushered in the truly modern era of coin collecting.

Today, there are dozens of organizations around the world and millions of collectors devoted to the art and science of coin collecting. Shoulder-to-shoulder with their cousins in numismatics (the study of currency), they trade actively in shops and websites all over the globe.

Yet the urge is unquestionably similar seven centuries after Petrarch: the joy of finding and sharing the excitement of that rare treasure.

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History of Coins and Coin Collecting
Page Updated 4:13 PM Sunday 3/23/2014