An Introduction to Coin Collecting
Part art, part science, part history lesson... but all adventure!
Based on that, some would call it an adventure, but, for most, it's just the hobby, of coin collecting.
To many, it seems a dull pursuit, and it is sometimes hard for 'outsiders' to see the attraction in collecting a bunch of old coins...money you can't even spend!. There's the
inherent value of the coins, of course. After all, at the bottom it's still "money". But beyond the dollar value of metal currency, the true coin collector finds the same excitement
of the chase as the big game hunter! The true coin collector thrives on the intrigue of the sleuth, the excitement of following each lead, sometimes to distant lands and times, and the rush of snaring a great catch.
Pursuing a rare coin requires the patience of the researcher in any other field. There are dusty old books and newspapers to read and sellers to visit. There are chance remarks and the tide of history to be woven into the web of evidence.
Correspondence with other collectors can put you on the trail of a 1917-S Lincoln Cent. Perhaps an old coin book alerts you to a fraudulent 1878 Morgan Silver Dollar.
Internet, as it has with so many another hobby or pursuit, has transformed coin
collecting. With the world wide web had his or her disposal, the coin collector's research no longer requires spending hours in a library or
driving around town from seller to seller...or even the need to travel to other lands...unless you want to. In our connected world, you no longer have to wait a
week to receive a reply via 'snail mail' from a numismatic expert in some other part of the country...or the world. You can even get a first class introductory education on coin collecting simply by searching around
the web to read the postings of those who really know their stuff...many of whom are happy to share their knowledge with a fellow coin lover in a forum or in response to an emailed inquiry.
Even with all the advantages the Internet offers these days, there is still
the need to turn into a coin collecting version of Sherlock Holmes and sleuth out those great deals on that mint Buffalo nickel you have been searching for. Even Indiana Jones would not feel any more excited than you will when you find that 1856 Flying Eagle cent that you thought was
extinct, in some little coin shop in town...or in a town a thousand miles away. Even with the Internet, there's still no real substitute for patient clue gathering and careful
study to find those rare deals.
Coin collectors enjoy learning all about the major and minor points of coins and the different types of coins (valuable in establishing value and price), years, mints and history behind all the designs which have been used over the years. They can see the entire world in a small, round piece of metal with an interesting design.
And, like other areas of history, there are frequent and continuing debates about a wide variety of issues. Did Anna Willess Williams
really model for the Goddess Miss Liberty? The answer affects not only the value of and historical interest in the coins, but branches out
into the worth of the estate of the model, the designer and others.
Along with the art and adventure of coin collecting, there is also science. After all there are minting practices which have developed over the centuries, grading systems - which have
grown significantly more complex and detailed in the last 25 years -
and many other areas where the border between art and science meet and must
be mastered by the dedicated coin collector.
Not quite gone are the simple days of PO (Poor), Fair (Fr), Very Fine
(VF) and the rest. But, though these designations are still used,
they've been expanded and supplemented to encompass a much more
precise, though still something of an art, grading system.
The current trend began in the 1950s with the The Sheldon ScaleSheldon scale, a numeric
system ranking coins from 1 to 70. Beginning in 1986 with the
incorporation of PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service), authentication and grading has been taken to new heights.
Today, many are experimenting with computer grading systems. None has yet captured the imagination. But with the increasing sophistication of image analysis software, it may only be a matter of time.
But no one need fear that using the modern tools of science will quash
the art and romance that is coin collecting. No matter how clever
machines become, there can never be a substitute for good taste, clever
insights and the Eureka! phenomenon that is supplied by the collector.
And no machine will in the foreseeable future stand in awe as it gazes upon the latest unearthed numismatic treasure.