About Coins

Coin collecting is the oldest hobby in the world. Its origins date back to around 400 BC. Coin collecting is said to be the King of Hobbies. This article will provide a general over view about coin collecting as a hobby with a focus on United States coins. Please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section for answers to specific questions that you may have.

Early History of Coins

Most historians are in agreement that the Lydians invented coins in the seventh century BC. Lydians were Greek inhabitants living in what is now western Turkey. Using metal for money can be simplified by making standardized pieces of metal of a known size and weight. The Lydians saw the advantage of stamping our pieces of metal with marks which guaranteed their value when used as money. Within 100 years after the Lydians introduction of coins, the use of coins was widely adopted in the Greek world. The first coins were of gold and silver. Then in the late fifth century BC the Greeks city states in Sicily and southern Italy began the production of copper coins to take the place of silver coins in day-to-day commerce.

The Greeks - To Be Published

The Romans - To Be Published

In the English American colonies there was a severe lack of coinage for most of its history. So the colonists used several type of substitutes for money. Wampum, shells strung together in a belt or strings, beaver skins, and tobacco leaves were accepted forms of currency between the earliest colonist and North American Indians. Almost any foreign coins was accepted by the colonists. The Spanish Eight Reales was the most preferred and plentiful coinage. The Spanish Eight Reales or "piece of eight" remained the standard unit not only throughout the entire colonial period, but was legal tender in the United States as late as 1857. To compete with the Spanish Eight Reals in trade, the government of the United States needed a large silver coin of equal silver weight. The result was the creation of the American Silver Dollar.

The Spanish Eight Reales or "piece of eight" has been the treasure coin of pirates, Spanish Treasure Fleets, and fictional stories. This coin is also known as the "pillar dollar" or the Spanish Milled Dollar. This coin was part of the Spanish coinage system which had fractional parts of ½ and 1 reales, 2 and 4 reales. Since these coins were the forerunners of American coins, they also are responsible for 2 bits equals a quarter dollar and 4 bits equals a half dollar. Spanish Miller Dollars were produced in the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru from 1732 to 1772.

The origin of the United States Silver Dollar and the divisions of American money are the result of Thomas Jefferson. While serving as a member of Congress, Jefferson proposed basing the monetary system on units of ten or a decimal system. In April of 1792 Congress passed a bill authorizing a bimetallic standard on a dollar system with divisions of the dollar expressed in tenths. The type of coinage authorized was as follows:

Gold Coins:
Eagle, value = $10.00
Half Eagle = $5.00
Quarter Eagle = $2.50
Silver Coins:
Dollar = $1.00
Half Dollar = 50 cents
Quarter Dollar = 25 cents
Disme (Dime) = 10 cents
Half Disme = 5 cents
Copper Coins
Cent = .01 of a Dollar
Half Cent = .005 of a Dollar

Condition or Grading of Coins

Grading of coins is specific to each type of coin as wear varies between the different types. In this section general descriptions are provided as a guide to the entire range of United States coins and therefore the descriptions are not intended to be specific to any one type of U.S. coin. For specific grading or level of condition of a United States coin series we recommend the Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins or Photograde. We use both of these references to grade coins and conduct appraisals. We highly recommend them. To accurately grade coins an individual needs experience in any given type of U.S. coin series.

Proof Grades

Proof coins are graded the same as regular mint issued or business strike coins. Proof coins can receive a circulated coin grade. Typically proof coins receive a condition or grade between 60 to 70. The use of the word "Proof" refers to the manufacturing process which results in a special surface or finish on coins made specifically for collectors or special presentation. Today collectors are familiar with the modern brilliant Proof coins. These coins are struck at the United States Mint by a special process using carefully prepared dies to yield coins with sharp features and a mirrorlike background. Specially prepared coin blanks are fed into low speed coining presses where each Proof coin is double stuck with extra pressure. Care is taken during this process to insure completed coins do not come in contact with other Proof coins. Today, the United States Mint places a Proof example of each coin denomination into a set for sale to collectors.

Uncirculated Grades (MS60 to MS70 The terms Mint State (MS) and Uncirculated (Unc.) are used interchangeably to describe coins showing no trace of wear. Uncirculated coins vary from each other to some degree from blemishes, toning, or slight imperfections. Since these variations exist between coins, Mint State grades have been established to grade or determine the Mint State condition of the coin.

MS-70 The perfect coin showing no trace of wear. The finest quality possible with no evidence of scratches or contact marks from other coins. Extremely few regularly issued coins get this grade. Attractive and outstanding eye appeal. Copper coins must be bright with original color and luster.

MS-68 A coin with very attractive appearance and a very sharp strike. Full mint luster for the date and mint are present. No more than two small non-detracting contact marks or flaws. No hairlines or scuff marks visible under magnification. Exceptional eye appeal. Copper coins must have lustrous original color.

MS-65 A Gem Brilliant Uncirculated coin. . An above average Uncirculated coin specimen. This coin may be brilliant or lightly toned with very few contact marks on the surface or rim. Copper coins will have full luster with original or slightly darkened color and should be designated as "red" or "red brown".

MS-64 A Choice Brilliant Uncirculated coin. Mint luster is above average with several small contact marks as well as one or two moderately heave contact marks. The overall quality of the coin is above average for a mint state coin and has a pleasing appearance. Copper coins may be slightly dull and color should be designated as "brown", "red brown" or "red".

MS-63 A Brilliant Uncirculated coin. Mint lustre may be impaired on portions of the design. Numerous small contact marks in groups. May have several detracting scuff marks. The overall quality of the coin is average for a mint state coin, but overall the coin is attractive. Copper coins may be darkened or dull and designated as "brown" or "red brown".

MS-60 An Uncirculated coin. This coin exhibits no trace of wear but may show a number of detracting contact marks, and the surface may be spotted or lack a brilliant luster. Rims may be nicked. Eye appeal is poor. Coins in this grade may be unattractive, dull or have washed out mint luster. Copper coins will be dull, dark or spotted.

Circulated Grades (AG-3 to AU-58)

Very Choice About Uncirculated - 58. Abbreviation: AU-58 The barest trace of wear may be seen on one or more of the high points of the coin's design. No major detracting contact marks will be present and the coin will have attractive eye appeal and nearly full mint luster.

Choice About Uncirculated - 55. Abbreviation: AU-55 Only small traces of wear are present on the highest points of the coin's design. Nearly full or three quarters of the mint luster remains.

About Uncirculated - 50. Abbreviation: AU-50 Coins in this grade have traces of wear on nearly all of the high areas on the coin. At least half of the original mint luster remains.

Choice Extremely Fine - 45. Abbreviation: EF-45 Only light overall wear on the highest points of the coin's design. All details of the coin's design are very sharp. Mint luster is usually seen only in the protected areas of the coin's surface such as between letters in the legend, around stars, or between the numerals in the date.

Extremely Fine - 40. Abbreviation: EF-40 Slight wear overall on the coin's design but more wear than an EF-45 coin. The coin exhibits excellent overall sharpness in its design details which remain well defined. Traces of mint luster may still be present.

Choice Very Fine - 30. Abbreviation: VF-30 Design details on the highest points are lightly worn, but all the lettering, legends, date, and major features are sharp.

Very Fine - 20. Abbreviation: VF-20 All the lettering, legends, date, and major features are sharp. Moderate wear on the highest points of the coin's design. Design details are clear.

Fine -12. Abbreviation: F-12 Coins in this grade exhibit moderate to considerable wear. Wear must be even. The entire design of the coin is bold with and overall pleasing appearance. All lettering, including the word LIBERTY are visible, but some of the letters may be weak.

Very Good - 8. Abbreviation: VG-8 A well worn coin. Major design details are visible, but with many of the features are faint or worn away.

Good - 4. Abbreviation: G-4 A heavily worn coin. Major design details are visible, but faint in many areas. Details are typically visible in an outline form of the design. The design is flat. Coins in this grade have a full rim and full date.

About Good - 3. Abbreviation: AG-3 A very heavily worn coin with portions of the lettering, date, and legends being worn smooth. The date on the coin is barely visible.

Important Notice: Coins that are damaged are worth less than those without defects. Wear is not a defect rather it is a measure of the coins condition. Defects are the result of damage to the coin caused by scratches, holed, nicked, stained, bent, corroded, or cleaning.

Counterfeit Coins

Counterfeits exist in all collectible fields. Coin collecting is no exception to the rule. The art of counterfeiting coins has reached a high level of sophistication, so it is a prudent practice when purchasing any coin to obtain an invoice for it. Insist upon a written receipt showing date of purchase, amount of purchase, name of the seller and a description of the coin purchased. Title cannot legally pass on a counterfeit coin. So if you were to later discover a coin you purchased was counterfeit, and you have proof of purchase you stand a very good chance of getting you money back. If you do not have an invoice, you will be out of luck.

Your best protection is to buy from a knowledgeable dealer or sell and get an invoice. Buying coins for "cash" and without an invoice to get a "bargain price" may result in more problems than you bargained for at the time of purchase. We strongly recommend you avoid this practice. The coin collector has greater protection in coin collecting than perhaps any other area of collecting, if he keeps track of his purchases. The counterfeiting of United States coins is a criminal offense as well as the intentional selling of them.

Altered Coins

Altered coins are genuine coins made at an official government mint, but have been altered to resemble another coin. Typically, a much more valuable coin is represented as an altered coin. Since the mint mark can contribute greatly to the value of the coin, the addition of the mint mark to a coin is the principle method of altering a coin. The 1916-D dime and the 1909-S VDB cent are very prone to alterations. Another method of alteration is changing the date. Many a 1914-D cent has proven out to be a 1944-D with an altered date.

As with counterfeit coins your best protection is to buy from a knowledgeable dealer or seller and get an invoice. This way you have a recourse if the coin latter proves to be an altered date.

Regular Mint Issued Coins - To Be published

Proof Issued Coins - To Be published

Mints and Mint Marks

Generally coins minted prior to 1982 at the Philadelphia Mint do not carry a mint mark. The mint mark is found only on coins struck at the branch mints. The mint mark is a small letter typically found on the reverse side of the coin (starting in 1982 the United States Mint began putting mint marks for all mints on the obverse side of the coins). The Lincoln Cent is the notable exception to this rule with the mint mark appearing on the obverse side of the coin. Listed below are the letters used to indicate the branch mint that produced a coin:

  • "C" - for Charlotte, North Carolina (on gold coins only)
  • "CC" - for Carson City, Nevada
  • "D" - for Dahlonega, Georgia (on gold coins only, 1838 to 1861)
  • "D" - for Denver, Colorado (from 1906 to date)
  • "O" - for New Orleans, Louisiana
  • "P" - for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • "S" - for San Francisco, California
  • "W" - for West Point, New York

Location of Mint Marks

The mint mark is one of the keys used to determine the value of a coin. Mint marks are therefore of utmost importance to collectors because the coinage amount at the branch mints has usually been much smaller than at the Philadelphia Mint. Many of the branch mint coins are very scarce and much sought after by collectors.

The following is a list of the major type of coins and provides the location of the mint mark:

  • Half Cents - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark.
  • Large Cents - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark.
  • Flying Eagle Cents - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark.
  • Indian Cents -1908 and 1909 only, under the wreath on the reverse side.
  • Two Cents - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark.
  • Three Cent Nickels - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark.
  • Three Cent Silver - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark except the 1851 New Orleans issue, reverse side.
  • Shield Nickels - all coined at Philadelphia with no mint mark.
  • Liberty Nickels - all coined at Philadelphia except the 1912-S and D, on the reverse side to the left of the word "cents".
  • Buffalo Nickels - on the reverse side under the words "five cents".
  • Jefferson Nickels - on the reverse side at the right of the building from 1938 to 1981, except when the composition was changed to include silver. From 1942 to 1945 the mint mark is on the reverse and above the building's dome.
  • Half Dimes - on the reverse side within or below the wreath.
  • Dimes - on the reverse side. On the older dimes it is below or within the wreath. On Mercury type dimes (1916 to 1945) on the reverse to the lower left of the fasces. On the Roosevelt type dimes up till 1982 on the left of the bottom of the torch.
  • Twenty Cents - on the reverse below the eagle.
  • Quarter Dollars - on the reverse side as a rule. On the older quarter dollars below the eagle. On Standing Liberty type quarters on the obverse side to the left of the date. On the Washington type quarter up till 1982 below the eagle.
  • Half Dollars - On the 1838 and 1839-O mint mark above the date, all other dates to 1915 on the reverse below the eagle. On 1916 the mint mark is on the obverse, but in 1917 the mint marks appear on both either the reverse or obverse side of the coin. On the Franklin type half dollar on the reverse above the bell's beam. On the Kennedy type half dollar up till 1982 below the eagle.
  • Dollars - on the reverse below the eagle prior to 1921. From 1921 to 1935 on the Peace type dollars on the reverse above the eagle tail feathers. On the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea type dollars on the obverse above the date.
  • Trade Dollars - on the reverse below the eagle.
    Gold Dollars - on the reverse under the wreath.
    Quarter Eagles ($2.50) - 1838 and 1839 issues above the date. All other dates prior to 1907 on the reverse below the eagle. On the Indian type (1908 to 1929) on the reverse at the lower left.
  • Three Dollars - on the reverse below the wreath
  • Half Eagles ($5.00) - same as Quarter Eagles.
  • Eagles ($10.00) - on the reverse below the eagle and after 1907 at the left of the value on the coin.
  • Double Eagles ($20.00) - on the reverse below the eagle and after 1907 on the St. Gaudens type double eagle on the obverse above the date.

One Cent Coins - To Be Published

Two Cent Coins - To Be Published

Three Cent Coins - To Be Published

Half Dimes - To Be Published

Nickel Coins - To Be Published

Dime Coins - To Be Published

Quarter Coins - To Be Published

Half Dollar Coins - To Be Published

Dollar Coins - To Be Published

Commemorative Coins - To Be Published

Gold Coins - To Be Published

Hard Times and Civil War Tokens

An area of interest for many numismatist includes coins issued during times when coins were hoarded. Most collectors have Hard Times and Civil War tokens in their collections. These tokens circulated as money during two periods in this country history when nearly all the minor coins issued by the United States government were hoarded.

The Hard Times tokens were issued from 1837 to 1844 and are the size of a large United States one cent piece. These tokens were generally stuck in copper and are generally either political theme tokens or merchant tokens. Political tokens typically have a theme representing President Andrew Jackson's fight against the United States Bank. The merchant tokens represent a particular merchant or store and are some times called tradesman's tokens.

During the Civil War small coins were again hoarded by the public and millions of privately coined tokens were placed into circulation by various merchants. Like the Hard Times tokens, these tokens also had either political or advertising themes. As many as 15,000 different varieties have been attributed. All of these are more or less common. Most of the Civil War Tokens are about the same size as the present day one cent piece.

Confederate States Coins

The Confederate States of America did not strike any for circulation. The Confederacy did attempt to strike coins but none reached circulation. Four half dollars were struck in 1861. Dies were made for a one cent piece and coins were struck, but were not delivered to the Confederacy.

Most of all the specimens found are actually from one of several restrikes using the original dies.

World Coins - To Be Published

Handling and Storage of Coins

The future availability of high quality coins is dependent on how these coins are handled today by collectors. Many beautiful coins of choice quality have been reduced in grade by several grading points by careless handling and storage.

When examining a coin you should hold it by its edges and over a cloth pad or other soft surface. In this way if it accidentally falls on harm will be done to the coin. A coin should never be touched on its faces (obverse and reverse sides) because the oil and acid in your fingers will eventually leave unsightly fingerprints. Always wash your hands and make sure they are well dry before handling coins even if you plan to hold them by the edges. Do not breathe directly on the surface of a coin. When examining a coin under magnification, hold it so your breath does not have a chance to contact the coin. Avoid holding a con near your mouth while talking as small drops of moisture may land on the coin's surfaces and later cause tiny pinpoints of oxidation or "flyspecks" on the coin. For ease in viewing a coin, a soft pad on a table is ideal. A hand held magnifier is ideal for examining coins in detail. Magnifiers of 3x, 5x, and 10x are readily available. The lens should be about an inch or so in diameter. This size of lens will permit examination of almost the entire of area of the coin being examined.