Helpful Information for Coin Collectors


(Written by Club Members Vince Marando and Mira Barks)


(Edited by Club Members Bob Eisemann and Bob Bakondi)



Club Members and other viewers are welcome to contribute to this document by clicking here to send email

1. Introduction.

Most coin collectors learn through trial and error how to build a collection that is worth having. That means knowing how to buy, sell, and trade coins; and how to place a value on the coins in your collection. This information has been compiled to assist new coin collectors. This just begins to scratch the surface on something that can be a very rewarding lifelong hobby and possibly a lucrative business.

2. Enjoy the Hobby.

There are many excellent reasons why you might want to collect coins. For starters, they tell unique stories. A coin's design, mint mark, condition, and composition can offer a glimpse into history and a better understanding of the past.

All coins are of interest, some for the place they were made (the United States (U.S.) or in foreign countries), the material they were created from (steel, silver, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, bronze, etc.), or when they were created. The first coins date back to 650 B.C. - more than 2,600 years ago - in Lydia, an area that today is part of Turkey. Some people collect coins for their rarity, perfection, or imperfection (mistakes made in minting). Some people collect coins in the hope that they will appreciate in value. Some coins have intrinsic bullion value (such as silver, gold, and platinum coins). Others become valuable because they are rare. It is up to you to determine what it is about collecting coins that is of particular interest to you. This is important because there are so many types of coins that if you do not narrow down your collection you will be collecting at random. This will result in a coin collection that is incomplete and probably frustrating, as you will never feel a sense of accomplishment.

Collect coins that interest you and that you find either aesthetically pleasing, meaningful to you on a personal level, or of historical value. Coins have significant monetary value separate from your personal interest in them, sell or trade them for something that interests you.

Coin collecting, one of the oldest hobbies, was once practiced only by kings and the wealthy. That is why coin collecting is often called the "king of hobbies" and the "hobby of kings".

Coin collecting became increasingly popular in America during the 1930s when U.S. commemorative coins became widely available. Today, there are millions of coin collectors in the U.S. alone. The thriving coin-collecting community, which includes clubs throughout the U.S., provides numerous opportunities for collectors to meet and trade.

3. American Coins and the United States Mint.

The first U.S. coins were copper cents, which were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1793. At that time, production was manually intensive and the coins were struck one at a time. Today, about seven hundred coins can be produced in one minute on each minting press.

The United States Mint's website is an excellent source of information for coin collectors. Click on any of the topics below to be connected to that website.

a. Collecting Basics.

Why Collect Coins?
Getting Started
Ways to Collect
Collecting United States Mint Coins
What to Look For
Buy or Find?
Caring for Coins
Storing and Displaying Coins
How to Share Your Hobby

b. Coin Information and Resources.

Anatomy of a Coin
Coin Term Glossary
The American Numismatic Association (ANA) Coin Grading Scale
The Mint Marks of United States Mint Facilities
United States Mint Online Store
Coin Dealer Database
Coinage Library
Fun Facts
United States Mint Facilities Virtual Tour *
United States Mint Facilities Historical Timeline *

The last two bullets will take you to websites that provide a tremendous history of the United States Mint and its various locations.

The second bullet from the bottom takes you to a website that provides the history of the Mint and a virtual tour. The tour provides a "behind the scenes" look at how the Mint produces both circulating coins and numismatic products.

The last bullet shows a map of the U.S. with a timeline (from 1780 to the present) under it. Dates in the timeline indicate "Mint events". Mint events include the opening and closing of mint locations, Presidents in office, etc. When you click on any date in the timeline dots will appear on the map that indicate active Mints (green), closed Mints (red with an "x" through it), and a black dot for future Mint sites. If you click on any of these dots the name of the Mint location will appear. Click on any date and information will appear above the map showing who the President was at the time and the dates of his presidency, to the right of this will appear circulating coins at this time. Below the map and timeline is additional information regarding the appointment of Directors of the Mint, opening and closure of Mints, and other related information.

4. Whole Collections vs. Individual Coins.

To achieve the highest value for your coins, it may not be wise to sell them as a collection. Coins should be sold individually because there is such a great deal of variation in the value of coins. Dealers will be looking for particular coins within a collection and the very rare coins will most likely interest them the most, not the entire collection.

For example, a Mercury Dime collection has several coins (1916D, 1921, 1942 2 over 1, 1942D 2 over 1) that are valued at several hundred dollars, whereas other dimes, even with older dates are less than $100 in value, often only $20 or $30 each. Know the difference in value of all coins in a collection.

5. Know Your Topic - Coin References.

It is recommended that you obtain the following references for coin collecting:

a. The Red Book. Essential to any collector of American coins is the latest edition of R.S. Yeoman's The Guide Book of United States Coins (e.g. 2012, 65th.ed.). This is referred to as the "Red Book". The Red Book is handy for an overview of American coins. There are many fine photos and an introductory presentation for grading coins. However, the Red Book is not very good for assessing the value of coins, because it offers retail prices, the price you will likely pay for a coin bought from a dealer versus wholesale prices, the price you are likely to receive from a dealer. The latter prices are found in the Blue Book. The Red Book can be purchased at most book stores and some coin shops.

b. The Coin Dealer Newsletter (CDN). The CDN comes out weekly and is known as the "Greysheet". The Greysheet reports the national Dealer-to-Dealer wholesale coin market, monitoring all possible transactions and offers to buy and sell coins sight-seen. Bear in mind the prices in the Greysheet are Dealer-to-Dealer wholesale prices, collectors should expect to pay a premium above the prices listed in the Greysheet. You should subscribe to this newsletter before you make sales of any kind or before you buy any coins. The website for the newsletter is: www.greysheet.com. They can also be reached at: P.O. Box 11099, Torrance, CA 90510, Phone: 310-515-7369.

c. Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) website. PCGS has an excellent website. The PCGS "Resources" is a web page meant specifically for coin collectors, refer to: http://www.pcgs.com/resources. Topics covered include:

o General Resources

o Online Photograde

With PCGS Photograde you can obtain the approximate grade of your coin by comparing it to the photo that most closely matches its appearance. After you have done that, you can go to the PCGS Price Guide (http://www.pcgs.com/prices/ to get a ballpark idea of the value of your coin. For a definition of each grade and to help guide you in what to look for go to: http://www.pcgs.com/grades.html.

o PCGS CoinFacts

Your online reference for U.S. coins. Includes information such as designer, diameter, metal content, edge, mintage, auction prices recorded by mint state/proof, pictures of all varieties, rarity and survival estimates, condition census, and public auction information. There is a charge of $12.95 per month for this service. You can view a sample at the website: http://www.pcgscoinfacts.com/WhatsNew.aspx.

o CoinFacts Wiki

The online encyclopedia of U.S. and World coins - built by you. This is a developing but excellent source of coin information.

o Coin Guide

Introduction to collecting coins by renowned numismatist Q. David Bowers.

o PCGS Library:

o Information Articles

Browse their library of articles covering every conceivable coin-related topic, written by the finest numismatic writers.

o Videos

Videos range from fun to informative, including David Hall market reports, showing PCGS grading, and collecting tips.

o E-zines

Every eCollector e-zine can be accessed here, dating back to the very first edition released January 16, 2001.

o Books Online - UPDATED!

The PCGS library of definitive numismatic reference works is growing. Check back often for new additions.

Additionally, there are listings of shows and events, coin values, message boards, and a coin glossary.

d. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) website. The NGC website, has a valuable tool on the home page of their website, it allows you to authenticate the NGC grade and serial number on an NGC graded coin. There have been counterfeits of graded coins and this is how you can ensure that your NGC graded coin is real. Go to: http://www.ngccoin.com/ and enter the coin's serial number in the space that says "VERIFY NGC CERTIFICATION". The website will let you know the type and grade of coin that is associated with that specific serial number.

e. Independent Coin Graders (ICG) website. ICG's website has a list of links to websites that you may find useful. They list dealers for ancient and modern coins, U.S. and World coins, publications, coin shows, auctions and exchanges. Go to: http://www.icgcoin.com/Links/

f. American Numismatic Association Certification Service (ANACS) website. The ANACS website is located at: http://www.anacs.com/. There is a listing of coin shows and a link to the ANACS population report.

6. Determining Coin Values.

One of the first questions that will confront you is "What is a good price for the coins that I want to purchase and what is the value of the coins I now have?".

With respect to the monetary value of coins here are a couple ways that I have used to approach the issue of "what is a coin worth?"

a. Research coins in the Red Book for Retail Prices. Start by looking through the Red Book for Retail prices. The Red Book tends to list "inflated" retail prices, but so long as you are aware of this, it provides you with one piece of the pricing puzzle.

b. Research coins in the Greysheet for Whole Prices. This newsletter presents what coin dealers generally charge or pay one another for the listed coins. So that the spread between wholesale and retail is quite narrow. Specifically, the Greysheet reports the national dealer-to-dealer wholesale coin market, monitoring all possible transactions and offers to buy and sell coins sight-seen. Again, do not proceed to buy or sell without obtaining or subscribing to the newsletter. When talking to coin dealers with this newsletter in hand, the conversation about costs of coins is much more realistic. Dealers will treat you differently when they know that you are knowledgeable about the wholesale coin market.

c. Research the Internet for "Real World" Selling Prices. Search the Internet (eBay has a good historical listing of sold coins) to see what the current "selling price" is, this is a very good way to see actual sales of a particular (year, mint, and grade) coin. This method will give you a "real world" value of your coin, not a "book value". If you were to sell your coin, you should expect to get a similar price.

7. Selling Coins.

Always research the Red Book, the Greysheet, and eBay, at a minimum, before selling coins from your collection. The Red Book will give you the high retail price (a dealer will never offer you this price). The Greysheet will give you the wholesale price; this is probably close to what the dealer will offer you. EBay will provide you with the actual selling price from individual-to-individual. If the dealer offers you half what the selling price is on eBay do not be surprised. This will probably be close to the Greysheet price. If the offer is not close to the prices you have on-hand, negotiate. You may need to find a different dealer, or sell online yourself.

After you have researched the value of the coins, you could ask a coin dealer how much they would give you for a certain coin. The price offered would be the wholesale price-or less. This price is usually much lower than you would expect to get. The dealer will then increase the price and sell it for retail. Keep in mind that a dealer will always look to protect his profit.

8. The Value of Researching Coins.

A number of factors determine the value of coins. Obviously, the more rare the coin, the greater its value. The age of a coin does not necessarily indicate its rarity. The number of coins minted in a year is a critical factor in how rare and valuable a coin may be. Another critical factor in the value of a coin is its condition. Coins are graded as to condition. Obviously, the better the greater its value. Condition of the coin is absolutely critical.

U.S. coins are most often graded with a scale created by the ANA, a non-profit group created in 1891 and chartered by Congress since 1912.

Coins are graded from "Almost Good (AG-3)" to "Mint State (MS)-70", to Perfect Uncirculated, and "Proof (PR)". I will not provide much about coin grading at this point except to provide a summary of the ANA grading scale below. For more details and illustrations for each coin, see the Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins.

� Proof. A proof coin is distinguished by its frosted foreground and mirror-like background. Proof is not a condition but a method of manufacture, implying perfect mint state, but a proof coin in a lesser state can be graded as below.

� Uncirculated (UNC). Uncirculated coins are struck like circulating coins, but with higher force, newer dies, special cleaning after stamping, and Mylar® packaging. Uncirculated coins may vary to some degree because of blemishes, toning, or slight imperfections as described below.

� Perfect Uncirculated (MS-70). Is in perfect new condition, showing no trace of wear. The finest quality possible, with no evidence of scratches, handling, or contact with other coins. Very few regular issue coins are ever found in this condition.

� Choice Uncirculated (MS-65). Is above average, may be brilliant or lightly toned, with very few contact marks on the surface or rim. MS-67 through MS-62 indicate slightly higher or lower grades of preservation.

� Uncirculated (MS-60). Has no trace of wear but may show a number of contact marks, and surface may be spotted or lack some luster.

� Choice About Uncirculated (AU-55). Shows the barest evidence of light wear on only the highest points of the design. Most of the mint luster remains.

� About Uncirculated (AU-50). Has traces of light wear on many of the high points. At least half of the Mint luster is still present.

� Choice Extremely Fine (EF-45). Shows light overall wear on highest points. All design details are very sharp. Some of the Mint luster is evident.

� Extremely Fine (EF-40). Is lightly worn throughout the design, but all features are sharp and well defined. Traces of luster may show.

� Choice Very Fine (VF-30). Has light even wear on the surface and highest parts of the design. All lettering and major features are sharp.

� Very Fine (VF-20). Shows a moderate amount of wear on the high points of the coin's design. All major details are clear.

� Fine (F-12). Shows moderate to considerable even wear throughout. Entire design is bold with an overall pleasing appearance.

� Very Good (VG-8). Is well worn with main features clear and bold although rather flat.

� Good (G-4). Is heavily worn with the design visible but faint in areas. Many details are flat. Common coins in "Good" condition are not particularly desirable pieces for collectors. Rare or valuable coins in this condition, however, are often saved when no others are available.

� About Good (AG-3). Is very heavily worn with portions of lettering date and legends worn smooth. The date may be barely readable.

An example of coin grading and how small differences in evaluation affect the worth of a coin is provided. The "small" difference between the MS-63 and MS-64 could have a significant impact on what a coin may cost to buy or sell. The 2012 $50 Gold Buffalo coin graded PR-70 Deep Cameo (DCAM) First Release is selling for $2,499.00. When the same coin drops one grade to a PR-69 DCAM First Release, the price drops to $1,999.00. This is a difference of $500.00 for one grade.

Do not rely only on a dealer's information to grade your coins if you are selling to him. The dealer will evaluate the coin to his advantage by downgrading the coin. This is where your expertise comes into play because you can refute his reasons for downgrading the coin.

You will need much experience to correctly grade coins. If you really want to know how to evaluate coins properly, obtain the references previously mentioned as well as books on evaluating and grading coins. You may also want to go to coin shows and attend lectures on coin evaluation. Evaluation of coins may also include how to spot counterfeit coins. Joining a coin club such as the Bowie Coin Club, represents a good opportunity to make friends who are knowledgeable and trustworthy. Regardless of where you live, there is probably a coin dealer near you. Become a regular customer and learn as much as you can from him. NGC has a search engine that allows you to find coin dealers, by speciality and location. Go to http://www.ngccoin.com/services/dealer-listing.aspx.

Additionally, there is a lot to be learned by attending coin shows. Coin shows are listed at: http://www.ngccoin.com/events/index.aspx.

It does not matter how you decide to conduct your research into coins. The one constant among collectors is that the more time you invest in learning about coins; the return will be both great monetarily and in personal satisfaction.

9. Coin Grading Services.

In the early 1970s, the ANA board of governors recognized that something significant needed to be done about the counterfeit and altered coins that were plaguing the coin community. The ANA is a century-old, "not-for-profit" educational association for collectors of coins, tokens, medals, and paper money. The ANA, like the U.S. Olympic Association and the American Red Cross, is chartered by the U.S. Congress.

Their solution was to create a third party coin grading service. The ANACS was the first third party coin grading service. It began with a staff of two experts with Washington D.C. as its home. Washington D.C. was chosen in order to utilize the Smithsonian's Numismatic Collection and to be near the Treasury Department, specifically the Secret Service.

This was a time when many people could never be quite certain if the coins they were purchasing, or even selling, were genuine or counterfeit. Something had to be done to protect and uphold the integrity of the coin industry, especially if it was to grow into the mainstream as a hobby and a business. Little had been written on the subject and the science of counterfeit detection was still in its infancy.

Today many independent grading services exist that grade, authenticate, and encapsulate coins, medals, and tokens from the U.S. and some foreign countries. These grading services charge a fee for their services, some provide educational tools as well.

You may want to establish a rule for your coin collection and have all coins valued over $300 professionally graded. When a coin is graded, it is easier to sell because the buyer is not relying upon your subjective evaluation of the coin's value. It should eliminate any discussion on the coin grade because it has been determined by an accredited numismatic grading company.

Even though there are many grading services, there are four major grading services. The following are excerpts taken from the websites for the four major coin grading services:

a. PCGS. PCGS grades U.S. and foreign coins. They have four levels of membership, silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Membership starts at $49 and goes up to $299. All of the memberships are for one year and provide the same basic services, such as online listing of graded coins and their value and 10% off PCGS supplies. The big difference is the number of coins that you can submit for free grading under each of the four membership levels. The Silver level is zero, Gold level is 4, and Platinum and Diamond level may submit 8 coins for grading. To join PCGS go to: http://www.pcgs.com/join/.

b. NGC. The selection and endorsement of America's only official coin collecting organization chartered by Congress is another assurance of the integrity and quality of NGC. NGC has been the official grading service of the ANA since 1995 and has been the only grading service ever to hold that distinction.

NGC is the official grading service of The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). The PNG is an organization comprised of the world's top rare coin experts. The addition of the PNG's endorsement gives NGC a stamp of approval from one of the most recognized and respected organizations in the rare coin hobby, representing the dealer community.

NGC has four tiers of membership; Elite ($275), Premium Plus ($249), Premium ($125), and Associate ($39). You can also join the NGC Collectors Club at no cost to you; this provides you with access to limited online content. One excellent source of free information is their coin grading information with pictures, go to: http://www.ngccoin.com/coin-grading-guide/default.aspx. NGC has a complex fee structure for the grading of coins, refer to their services and fee schedule at: http://www.ngccoin.com/services/services.aspx To join NGC go to: http://www.ngccoin.com/MemberPortal/Login.aspx.

c. ICG. ICG grades, authenticates, and encapsulates coins, U.S. medals, and U.S. tokens, Canadian coins, everything in "the Red Book," U.S. territorial and private mints, Roman silver and all world coins (post 1600 to date), and error coins. They say, "If it is a coin, ICG can certify it." (The only exception is for coins that will not fit inside the ICG holder. They do not require membership for individuals to submit coins for grading. Their fee and service tier structure is rather complex, refer to the table of prices at: http://www.icgcoin.com/FeesandServices/tabid/504/Default.aspx.

d. ANACS. ANAS is the oldest coin grading service in the U.S. ANACS certified its first coin as genuine on June 15, 1972. In 1976, ANACS moved to Colorado Springs (Englewood, CO) where ANA had its headquarters. Three years later, ANACS began grading coins using the technical grading standards that the ANA had established earlier with its book, "The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins". Their fee and service tier structure is rather complex. Refer to the table of prices at: http://www.anacs.com/contentPages/Services.aspx.

10. Coin Inventory.

It is advisable to put your coins in a database. This can have great value for determining what you need to purchase to finish your collection. This is especially helpful when attending coin auctions and coin shows. It may also prove useful if it is necessary for your estate to divide your collection for insurance purposes. The Bowie Coin Club Website lists coin software websites under the "Links" section. In addition, any database software such as Excel Spreadsheet can be used for creating a basic coin database.

11. Foreign Coins (To be developed)

12. Error Coins (To be developed)

13. Glossary of Acronyms.

The following are acronyms that were used in this document. This is just a partial listing of acronyms that apply to the hobby of coin collecting. For a more complete list of acronyms and terms refer to: http://www.pcgs.com/Lingo/.

ACRONYM - MEANING

AG - About Good
ANA - American Numismatic Association
ANACS - American Numismatic Association Certification Service
AU - About Uncirculated
CDN - Coin Dealer Newsletter
DCAM - Deep Cameo
EF - Extremely Fine (XF is also used)
F - Fine
G - Good
MS - Mint State
NGC - Numismatic Guaranty Corporation
PCGS - Professional Coin Grading Service
PNG - Professional Numismatists Guild
PR - Proof
UNC - Uncirculated
U.S. - United States
VF - Very Fine