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Starting A Coin Collection
The best place to start collecting would be with pennies, we will focus on the Lincoln Cent for the years 1909 through 1958, which are the Wheat Cents. There are still a number of "wheat cents" showing up in circulation, so it is possible to start a coin collection without spending a great deal of money.
While you are searching your pocket change for "wheat cents", be sure to check for silver coinage and of course check those quarters. Then new 50 State Commemorative Quarters are a very good place to start since you can find five new states each year plus the different mint marks.
Getting back to pennies, which is where we want to start our new collection. The first Lincoln Cent was minted in 1909 and was made of copper. The mint continued to make pennies from copper until 1943, when for this year only, they were made of steel and zinc plated to prevent them from rusting. These coins appear to be silver or gray in color because of the plating. The pennies were made of steel because of a copper shortage brought on by the war, but they resumed using copper in 1944. Between 1909 and 1958 the penny featured Lincoln on the obverse (front of the coin) and the words "ONE CENT" over "United States of America" framed by bundles of wheat on each side of the words, there by getting the descriptive name of "Wheat Cents". This is how the penny is called for the years 1909-1958. Other than a minor change in the composition of the metal which was 95% copper, 5% tin and zinc until 1943 when they were zinc plated steel, and then 1944 until 1958 when they were 95% copper, 5% zinc and no tin.
The Penny remained the same for 50 years. It was designed by Victor David Brenner, whose initials appeared on the reverse, of some, of the coins minted that first year. There are two varieties of the 1909, some have the VDB on the reverse, (back of coin) at the bottom of the coin at the 6 o'clock position, and others do not. The pennies were minted at Philadelphia, Pa. and San Francisco, Ca. The pennies from San Francisco have a small "s" under the date while the Philadelphia coins have no mintmark. The coins to watch for are the ones with mintmarks; this applies to all coins not just pennies. The value of coins is greatly based on rarity and with the Philadelphia mint being the largest of the mints; it was natural for them to produce the greatest number of coins. There is also a mint in Denver, Co. and a mint, which had been closed by this time in Carson City. The Denver mint put a small "d" under the date and on older coinage of other types you will find the letters "CC" for Carson City.
Mint Marks are Important, learn to watch for them.
Back to pennies, in 1909 when the first Lincoln (wheat cent) penny was made, they minted 72,702,618 in Philadelphia without the designers, Victor David Brenner, initials. They produced 27,995,000 with the VDB on the reverse of the penny. This same year, 1909, San Francisco minted 1,825,000 without the designer's initials and 484,000 with the initials VDB on the reverse at the bottom of the coin. So now for the economics lesson of supply and demand and how it affects price. If you had a 1909-penny in "good" condition it would be worth about 75 cents, in "mint" condition it would be valued at about $14.00. If you had a 1909 with VDB on the reverse in "good" condition, it would be worth about $1.80, in "mint" condition ( I can't explain this ) the value is about $9.00 ( the only apparent reason for the penny with the lower mintage being worth less in mint condition then the plain 1909 in mint condition, would be that in numismatic records kept by the grading services, there are probably more 1909 VDB's on record than plain 1909's) If you had a 1909s in "good" condition it is worth $37.00, in "mint" condition about $120.00. Now if you were lucky enough to find a 1909s with the initials VDB on the reverse in "good" condition it is worth $350.00 and in "mint" condition it is worth $680.00 or more. Not bad for a penny.
In all coin types and series there exists what are known as "key dates", for now lets just say they are important because of a number of factors (another big subject), but that they are important in collecting coins of all types, not just pennies. The "key dates" for the Lincoln penny 1909-1958 are:
The semi-key dates, also valuable, but not as significant as the "key dates" are: 1910s, 1911d, 1911s, 1912s, 1913d, 1913s, 1914s, 1915, 1921s, 1922d, 1923s, 1924d, 1926s, 1931d, and 1933d.
This takes you through the "wheat cents" 1909-1958, along with keys and semi-keys each series of coin has Error varieties, Die varieties, and double die varieties which are also worth more than the common date coins. These again are subjects in themselves but a brief description is needed to make you aware of what to look for in collecting coins.
Error varieties are any condition, which may have existed resulting in a coin being struck and getting into circulation in a condition of appearance to be other than what was intended by the U.S. Mint. Simply said if it looks different than all the other s as a result of a mint mistake and not tampering or defacing by an individual, than it is an error, and they tend to be worth more.
Double Die varieties are actually errors because the coin after being stamped does not exit the die but remains in the die and is struck again causing parts of the design to be duplicated. Sometimes the duplicate is very noticeable other double die varieties require a powerful magnifying glass or microscope to see them.
Die varieties are the result of many dies being used to mint any particular series of coin. They could never produce this many pennies with only one die. Each die has its own characteristics, small differences between dies, which are noticeable enough that you can distinguish pennies or other coins being minted by a particular die.
As you may become educated at this point into the many details of coin collecting, let me say this now. Coin Collecting should be no more involved, difficult, or time consuming than you want it to be. The main objective of coin collecting is enjoyment, if you are interested in investing, find a Stock Broker. Lastly, I borrow this comment from another person whose name I don't remember, but who deserves the credit none the less. "As a coin collector, you are not a coin owner, but a coin keeper. Although you have the actual coins in your possession and legally they are yours to hold, buy, sell or trade, while they are in your possession you should do everything possible to maintain the condition and appearance of the coins."(To who ever said this, I apologize for not being able to quote you verbatim or give you your due credit) "As keepers of coins, we enjoy our collection, than pass them to the next generation of keepers." This was significant to me personally, as it links, you, others, and me in a great chain from past through present and into the future as we are the keeper of coins, coin collectors and Numismatists.
Enough now of history, economics and philosophy, let's collect coins.
To start, get yourself a magnifying glass, the bigger the better. Search your coins in a well-lighted area to be better able to spot errors, mintmarks, and to read dates on some of your more worn coins. Determine what coins you will collect and purchase a bookshelf folder for that denomination or series. Whitman, Dansco, Harris & Co. and a few others put out these folders. The Whitman folders are probably the most familiar; they are blue folders about 8 inches high, 6 inches wide and about ¼ inch thick. They retail for about $3.75 each and are available at most bookstores all coin stores and many web sites including my own.
Try to purchase a book called, "A Guide Book of United States Coins" by R.S. Yeoman. This is commonly called the red book and it is a red book which retails for about $11.00 in the hard cover edition at most book stores and coin shops. The Red Book is published every year, it gives you a good over view of the history of U.S. coins, basic grading information, average retail value for all U.S. coins, descriptions of the different coins past and present and a listing of the errors, with pictures, of some errors found in the minting process. Purchase one of the monthly publications on coin collecting. My two favorites are "Coins" and "COINage". Krausse Publishing who also publishes more than half of all coin related books and periodicals publishes coins magazine. COINage is published by Miller Magazines, Inc. and is always packed with great stories and information as well as advertisers for coin related material. You do not need a subscription, but try to buy at least one copy of either magazine. It will give you some great insight into prices of coins, coins other than pennies that you may want to collect also some great pictures of coins and good articles to educate yourself in coin collecting. Both magazines sell for about $4.00 each, if that is within your budget, then you should buy a copy to get an idea of what is out there. Coin World and Numismatic News are two weekly newspapers with many great articles, current news and classified sections for buyers, sellers and traders all relating to coins. They retail for about $1.95 and are also available at bookstores. The newspaper may not interest you until you get more involved in the hobby and want to stay more in tune with what is happening currently in the Numismatic world. Numismatic News is again published by Krausse publishing and Coin World is published by Ames Press.
A second book you should try to purchase is "Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins", put out by the American Numismatic Association. The book is an excellent guide to grading coins, a skill you will need to develop if you continue in coin collecting. It is a well-used and respected guide for grading coins. Visit the A.N.A. at http://www.money.org, and if you can, consider joining, they have a Junior and Adult Membership. The Junior is only $20.00 for the year and the adult is $36.00, but the benefits are worth the cost of membership. Another coin club is Coin Masters, which is free and also has a Junior Membership as well as Adult. The group is not as large as A.N.A. but it is a great group with some very helpful members. Visit their web site to join at http://www.coinmasters.org/
Some supplies should be purchased when you start collecting coins. You should have something to put your coins in for storage, until you are ready to place them in an album, or for you duplicate coins. You can purchase coin tubes, clear plastic tubes preferably with screw on tops, in the various coin denominations, penny tubes, nickel tubes, etc. Tubes cost about 20 to 50 cents each and usually come in packages of 4 or more, but can also be purchased in bulk for a cheaper price per tube.
IMPORTANT POINT: When storing coins, be careful of the material used in the storage device, many plastics react with the surface of coins causing them to discolor or develop black spots. The paper used is also important as many papers and cardboard contain sulfur, which will cause a silver coin to turn black. The very best and most expensive are air tight holders. These provide the best storage and the expense is of little concern for your more valuable coins. A common and popular method to store coins is in 2"X 2" white cardboard folders which have Mylar/Polyester windows. These are very good and affordable holders for your more common coins and they retail for about $3.75 to $5.00 for a box of 100. They are available in bulk packs of 1000 at lower prices, but I prefer the boxes since they make an excellent way to store the folders once you have inserted and labeled your coins. You simply insert your coin into the round window; fold the other side over and staple shut. NOTE: Try to use stainless steel staples, as they will not rust like ordinary staples. There are a number of other methods and devices for storage, be sure they are made of material that is safe for your coins.
A quick note on copper coins: try to store your coins in an area that is dry. This is particularly important if you happen to have some mint state or proof coins. A nice choice red coin when exposed to moisture, even for a brief period could suddenly begin to change color and end up being brown, dull and less valuable.
Cleaning Coins: Read about it, learn it and leave it to the experts. I recommend no cleaning except under the following condition. If a coin has been exposed to something that will further deteriorate the coin, then cleaning may be needed. Never use an abrasive substance to clean a coin, at most use a mild soap, such as Ivory soap, and water. Gently dab the solution onto the coin, do not rub, and then rinse very well in clean water and pat dry with a soft cloth. De-natured alcohol is also used to remove harmful oils from a coins surface, remember to hold the coin by the rim or edges and not on the face of the coin. The acid and oils present in your skin will leave finger prints on the clean shiny surface of a mint state or proof coin that can be seen from five feet away.
Finally, as long as this article may appear, it just scratches the surface of the many aspects of coin collecting. As your collection and interest grows, so will your knowledge. Take the time to listen, to read, ask questions and learn. This is a process that will continue the rest of your coin collecting days. Your education can save you money now and make money for you in the future, but most of all remember have fun. Enjoy the "Hobby of Kings" which has grown to become the "King of Hobbies"; you are a numismatist, a coin collector and a keeper of coins.
Basic essentials needed to start a coin collection.
1.Coins, pocket change is a good way and inexpensive way to start.
2.A good magnifying glass, or a cheaper one at least.
3.Coin albums for whatever denomination and series of coins you intend to collect.
4.Storage devices to protect your coins, tubes are nice but the coins must be removed from them to admire or search through your collection. The 2X2 cardboard holders or flips work best for this reason.
5.Most if not all books and periodicals can be found at your public library, take advantage of that to save money for purchasing coins.
6.Try to join a local coin club. You can probably find one through your Chamber of Commerce or telephone book. There are also some clubs listed on the Internet and clubs such as Coin Masters, which is only available on the web.
7.You will at some time need to purchase coins. It would be near impossible to complete a folder with coins from circulation. Wheat cents are available by the pound at very reasonable rates, but you should shop around.
8.Subscribe to the news group rec.collecting.coins
By Paul "Tumble Weed"
No formal writing skills, terible with grammar, but like a "Tumble Weed", I ramble on. Enjoy writing, philosophy, web site building, coin collecting, home remodeling, Tea Cup Pommeranians, and much more.
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