Coin Collecting: For the Cautious and Curious

Ryan Heshmati

April 14, 2023

Numismatists are becoming a hobbyist group of the past; according to Jeff Garrett of the grading company NGC, the average age of a coin collector is nearly 60. Today, sports-related items are all the rage. For many, coins are a "don't care," while sneakers, basketball cards, and baseball cards are all the rage. This shift away from numismatics is more than the loss of a hobby; it is the loss of an attitude that propelled history to the forefront. The composition of each coin involves more than various metals and illustrations; they are products of political and economic climates. For instance, most might look at a 1943 steel penny and think "neat," while numismatists will connect that eccentric-looking cent to the need for copper in wartime to fight the Axis powers, forcing the transition to steel.

While appreciation of history is an important and underrecognized part of the hobby, to understand coin collecting, one must understand what gives one value in the eyes of collectors. Scarcity plays a huge role. For instance, an 1893 San Francisco-minted Morgan Silver Dollar, the lowest mintage the coin ever saw at 100,000, is valued the highest compared to other Morgan Dollars. Another aspect plays a vital role in value determination as well: condition. The closer the coin is to perfect, the more it is worth, with the exception of the value created by the colorful patina that comes with some coins' age. Grading companies use scales with letterings like MS (Mint State) and numbers to accompany them in order to offer a specific and detailed grade for the coins that pass by them. Further, artificially cleaned coins, altered to look closer to perfect, actually suffer great losses in value and can easily be detected by seasoned collectors, as the luster of a cleaned coin is distinct when compared to an undisturbed specimen. Since so many factors can radically affect the value of a coin, it is crucial that new collectors tread carefully and purchase from reliable dealers to prevent being duped.

Although coin collectors are an older demographic, they do not need to be. One does not need deep pockets to begin a collection; that can start with an activity as simple as sifting through bank coin rolls for a hidden silver quarter (Pre-1965). Further, coin collectors, often developing an eye for details due to the nature of the hobby, pick up the nuances of designs and have the opportunity to explore history through its expression from illustrators of that time.

Coin collecting is not for everyone, but for those who seek to hold a metal object that, beyond luster and beauty, unlocks the past in a completely different way, it is an excellent area to explore. One should not feel required to possess expertise or specialized knowledge to begin; it can start with a $10 roll of quarters.