All you ever wanted to know about old coins.
“There are three values for each coin; the amount the owner believes it to be, the price a collector is willing to pay for it, and the actual price a retailer will pay for it.” Bestcoin.com
Recently, Sally, an avid ASE reader, inherited some coins. She asked ASE if we had ever done an article about old coins and the process of evaluation and disposition. We had not, but loved the topic, and here is what we found.
Don’t do anything to the coins
The first thing to do when you receive coins that may be rare or valuable is to do nothing to them. The condition of a coin is critical to its value. Mint condition coins and uncirculated ones are often the most in-demand. Cleaning can damage the coin or remove its patina and significantly reduce its worth. Collections need to stay intact. If your coins are in sleeves, don’t separate them. If the coins are in sealed packets, they’ve probably been appraised and are worth something.
Coins, paper money, and other collectibles are all pieces of history. They are a fascinating representation of the era in which they were used, by whom, and for what. Learning about the difference in materials, dates, and mints that can affect coin valuation is a critical step to finding out about your collection. The US Mint is an excellent site for the beginner. It breaks down the elements of the coin that will be judged.
Identification clues are on every coin, and even beginners can start to look for primary value factors. Date, size, shape, and condition are just the beginning of getting to know your coins. These reference resources will be helpful.
Books on coins
The Red Book, A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman, is considered the bible of coin collecting. It contains the retail pricing details of all United States coins from Colonial and pre-federal State Issues to currently circulating issues, including designer, weight, composition, diameter, and edge type. The spiral version of this book is recommended, as it lays flat while you’re researching the coins.
Grading Coins by Photographs: An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor by Q. David Bowers is another highly regarded book. It provides a set of step by step grading instructions for every US coin. Mr. Bowers includes techniques and tips for reading coins, trading, as well as buying and selling them.
Online Resources for Coin Research
Coin Facts is a digital encyclopedia of US currency. Select a coin and find out its history. I dub this site as the official rabbit hole for coin research – best to grab a cup of tea before you open this site.
Retail Price Guide is a free app that evaluates coins in real-time.
Go to a local club
Just like all hobbyists, coin collectors have their clubs. The members are enthusiastic about their area of expertise and are often willing to help beginners. Use the Money.org site to find a club near you.
Take your coins to a show
By now, you probably have an idea about which coins have value. Take them to a coin show where there will be coin retailers. They will help with assessments and estimates of coins are worth, and may even make a fair offer.
Seek out the professionals
Numismatics is the study of currency, paper money, coins, and other historical treasures like tokens and theater playbills. Numismatists are experts in collecting, trading, and selling. A numismatist may be a collector, but not all collectors are proficient enough to be considered numismatists.
The Professional Numismatic Guild is a non-profit organization for experienced retailers. Members must go through background checks, prove their experience in the field, and show financial viability. PNG’s motto is “Knowledge, Integrity, Responsibility.” (Side note – shouldn’t this be everyone’s motto?). PNG will find certified professional retailers in your area.
The American Numismatics Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging people to study and collect coins. The website is packed with information and relatively easy to navigate. ANA is for collectors, professionals and beginners.
Once you know about your coins and want to sell them, find a reputable dealer to help with your goals. The PNG and ANA are both excellent resources.
Coins can be attractive but not worth much on the market. If you have a favorite, consider making it into a piece of jewelry. My mother used a unique coin as the clasp for a favorite bracelet. Rings, earrings, pendants and cuff links are creative uses for coins that didn’t sell.
Collecting coins can be fun and educational. Their historical value may be rich, even if the coin is not. Next time you empty your purse, take a little time to look beyond the face value of the change. You may be carrying a special piece of history.