How to Start a Coin Collection
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How to Start a Coin Collection

Coin collecting is a fun hobby, and it does not take a lot of money to get started. You can even start a coin collection without any money.

Coin collecting also known as numismatics is a popular and fun hobby. You don’t have to have much money to start and you don’t have to know a lot about coins, you will certainly learn as you continue in the hobby.

Getting started with quarters

I start with quarters since the recently completed state quarters by the US mint was a huge success with collectors. Starting in 1999 each state designed a quarter for the mint to issue in their states name. The first thing to do is to buy a state quarter collector book, these are books that have holes in them for each state and each mintmark, as you collect each quarter push them into the holes in the book. You can get these books at coin stores, online or at places like Wal-Mart. There are two mintmarks for these, D for Denver and usually no mintmark or P for Philadelphia

To start, keep looking at the change you get at the store, or you can go to the bank and buy some rolls of quarters and look through those. As you fill up your book keep looking for all of the states issued and when you find one that is in better condition than the one you have in your book, exchange it for the nicer one. If you work in retail and make change all day, look for these different coins. Make sure you check with your boss first and if it’s okay then exchange a coin you find at work.


You can still find older pennies in your change; mostly you will look for what is called a “wheat penny”. These coins have the familiar President Lincoln bust on the front (obverse) side and on the reverse side they have two wheat stalks. The most famous of these pennies is the 1909 SVDB, the S is the mintmark and VDB are the initials of the designer of these pennies and are on the back (reverse). The VDB was taken off after 1909. This penny can be worth anywhere from $750 to over $20,000.

You can start an extensive collection with pennies alone. In the 1900s there were three different main designs. Up until 1909 the penny was called the Indian head penny. These pennies will only have the P mintmark on them, until 1908 when the San Francisco mint started to manufacture pennies with the S mintmark. The Denver mint didn’t start to mint pennies until 1911.

During World War II, the US needed copper for the war, in 1943 only the mint had to change the composition of the pennies to low-grade carbon steel that formed the base of these “war pennies”.

You can still find wheat pennies in your change, but not that often anymore. You can go to any bank and buy a box of pennies. Then just go through all the pennies and find the wheat pennies and if you’re lucky, Indian head and war pennies for your collection. Just take the rest back to the bank. A box of pennies cost $25. You can also buy rolls of pennies for 50 cents per roll.

Front (obverse) side of an Indian Head Penny   Reverse of a wheat penny


A favorite coin for collectors is the Buffalo Nickel. On the obverse side it has a design of an American Indian and on the reverse side is a buffalo. This nickel was minted between 1913 and 1938 and it would be fairly rare to find one in change today. There were no buffalo nickels minted in 1932 or 1933 because the need for coins was so low due to the Great Depression.

Then came the current design of the Jefferson nickel. Recently there have been design changes in this nickel, in 2004 the mint started a westward journey nickel series to commemorate the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. On the obverse side is a portrait design of Jefferson and on the reverse side there are four different designs, the American bison, a scene of the Pacific Ocean coast, a handshake and a keelboat with a full sail.

You can work at completing a Jefferson nickel collection and while doing that you might come across some buffalo nickels as well. You can buy a box of nickels from the bank for $100 or rolls for $2.

Silver coins and other collectibles

Before 1965, dimes, quarters and half dollars were silver. It is rare to find these in change but once in a while you will. Most of these have been taken out of circulation by this time. In 1976 the US celebrated its bicentennial by issuing a bicentennial design for the quarter, you can still find these in pocket change. In 1979 the US issued a new dollar coin, the Susan B. Anthony dollar and it didn’t work very well, you can still get them in change as well. Sometimes very low mintage makes a coin worth more as well as errors in a coin. The US Mint has more collectibles now, new gold coins, a new presidential dollar series with a different president on a $1 coin, the president spouses series and just starting are new designs on the Lincoln penny.


Mercury dime                                    

Filling holes

Once you get to the point of collecting the above coins, you will turn your attention to filling holes in your collection. You will have to buy some coins to fill holes. You can buy bags of circulated Indian pennies, wheat pennies, buffalo and liberty nickels, Mercury dimes, Barber quarters and walking liberty half dollars from coin dealers. Before you spend too much money, read books and learn before buying coins. Coins come in different grades from Unc (mint state) to fair and you can buy coins that have already been professionally graded. Learning to grade coins is important as you progress in your hobby. When you’re collecting coins and putting them in your books, don’t clean them with anything. That can ruin the value of any coin.

For starters, keep looking at your change and go to the bank and buy some boxes or rolls to look through and start filling up your coin books.

Sam Montana © 25 January 2009

Books and magazines

  • 88 Coins to Sell and Buy by Scott A. Travers
  • Coin World
  • Numismatic News
  • Coins Magazine

Where to buy coins

Additional resources:

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Comments (2)
How to start a stamp collection | Factoidz

[...] How to start a coin collection [...]

I actually have worked at a couple banks over the last five yeas and have come across quite a few interesting and valuable coins. They are fascinating! I have had Morgan dollars, mercury dimes, plenty of silver dollars, half dollars, quarters, and dimes, as well as many interesting bills, like red seals, silver certificates, and the like. Great report!! : )