The most popular way to collect coins is by date and mintmark, but that does not have to be the only way to build a collection. Some collections are built based on a single year, coin types, coins and tokens from a hometown, medals, transportation tokens, or the subject of the coins such as animals.

Children who are interested in collecting should start small and with manageable collections that can be collected from pocket change. By starting small with achievable goals, children can maintain their interest as they complete their collections.

Before you start a collection, sit with your child and set a goal by defining what will be collected and how it will be done. Although it is popular to collect coins from pocket change, buying coins from coin dealers, shows, or online auctions are certainly wonderful collecting ideas.

Let’s look at a few collecting ideas.

Collecting Tools

As you start to collect, you will need a few supplies to help manage the collection:

  • A Magnifying Glass: Magnifying glasses come in various sizes and shapes. For children, it is best to have a handheld magnifying glass that is at least 4x or 6x power. Using a magnifying glass to examine coins allows the child to get used to closely examining coins.
  • Coin Holders: Your child will need something to hold the coins collection. For these collections you have the choice of using 2×2 cardboard holders are Mylar flips.
  • Cardboard holders are hinged cardboard that fold in half and measure 2-inches square. In the middle of each half are holes big enough to hold the coin. The holes are covered with a Mylar window to hold the coin. Cardboard holders come with different size holes for each type of coin. You can purchase holders that can be stapled or are self-sealing (I like self-sealing holders). The advantage of cardboard holders is that you can write information on holder.
  • Mylar flips are hinged clear holders with pockets on both sides to hold the coins. Only buy flips that are made of Mylar. Plastic flips contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride) that will damage your coins over time. When folding new flips, make sure that the pocket openings are on the inside. The advantage of the flips are that they are less expensive than cardboard holders and coins can be easily changed and that the other pocket can be used to insert a paper label.
  • Coin Pages: Once the coins are in a holder, you will want to arrange them to view. Coin pages are notebook-sized pages that have pockets that fit either of the holders mentioned above. You can also buy a loose-leaf binder to put the pages together. Dividers can separate multiple collections.
  • Reference Book: You will need one book to learn what coins were minted for each year. Online resources are nice, but sitting at the table with the coins and holders spread out in front of you makes some online resources difficult. It is also fun to flip through the book at look at the different coin types and their prices. Two recommended books are:
    • A Guide Book of United States Coins, known as the Red Book for the red cover that has been used for 65 years. A new version is issued every year with updated information and prices. It is a staple of U.S. coin collectors
    • U.S. Coin Digest is a similar reference from another publisher. For ten years, this book has been good at bringing the latest information about U.S. coins. Newer editions include a CD-ROM with the contents of the book in PDF format. The PDF edition is easily searchable and portable for taking on trips using your smart phone or tablet computer.

Optional supplies include coin tubes to that fit each coin type, cotton gloves if you are going to handle uncirculated coins, and you can look into fancier albums with blank pages when the collection gets more advanced.

All of these supplies can be purchase at the your local coin store or online.

Year Sets

Year Sets are a type of collection that contains coins from one year. These collections can contain one coin per type or collect coins with different mintmarks. A good way to start is to collect coins from the child’s birth year. Children born 1999 and later have the added advantage of looking for State Quarters. Year sets do not have to be the child’s birth year. If the parents were born in 1965 or later, they could put together year sets of those years. We will discuss collecting coins from before 1965 later.

When collecting Year Sets, children may want to write an essay as to why that year was special. Those pages can then be inserted along with the coin pages to make the collection personal.

Travel Sets

The State Quarter and National Park Quarter series has introduced many people to world of coin collecting. But you do not have to collect the entire series. You can collect quarters from areas the family has visited.

While on the road, challenge the children to find quarters from the state you are currently visiting. If you visit a National Park whose quarter has been issued, try to find one of those quarters while in the area of that park. The collection could always be updated when you return home.

Some travel spots sell tokens, medals, and even elongated pennies. Many are inexpensive and helps show that collecting does not have to be limited to coins.

If your travels find your family outside of the United States, collect coins from the country you are visiting. A site like Don’s World Coin Gallery could help you find more information about the coins in the country you are visiting. If you are visiting Europe, remember that the Euro is a common currency where each country designs the reverse of coins they issue.

Travel diaries or essays written when you arrive home could be inserted into the binder along with photos and other souvenirs to make it a scrapbook with coins.

Westward Journey Nickel Series

In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Mint issued special nickels to celebrate of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 2006, the nickel was redesigned with a new portrait of President Thomas Jefferson. To collect this series, find the nickels dating back to 2003, the original design, along with the four designs issued in 2004 and 2005. Finish the collection with a 2006 nickel showing the new design.

Whitman Publishing produced a special folder for the Westward Journey Nickel Series that includes various types of Jefferson Nickels through since its first issue in 1938. The folder includes holes for other American nickels that can be filled in after visiting coin shows.

Lincoln Bicentennial Cents

Abraham Lincoln was the first presidential portrait to appear on a U.S. coin. The design by sculptor Victor D. Brenner has lasted over 100 years. On the 100-year anniversary of the coin and the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the U.S. Mint issued four coin reverse designs representing Lincoln’s life. In 2010, the U.S. Mint issued a new permanent reverse design replacing the image of the Lincoln Memorial that had been used since 1959.

Collecting the Lincoln series can be expanded beyond just the 2009 and 2010 coins. The collection can include coins with the different reverses used. From 1909 through 1958, the reverse included two stalks of wheat surrounding the words “One Cent.” These are called “wheat ears cents” and can be found in pocket change with a little persistence.

For a bigger challenge, you can purchase the folder Whitman Publishing created to honor the Lincoln Cents. This colorful folder contains holes for older types of cents including the coins with the prominent “V.D.B.” initials on the reverse. It is a little more of an advanced collection better suited to teenagers.

Presidential Dollars

Since 2007, the U.S. Mint has been issuing one-dollar coins honoring each President of the United States in the order that they served (you can find the release schedule on the U.S. Mint’s website). Aside from being a great learning tool, the coins can be used as a collectible challenge. Some of the ideas include:

  • Collect the dollars of the presidents who were from your home state
  • Create a collection of dollars of presidents who were once vice presidents
  • Create a Mount Rushmore series by collecting the presidents whose busts are carved into Mount Rushmore. This collection will not be complete until 2013.
  • Add to you travel collection by adding the dollar coin of the president whose home or library visited. This may require future planning since the practice of preserving presidential homes is a 20th century phenomena.

Coins Prior to 1965

Starting in 1965, the U.S. Mint stop making coins from silver. Over the next few years, people started saving the coins they were finding in change dated 1964 and earlier. Even though the nickel has been made from the same metals since the 19th century, they have been saved, too. While you can find coins from before 1965 in pocket change, it is a rare to see these coins in circulation.

As a challenge for teenagers, there are two ways to find older coins to create collections:

  • Buy a “hoard” of coins from an online resource that sells coins by the pound. Most of these hoards are from people who grew up around the time of the Great Depression and started to save their change to have money should the economy crash again. As they pass on, their families sell the hoards to dealers who sell them by the pound. They can be fun to search, especially if you have folders nearby to fill the holes.
  • Go to a coin show and visit the dealers who have “junk boxes.” Junk boxes are filled with lower grade and common coins that sell inexpensively. Dealers fill the boxes with items they bought as part of larger lots and allow collectors to hunt for what they want. The thrill is searching for the coins you are looking for in these boxes and finding them or finding something unusual. Dealers usually give children special treatment including a bigger discount on the price.

Where’s George

Where’s George ( is not a collection but a site where you can track where your currency has been. You might have seen a one-dollar bill with a stamp that may say “Track me at!” If you go to the website and enter the serial number from the front of the bill, you can find out where it has been. By entering the serial number, you can register where it is in your hands.

A fun activity would be to register on the Where’s George website and track where the bills you spend go. Before you can track your bills, you should buy a rubber stamp to let others know that the bill is registered at Stamp the bill and enter the serial number into the website. Go out and spend the bill and watch where it goes.

If you travel and are carrying a computer or smart device that can surf the Internet, take bills you receive from different areas, register it on the site, stamp it, and then take it to your next destination and spend it there. If you happen upon a registered bill, enter your find on the website and take it somewhere else before spending it.

To find a rubber stamp with the information, just do a search for “Where’s George Rubber Stamps” to find a dealer with ready made stamps.

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