Numismatics is the collecting and study of items used in the exchange for goods, resolve debts, and objects used to represent something of monetary value. The dominant area of numismatics is the collection and study of legal tender coins with United States coins being the most collected. But there are so many other forms of numismatics that there are collectibles to pique anyone’s interest.
Evidence of coin collecting has been found as far back to the early days of the Roman Empire when collecting art came into vogue. Since coin design was considered art, it was assumed that coins were part of every collection. Archeologists have discovered hoards of coins with no two being alike in the areas believed to be cultural centers of the Roman Empire. The fact that the hoards have unique coins have archeologist beliving that these were lost collections.
Coin collecting did not become a broader hobby until the Italian Rennaisance when the lords and kings began to collect what we call ancient coins primarily found on their land or during conquests of other lands. Since only these nobles could afford to collect, coin collecting became known as the “Hobby of Kings.”
By the 17th century, collectors started to study and catalog the coins in their collection beginning the era of numismatic research that continues today. As the study of the coins began to advance, there was the rise of public collections. Coins held by the royalty were either given or confiscated for the state and placed in museums. As the collections began to build, museums began to sponsor research to document their holdings.
Modern numsimatics is said to have begun in the 19th century with the interest in the coins of a new nation. Collectors in the United States and overseas saw potential in the promise of the new coinage as the nation grew. By the latter part of the century after congress ended the use of foreign coins in commerce, collectors started to hoard older designs and created clubs for collectors to network and share information.
The 20th century saw new markets for numismatics develop. Growing interest in numismatics caused excavation of sites believed to have been inhabited in ancient times to find coins while hoards of United States gold and silver coins were being discovered primarily in Europe with others found in Asia. Collectors started searching banks and pocket chains for coins like the 1909-S VDB and 1914-D Lincoln Cents, 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickels, and 1916-D Mercury Dime.
The first change in numismatics came with the introduction of the coin board, cardboard-made boards with holes the size of the coins so that collectors can organize their collections. Coin boards introduced the concept of collecting coins in a series. Boards were printed to allow the collector to insert coins of each date and the date with mint mark. Soon after publishers printed folders that brought down the size of the coin board so it could fit on a book shelf and then the album with the ability to view both sides of the coin.
Another change occurred in 1955 when the 1955 Double-Die Obverse (DDO) Lincoln Cent was discovered. Known as the “King of Errors,” this coin lead to collectors to search for errors, varieties, and anything out of the ordinary. New clubs were formed to organize and promote this new hobby segment. One of the most comprehensive study of die varieties was published in 1971 by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis. Their book, The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars, documents the dies and strike varieties of America’s last circulating large silver dollars. Their catalog, also known as the “VAM Book” provides a numbering system to identified the different varieties whose impact created a new way to collect silver dollars.
The biggest change in coin collecting occurred in 1965 when the United States stopped striking coins using silver. With the price of silver rising and costing more than their face value, the country was facing a coinage shortage as people started to hoard the coins vor their silver values. Although the government erroneously blamed collectors, congress voted to change the composition of what were silver coins to copper-nickel clad alloy. Even though the half-dollar continued to be minted in silver until 1970, the silver was clad over a copper core.
Collectors consider 1964 the end of the United States’s classic coin era and 1965 the beginning of the modern era. The modern era saw the last of the large dollars and the transition to the small dollars, changes in composition for the Lincoln cent, the rotating circulating commemorative series beginning with tht 50 State Quarters program, and the reintroduction of the commemorative coin program. Another addition to the modern era in the United States and around the world is the resurgance of bullion coins.
After the world stopped using precious metals for coins, South Africa made a strategic decision to continue to strike the 22-karat krugerrand for world investment. For many years, the krugerrand was the standard for bullion investment until the United States began the American Eagle Bullion Program striking silver and gold coins. While other countries have followed suit, the American Eagle set the standard that other countries followed. Also popular at the Chinese Pandas, Canadian Maple Leafs, British Britannias, Mexican Libertads, and Australia Kookaburra.
Bullion programs lead to a new set of collectibles that are a cross between bullion and commemoratives called non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins. NCLT collecting has introduced new collecting opportunities by allowing mints and central banks to create new themes to intice new collectors and established collectors to expand their collections with new coins.
Rotating circulating commemorative designs and NCLT coins along with an expanded interest in other numismatic collectibles from the past including obsolete tokens, medals, old stock certificates, and paper money gives the numismatic collector an opportunity to create great collectings by collecting what you like.