Buffalo Nickel on a Counter

How to Collect Coins – Becoming a Modern Numismatist

I spent an hour or so last weekend at a nerdfest coin show.  I have been collecting for about 15 years, so I have learned a thing or two about coin collecting over the years.  My collection has had periods where it has grown quickly, and others where the only thing that has grown on it are dust bunnies.  Over the years, though, it has been a fun and enjoyable hobby.

I have a confession.  I love money.  I don’t just love it in the sense that I like to see big numbers in my bank account, though I do, I love to hold stacks of cash and find rare gems when sorting through my pocket for change.  In my six months working in banking, I found coins ranging from Buffalo Nickels and Silver Certificate dollar and two dollar bills to uncirculated Mint rolls of the newest US Presidential dollars.  If you think that sounds interesting, coin collecting might be a fun hobby for you as well.  This is a short guide meant to get you started.


Before you get started, you want to get organized and ready for a big influx of coins.  You will need a methodology to organize and track your collection.  I suggest using Whitman Coin folders.  They are inexpensive and durable and are the standard for coin collecting.  Here is a list of what I would buy to start today:

  • 1 cent – Whitman Lincoln Head Penny Book 2 and 3, which covers1941-2002
  • 5 cent- Whitman Jefferson Nickel Book 2 and 3, which covers1962-2002
  • 10 cent – Whitman Roosevelt Dimes Books 2 and 3, which covers 1965-2010
  • 25 cent – Whitman Washington Quarters Book 3 and 4, which covers 1965-2000 and either Whitman 50 States and Territories complete quarter folder or State Quarters Volume I-III.

Coin Roll Hunting

Next, go to the bank and get rolls of coins.  You can easily find 1 cent to 25 cent coins and the investment is not very large.  Just open the rolls and find the coins you need.  Place them in the folders for long term storage.  If you find coins older or newer than your folders, you can either buy the folders to fill in or just keep them in coin collecting tubes or any other storage container you like.

Over time, I have expanded my collection to include many more books than the ones above, and I have started collecting 50 cent and 1 dollar coins as well.  You can easily find dollar rolls at any bank.  50 cent rolls are more difficult to find, but some banks do have them and you can have them ordered if your bank is willing to do that for you.

You can pull great finds out of coin rolls and pocket change.  The higher quality coins are more valuable.  Quality means clean, not worn, and well defined.  This is where the term “mint condition” comes from.

Expanding Your Collection

Eventually, you get to a point where you will want to buy more folders for the older and newer coins you have found.  You may also decide that you are interested in more than just having a complete set, but want to have better quality and more rare coins.

Personally, I am a set focused collector.  I want to have one of each coin and I care less about quality.  I am not collecting as an investment; I do it because it is fun.  Some people are looking to see the value of their collection appreciate.

To expand your collection beyond coin rolls, there are three popular options.  Option one, the easiest for the web savvy, is eBay.  I just got a 1981 Susan B. Anthony dollar set to complete my Susan B. Anthony dollar collection yesterday on eBay.  Option two is to visit your local coin store.  I know of three around South Denver, and any big city will have at least a few shops.  Option three is visiting a coin show.  There is a quarterly coin show here in Denver, and most cities, even small ones, will have a show at least once a year.

Having Fun Collecting

As you read above, I don’t do this for the money, I do it because I love money.  I have fun building full sets of coins.  I have one of every single penny Minted since the 1940s.  I think that is pretty cool.  I have one of each Eisenhower “Ike” Silver Dollar coin ever minted.  I occasionally go to a coin show just to see the history behind each coin.  I do get a little thrill from holding a coin minted before 1900.  I am fascinated looking at Indian Head pennies, Buffalo Nickels, and Mercury Dimes that my great grandparents used when they were young children, but have since been phased out.

If you are looking to get started in coin collecting, I hope you enjoy this resource.  I am also interested, though not actively involved, in scripophily, collecting financial instruments such as stock certificates.

Photo by get directly down / flickr

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