Choosing a Coin to Collect

Posted on July 7, 2010 by

Coin collecting offers a myriad of choices for the collector, but there is one governing rule: You will run out of money before you run out of coins to buy.  Therefore, it is important to choose wisely in the beginning, so that you stay on budget and your interest level remains high.

Here are some choices to consider:

U.S. coins or world coins?  The U.S. coin market is easily the biggest in the world, with the largest number of collectors, the highest capitalization, and the best liquidity.  Some countries (such as Canada, Germany, and Great Britain) have advanced collector markets, while most others do not.  Liquidity is a problem with most world coins, as are transaction and transportation costs.  However, world coins offer a lot of value because rare, high quality world coins simply haven’t caught up to their U.S. counterparts.

Vintage or moderns?  1965 is usually recognized as the cutoff date between vintage and modern coins because it was the first year for production of “clad” coins.  Vintage coins are the “classics” and include great series such as Morgan Dollars, Mercury Head Dimes, Walking Liberty Half Dollars, etc.  Modern coins include the 50 States Quarters, all types of commemorative coins, American Eagle silver and gold coins.  Vintage coins can be extremely expensive as either rarities or in high grade; moderns tend to be more affordable and they almost always come in superb condition.  If you want a crossover between the vintage and modern coins, try the Silver Eagle (with a redo of the classic Walking Liberty design) or the Gold Eagle (with Augustus Saint Gaudens’ classic design).

Circulated or Uncirculated?  The higher the grade, the higher the cost…but not always.  Some collectors try to obtain the worst possible example of a coin, while other try to locate the best.  Lowball sets (those with the worst possible examples) are a fun, affordable way to collect otherwise expensive coins.  The PCGS Set Registry offers Everyman collections, which preclude any Uncirculated coins.  At the top end, the Condition Census includes the top 5 or ten examples of a given coin.  Your budget determines the level you choose.

Certified or raw?  This is an easy choice.  If you want authentic, uncleaned, undoctored coins, stick with those that are certified, preferably by PCGS.  They may cost a little more, but the peace of mind is well worth the premium.

Gold or silver (or copper, etc.)?  Often, the intrinsic value of a coin plays a big part in determining the collector value of a coin.  For instance, the modern American Eagle gold coin fluctuates with and stays close to the spot price of gold.  Most circulated U.S. silver coins are sold in bags of $1,000 face value, sometimes for a discount off the silver price.  Currently, gold and silver prices are at or near their all-time highs.  If you think they are overvalued, stay away from bullion-related coins; if you think they are undervalued, buy as many as you can.  Again, cost and affordability should be your guide.

Finally, the most important decision of all: to collect coins or not.  On the pro side are what you’ll learn about history, geography, politics, economics, and language.  Then there’s the stress-relieving side of coin collecting, the research, the camaraderie among collectors, travel, bonding with family, the thrill of discovery and the sheer fun of it all.  On the con side…well, I can’t think of any!

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Comments (5)


  1. Jeff Andeson says:

    I am new to collecting and have concentrated on collecting Silver Eagles. I find it a beautiful coin. However, I have noticed something that I don’t understand. The prices seems to be going up and a lot of “action” is going on. I ran a population check on the silver eagles on june 26th and I am comparing the most recent. I have seen a jump in population for PR70 that I don’t understand. The 1993 seems to be the most second rarest of the coins. On June 26 the population of the PR 70 was 30 with a total of submitted of 4588. Less than 1 percent have been granted the PR70 grading. On July 10th the number at PR70 is now 40 with a total of 4,607 submitted. My question is how can a coin that has such a low granting of PR70 now all of sudden have over 50 percent submitted (19 submitted and 10 approved for PR70)being granted PR70? Since I’m new to collecting I can’t figure out why. Thank you.

  2. Ron Guth says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m not involved on the grading side, but I suspect this is a result of pre-screening the order before it goes into grading. I agree with you that the success rate on the most recent Population numbers seems high. There has been no change in the standards for a 70, so pre-screening is the only logical answer.

  3. tback says:


    David seems to be a huge fan of matte proof gold ($20, $10, $5, $2.50). However, CoinFacts seems to have very little information on this series/type – will there be more to come? I understand the collector base may be small due to the higher cost of starting a set (even the Pcgs Set Registry has only a few registered sets in each denomination, and these are mostly Bloomfield, Smithsonian, Eliasberg!), nevertheless in numismatic terms these coins are exceedingly important (in my humble opinion).

  4. I began collecting in the years of 1900’s but have seen a number of coins in auctions stating Cleaned xx Details of earlier US coinage from the earlier 1800’s that appear to be an excellent buy. Since earlier years of coin collecting actually recommended some cleaning of coins in the 1800’s how does this de-value the coin. And what are exceptions to the rule. I recently purchased a seated liberty quarter 1853 PCGS Genuine Cleaning – AU Details Arrows and Rays 27786121 what I believe was a bargin. It apears to have a mild cleaning around the center of the coin front and back with a chemical or eraser no scratches. Is there any plan in the future to evaluate pricing for coins that have been cleaned with a non-abrasive vs light, medium or heavy abrasive with good to excellent eye appeal. I understand this is complicated issue due to previous years of numismatic practices, but feel it would help clarify what these types of coins are truly worth since it appears no one is tracking this type of variations.

    Also, are these coins as I have seen mentioned in a number of articles truely not worth collecting? I personally feel the value of a conservatively cleaned coin could be as little as a 10-15% off market price if the eye appeal is good. Please tell me what your opinion if you have time, please.

  5. Pete says:

    Great Post, I have always said collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.

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