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Friday, February 21, 2014

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Numismatics, Coin Collecting, Can Help Us Understand History

"Thank you to Sarah Brooks (Free People Search) for this very insightful guest post about coin collecting.  I have ancestors who were coin collectors, and this post has helped me to consider learning more."  - Robin

Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, paper currency, and tokens. As a hobby, its most common form is coin collecting. Once called the “hobby of kings” because it was really only accessible to the wealthy, coin collecting has become much more affordable to just about anyone with even a modest amount of disposable income. 

If you’re looking for another engaging hobby (just in case genealogy doesn’t take up all of your free time), or if you’re considering an addition to your legacy – something to pass on to your heirs – there are several very good reasons to consider numismatics.

More than just bright shiny objects

Human beings, it seems, are born collectors. We collect things because they’re attractive or interesting, even if they don’t have much practical function in our day-to-day lives. From the most primitive societies to the more developed and affluent cultures, collecting for its own sake is a practice that is thousands of years old, even though collecting as a hobby hit its stride in the nineteenth century in industrial countries.

Of all the types of collectibles, coins are among the most appealing for people of all ages and levels of expertise. There are several reasons coins have captured the fancy of so many people (genealogy buffs and otherwise).

1.      Coins are beautiful. Apart from their value (past or present) as legal tender, coins are lovely works of art. Some of the finest artists and engravers have been employed over the centuries to create them. It’s little wonder that coin collecting has been a passion for countless art aficionados throughout history.
2.      Coins are educational. Coin collecting can expand and enhance your knowledge and appreciation of history, politics, and art. Every coin tells a story – often a fascinating story of political struggles and wars, hard times or affluence. Coins are very much a reflection of the prevailing cultural and aesthetic values when they were minted, so if you’re already a history buff, coins can add depth and breadth to your knowledge. People who are interested in genealogy and researching their own family history often find that learning about coins enhances their understanding of the times in which their ancestors lived.
3.      Coins can be part of your legacy. Many people who are interested in researching the past are equally interested in the future – specifically, in building their legacy. A fine coin collection can be part of your legacy, something to be handed down from generation to generation.

Are coins a good investment?

In countries such as the US where there are strict laws regulating investments and investment advice, ethical coin dealers are very cautious about pushing coins as an investment. We would never suggest that you go into coin collecting as an investment strategy, although a carefully built coin collection could possibly, in some cases, be a viable part of a diversified portfolio. To make this determination you would need to consult with a qualified investment or financial advisor, as well as with a qualified numismatics professional. In our view, though, the three reasons listed in the section above are good enough reasons to explore the world of numismatics.

Three essential tips for successful coin collecting

1.      Narrow your focus. Since there are so many different kinds of coins, and so many different ways to build a collection, you might have a little trouble deciding how to get started. Do you want to focus on rare American gold coins or European coins? Do you want to concentrate on a specific time period? Do you want to purchase individual coins or buy a complete set? Virtually any type of coin can be offered as a set, and there are plenty of advantages to collecting coins in a set as opposed to buying individual coins. For one thing, buying sets is a great way to “jump start” your collection. There are numerous other advantages as well. It’s really up to you, as an individual collector, whether to purchase in sets or individually. But there are many other considerations when buying coins, such as the coin’s condition and how it is “graded.” (That’s worthy of a whole other blog post.) One of the wisest things you can do is to find a coin dealer you trust, or someone you know who has been collecting coins for many years, and let that person help you decide how you want to proceed.
2.      Ignore the precious metals markets. Numismatics experts caution that you should never let your purchase decisions be guided primarily by current precious metal prices. The world of coins is complex and, contrary to common belief, there is very little relationship between the actual value of rare coins and their metallic content. Instead, the price of a rare coin is based on many other factors, such as rarity, the coin’s condition, and various aesthetic issues.
3.      Don’t go it alone unless you REALLY know what you’re doing. We can’t stress it enough: Get expert help. No matter which type of coin collection you are considering, it’s a very good idea to enlist expert help, not only because there are so many choices as to be overwhelming, but also because, unfortunately, there are still plenty of shady players in the coin world. These people are all too willing to take advantage of the novice’s naivete. Find a dealer you can trust, someone who not only has the right qualifications but who also has an obvious passion for numismatics. Ask your dealer how long they have been in business, and inquire as to whether they are a member of the Professional Numismatics Guild.
4.      Look at coin collecting as a fun, educational hobby, not as a way to get rich. See the section on investments, above.

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from best people search. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to


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