The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 21, Number 8, February 25, 2018, Article 16


Dick Johnson submitted this entry from his Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Terminology. Thanks! Quite appropriate - this one applies to all of us. -Editor

Coin Collecting. Gathering specimens of coins in systematic fashion as an avocation or numismatic pursuit. Collecting coins appeals to every age from the child who can identify the portrait on a small bronze piece to the senior who can understand the language and symbolism on an obscure piece from a distant land or time, from the person with limited funds to the wealthiest benefactor. Gathering coins, it has been said, appeal to the magpie instincts in humans who like bright, shinny objects. Contrast this to the scientist/numismatist who likes to classify every species and subspecies, or who likes to describe and catalog every specimen in their collection.

Coin collecting has occurred, it seems, ever since there were coins. Some ancient coin hoards that have been recovered intact indicate the pieces were assembled for their design and differing characteristics, as a collection more so than an accumulation for commerce.

For the most passionate collector, collecting coins is an emotional involvement exhibited by the thrill of the chase, to acquire a desired specimen. After all, coin collecting appeals to very intelligent people. It fulfills a desire to complete a series; it requires a dedicated investment in intellect, time, savings, yet still has the romance of distance peoples, long ago time and a miniature art form of the time. If for no other reason we study coins because they are artifacts – actual money that contemporary custom had placed a value on these coined objects.

Because coins are issued by denomination, the design within that denomination is called a TYPE. Often a single type will be issued over a number of years as the national authority (like a Treasury Department) attempts to supply its country with a quantity of circulating medium. Also, and particularly for large industrial countries, they may have more than one mint. Most mints have their own mark, MINTMARK, a signature on all the coins of their manufacture. Thus collecting by types, by dates and by mintmarks are important to collectors.

Any deviation in the design or form from the normal coin – whether intended or resulting from a manufacturing anomaly –results in a VARIETY of the coin in that series. Collectors are very interested in varieties and closely study every aspect of the coin’s design and production to identify these varieties, no matter how minute. The discovery of a major variety is an event of major proportions in the numismatic field.

Collectors quickly learn that some specimens are not easy to obtain. The concept of RARITY is inherent to every collector. He learns that one variety may be quite rare and a similar one quite common. Rarity is based on the number originally made and how many of that number have survived. Numismatists have determined a SURVIVAL RATIO that indicates this degree for a particular rarity. Letter and number charts have been devised and published in numismatic literature to give a indication within a range of common to extreme rarity.

Coin Group Terms. Coin collecting deals with coins in groups. Here are some group terms:

HOARD – A retrieved group of monetary items.
SERIES – Three or more coins with a common theme or design with a continuity of issue.
SET – Two or more coins issued together.
Collection – Coins of any number gathered together for systematic study or the pleasure of ownership.
Rolls – Coins in uniform number packaged for commerce.

What to collect? Coin collectors first collect what is easiest for them to obtain, coins from circulation, their own nationality, an inherited collection. From early beginnings a collector typically moves into areas called specialties. He cannot collect everything at once, so he specializes. He chooses an area of coin collecting which interests him most and which he devotes his acquisition activities. These are also called TOPICS. (In England they are called thematics.)

Even the average coin collector may easily complete a SERIES. By obtaining all the varieties of specimens within that series he accomplishes a completeness that is psychological satisfying. From there he moves on to other specialties or topics. Or, more often, collects several topics at a time. Thus as one series is completed he can move on to another, occasionally selling one to finance the purchase of another. Sometimes these pursuits are lifetime activities, particularly where a topic is open ended and never can be “completed.”

Choosing a topic is a very personal thing. Nobody can tell a collector what to collect. It comes from within a collector’s psyche. It is what gives him pleasure, and he is willing to devote the required time and money to participate. (Collecting medals and tokens is even more selective, see the entry on MAT CODE for a list of major specialties .)

Coin collectors. Estimates of the number of coin collectors in American range from a few hundred thousand to as high at six million or about one in every forty Americans. The largest mailing list is maintained by United States Mint, but critics say this includes coin buyers not necessarily collectors (the grandmothers who buy birth year sets for their grandchildren, for example).

There have been some prominent coin collectors in America. Philanthropist John Pierpont Morgan was an active collector, as were actor Adolph Monjou, Texas oilman Lamar Hunt, and Colonel Green (son of Hetty Green, the Witch of Wall Street). No American president was known to have been a coin collector (like Franklin D. Roosevelt, a stamp collector). But heads of state of other countries were coin collectors. Most impressive was Victor Emmanual of Italy who was very active. Also, King Farouk of Egypt was a notorious coin collector.

Collector aids. A small industry has developed to supply the collector with the necessary accouterments to engage in collecting. Albums, envelopes, magnifying glasses, holders, everything that could aid in examining, organizing, displaying, housing and storing specimens has been manufactured for the collector.

Collectors early realize the importance of their specimen’s condition. Determining condition of an individual specimen may be somewhat arbitrary, so service businesses have arisen to professionally affix a specimen’s condition and genuineness. Following this was a related service to encase the item in plastic, now called a “slab.”

Numismatic books and periodicals are widely published. The largest numismatic library is in New York City at the American Numismatic Society. It currently houses 100,000 items. Numismatic books – and documents, auction catalogs, and transcriptions – are on the internet, free to all, on the Newman Portal, underwritten by Eric P. Newman, a renowned collector, scholar and philanthropist.

Collector organizations are formed at every level, local to national, specialized to international. Thus collectors with similar interests can meet with others of that interest, discuss the COLLECTOR LORE of their mutual activity, exchange duplicates perhaps, or just gain more knowledge of the subject. Talks at these meetings are often illustrated with slides or the exhibition of actual specimens and information is widely exchanged. Collectors of the same specialty quickly form a close camaraderie.

Museums frequently form and display coin collections. The three largest in the United States with the widest breadth of holdings are the American Numismatic Society with a museum in New York City, the American Numismatic Association with a museum in their Colorado Springs headquarters, and the nation’s coin collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Looking for the meaning of a numismatic word, or the description of a term?  Try the Newman Numismatic Portal's Numismatic Dictionary at:

Heritage E-Sylum ad 2018-02-25

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2012 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster