Lights, Loupe and Library

Posted on 5/27/2003

Getting more out of your coin collecting often comes down to three things: the correct lighting, a good loupe and a suitable library of numismatic references.

A common trap for most new and intermediate collectors is getting bogged down with "expensive toys" rather than "valuable tools". Specifically, the MULTITUDE of specialty lights, fancy high power magnifiers and expensive (and largely useless) microscopes that collectors feel they need to be more successful.

Lighting is perhaps the most important of your collecting tools - it can make or break your collecting efforts. Bad lighting will hinder your ability to see surface problems and make it difficult to grade coins accurately and consistently. But this does not mean you need to go out and buy hundreds of dollars worth of special lighting equipment. On the contrary, your ideal lighting setup can be purchased at your local office supply store for less than $50.

The recommended lighting set up for coin collecting is a simple swing-arm or similar desk lamp and a 75- to 100-watt incandescent bulb. We recommend using a name-brand soft white bulb, as generic bulbs often have a slight yellow tint. Additionally, it is a good idea to check the specifications of the lamp, as some have a very low wattage capacity.

Now that you have your light source, you need "suitable" magnification. This is often an area of confusion for collectors and the basis for one of the worst habits you can develop. Magnification is a "back-up" and should be used sparingly. You should always look at the coin with your unaided eye. Rotating it around under the light without magnification is all most people need to spot problems and accurately grade the coin. Your magnifier should only be used to get a closer look at problems you noticed during your initial examination of the coin. Grading coins with a magnifier or even worse, with a microscope, will almost guarantee that you under-grade you coins.

Even though magnification should be used sparingly you should have it available at all times. Luckily, this is not a major investment. In fact, a suitable loupe can be purchased for under $50. We recommend a 5- to 7-power triplet loupe for most applications. This range of magnification is perfect for grading, variety attribution and most authentication tasks. The triplet loupe design provides increased clarity and reduces image distortion that occurs with single or double glass magnifiers.

And finally, with your lighting and your magnifier, as well as a clean work space to view your coins, we highly recommend having a library of numismatic reference material related to the COINS you collect. There is a tremendous AMOUNT of information available on virtually all types of coins, grading, attribution, varieties and counterfeit detection. Having easy access to this material is extremely important.

To better understand what books are available for your collecting interest, we recommend looking at the ANA Library Catalog. The ANA maintains one of the largest numismatic libraries in the country and if you are an ANA member you can borrow most of these books by mail. Once you have seen what books are available, we would suggest borrowing a couple and, if they are going to be of assistance to you, then try to locate the book for purchase through numismatic book dealers or internet auctions.

Most, if not all grading services, dealers and a lot of the more advanced collectors, maintain large and rather impressive libraries. But here again, don't just buy every book available, borrow it from another collector or the ANA library, and see if the information in it is truly relevant to your collecting. If it is, then it may be a reference worth adding to your collection. A well-known saying in this hobby that still holds true today is, "buy the book before you buy the coin".

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