How to Start a Coin Collection

Posted on 7/28/2016

Coin collecting offers many opportunities, and with patience you will probably find a series or issue that will be exciting and profitable to collect.

As president of the American Numismatic Association I often have conversations with others about the growth of numismatics. Most, if not all, agree on the importance of attracting young people to the hobby. Recently, I spoke with a marketing director for the Royal Canadian Mint. Their research shows that it is very important to target young people ages 6-12, with the realization that they will most likely leave the hobby temporarily. The hope is that they will return to the hobby after they have established careers. They are, in essence, planting numismatic seeds.

This approach is different from decades ago when people started collecting coins as kids and continued through adulthood. Beginning collectors would buy a coin album and attempt to find the coins in change. Like millions of others, this is how I started collecting coins. Today, when young or middle age adults rediscover the hobby, they will most likely start collecting vintage coinage. This is a huge change from the way people historically started collecting.

I am often asked for advice about what to collect by this segment of the hobby. They have an interest in numismatics, but are confused about where to start. Picking coins from circulation is not an option for these folks and they usually try to find a series that is of interest. The choices are nearly endless, and are only restricted by your numismatic budget. Most usually try to find a series that fits their criteria for affordability. When buying vintage or modern coins of relatively high value, it is important to purchase NGC-certified coins. This will ensure the best possible resale in the future.

The following are just a few of the possible ways to start your coin collection. Coin collecting offers many opportunities, and with patience you will probably find a series or issue that will be exciting and profitable to collect.

Silver Eagles 1986 to Date, NGC MS 69
Many individuals discover numismatics after purchasing silver bullion or an American Silver Eagle. Assembling a complete collection of these in NGC MS 69 is a relatively easy project and can be accomplished for less than $1,500. The complete set is quite impressive in appearance and there is a rather strong bullion play. The only downside is that most of the issues are quite common and for you to make money silver would need to rise substantially.

Twentieth Century Type Set, NGC MS 63 or Better
This set would include every coin made in the 20th century and is quite easy to assemble. The most difficult to obtain are the Barber coinage. The set offers an interesting window into the history of the United States from this era. The set also includes some of the most beautiful and popular coins ever stuck, including the Standing Liberty Quarter and Liberty Walking Half Dollar. The set can be completed for less than $2,000.

Morgan Silver Dollars
No list of possible ways to start collecting coins would be complete without mentioning Morgan Silver Dollars. They are probably the most popular United States coin. Assembling a complete set in Mint State is beyond the means of most collectors. Many try to purchase as many different dates as possible in the highest grade they can afford. There are dozens of issues that can be purchased for less than $100 in Mint State. Assembling a set of Morgan Dollars can be a lifetime pursuit for a serious numismatist. There is an amazing amount of literature for the series and as usual I recommend that you do your homework before taking on the task.

Type Set of United States Gold Coins—8 or 12 Pieces
United States gold coins are an incredible value at today’s prices in relation to gold bullion prices. The premium over the bullion price is the lowest in my 40-year career. You should consider assembling a basic 8 or 12-piece Type set. The set is quite attractive and should be purchased in the highest grades you can afford. Most collectors choose coins in MS 63 or better.

The 8-piece set consists of the following:

Liberty Quarter Eagle, 1840-1907
Liberty Half Eagle, 1866-1907
Liberty Ten Dollar, 1866-1907
Liberty Double Eagle, 1877-1907
Indian Quarter Eagle, 1908-1929
Indian Half Eagle, 1908-1929
Indian Ten Dollar, 1907-1933
Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle 1907-1933

The 12-piece type set includes the above and the following:

Liberty Gold Dollar (Type One), 1849-1854
Indian Gold Dollar (Type Two), 1854-1856
Liberty Gold Dollar Type Three, 1856-1889
Three Dollar Gold 1854-1889

Short Set of Walking Liberty Half Dollars, 1941-1947
The Walking Liberty series started in 1916 and runs through 1947. The early dates of the series, 1916-1940, are full of very expensive and elusive rarities, especially in Mint condition. Many collectors chose to assemble a complete set from 1941 to 1947. This is commonly referred to as a “Short Set.” An MS 65 set can be a challenge to assemble and would cost about $2,500. These coins sold for over $20,000 in 1989 at the peak of the last bull market. The coins are beautifully designed and should experience a boost of interest when the Mint strikes gold versions of the series later this year.

Classic Commemorative Silver and Gold Coins, 1892-1954
Silver and Gold commemoratives from the Classic period have been in the market doldrums for the last decade or more. Many of these issues can be purchased at the same prices they sold for in the 1980s. These sets are actually quite the challenge to assemble in matching grades and with similar appearance. There have been several books published about United States commemorative coinage. Study the series and again, buy the best you can afford.

Sets of Lincoln Cents, Jefferson Nickels, Roosevelt Dimes and Washington Quarters
Years ago beginning collectors could find most of these coins in change. The challenge was exciting and stimulated a generation of new collectors. Today, this is impossible, but there is still a strong attraction for these popular series. These issues are also among the most highly sought after by registry set collectors. With just a few exceptions, these sets can be completed in Mint State on a relatively small budget over time. As usual, buy the best you can afford with attention to eye appeal.

American Colonial Issues
Most collectors consider American Colonials to be for advanced numismatists. I personally think this is not true and would be a great place to start your collection. There is an amazing amount of literature on the subject, and the Guide Book of United States Coins (the "Red Book"), has all of the information needed to get started. Many of these issues are well within the budget of most collectors. You can start with Type examples from many of the original 13 colonies. In recent years several giant collections of Colonials have entered the market and prices are somewhat depressed. This would be a great time to start a collection of American Colonials.

Indian Quarter Eagles, 1908-1929
This relatively short series is great for anyone new to the hobby. Most of the 15 coins in the set can be purchased for less than $500 in Mint State. There is only 1 really expensive coin, the 1911-D and these can be found without difficulty. Prices for this series have fallen in recent years and now would be great time to start.

Modern United States Silver Dollars, 1971-Date
Dave Bowers recently completed a book on this subject and has stated that he was surprised by the complexity of the task. While most of the issues can be found with some effort, there are plenty of true rarities mixed in. A complete set of these would be an impressive accomplishment.

These are only a few ideas on how to start or restart your numismatic journey. As I have stated many times, try to find someone that you can trust for advice. Also, join the ANA ( and try to learn as much as possible before spending substantial sums. Once you are hooked, numismatics can give you a lifetime of enjoyment.

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to

Jeff Garrett bio

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