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Inspector Collector's Coin Course

One:  Why and Who

Welcome to lesson one!

When it comes to coins, I'm a master detective—if I do say so myself (and I do).  And my favorite cases always involve my favorite items:  coins!

Coins in your pocket, coins at the store, coins under the couch cushions...seems like coins are everywhere.  Why in the world would anyone collect them?

That's the first thing you need to learn about coin collecting:  the reasons why people collect coins.  And there are plenty!

Why We Collect

People love to collect stuff—all kinds of stuff. Here are some kinds of collections and reasons why they're collected:

Why We Collect COINS

We collect coins for all these reasons, and more!

Whether you have a lot of money to spend on coin collecting or none at all, it's an interesting hobby for everyone. Here are some other reasons to collect coins:


Wow!  I'm getting excited about collecting all over again!  Makes me glad I'm what would you call someone who collects coins?  Click on that dictionary to find out!

A Collection That Lasts

Metal lasts for ages.  Some coins exist today that were created hundreds, even thousands of years ago.  But they're usually not in the best condition because they haven't been cherished by educated collectors—like you will be when you finish this course!

Most modern coins that circulate last for about 25 years.  They don't fall apart or anything—they just get worn down from rubbing against other coins, which makes them dull and hard to read, like the coin in this picture.  But 25 years is much longer than the life of a paper dollar, which is about a year and a half.

Badly worn coin

If you'd like to know what happens to worn-out coins like this one, click on it.

A Collection With Value

Nowadays, the "face value" (value printed on its face) of circulating coins is higher than the value of the metal they are made from.  For example, a dime's face value is ten cents, but it doesn't contain ten cents worth of metal.  Coins are made this way for two main reasons.

  1. The value of precious metals—like gold, silver, and copper—changes.  When their value goes up, coins might be worth more in metal than their face value.  In the past, people have sold these coins as metal for more than they were supposed to be worth.  Using less valuable metals makes sure the coins will stay in circulation, not get hoarded or melted down.
  2. Dictionary
  3. When the government uses cheaper metals, it makes a profit—which is good for the country.  One way our national debt gets paid off is with the "seigniorage" of our coins.  Click on the dictionary to find out about seigniorage.

Click on the dictionary to find out about seignorage.

Now, here's something else a good numismatist should know:  where coins and coin collections were invented.

The Dawn of Coinage

Metal was used for money even before it was made into coins.  But each little piece of metal had to be weighed every time it was spent to find out how much it was worth.  Imagine the clever person who first got the idea of stamping the piece's weight right onto the metal!  We don't know that person's name, but we do know about the first people who stamped pieces of metal with weights and other marks.

In about 1000 B.C., people in China made coins out of bronze.  Later on in Lydia (now part of Turkey), coins were struck under King Ardys, who lived from 652 to 615 B.C.  Lydia's coins were stamped with symbols and were made of electrum, a natural metal that's made up of gold and silver.  There was lots of electrum on Lydia's river banks and mountains.

King Croesus of Lydia (561 to 546 B.C.) made coins that showed the royal symbol of two facing lions on the front, and a bull on the back.  His coins were 98 percent pure gold—pretty amazing, since the way they processed precious metals in those days was so primitive.

Ptolemy I of Egypt (323 to 285 B.C.) was the first ruler to have his own image put on coins.  Kings and queens still do this today.

Collectors of the past

People have collected coins for centuries.  At first, only kings and other rich people collected coins, so collecting has been called "the king of hobbies" and "the hobby of kings."

In fact, the first collector we know of was a king:  Augustus Caesar, the first emperor who ruled Rome.  He lived from 63 B.C. to 14 A.D., and our eighth month (August) is named after him.

Augustus not only collected coins but he gave coins as gifts.  Many of the Roman emperors who ruled after Augustus also had large collections.  So did rich and royal families during the Middle Ages.

One of the first famous American collectors was Joseph Mickley.  But Americans didn't start collecting coins until after the days of the colonists, when the early settlers had settled down.  Since then, more and more people have enjoyed collecting coins, no matter what their age or income.  After all, coins are something that everybody can get their hands on!

Modern American Coins

Modern American coins are the easiest coins for modern Americans to collect, so let's take a closer look at this current currency.

Each year, the United States Mint makes between 14 and 20 billion coins that circulate (get passed around when buying and selling), and a bunch more that don't circulate because they are made to be collected.  The circulating coins are all made at the United States Mint branches in Philadelphia and Denver.  The branches in San Francisco and West Point specialize in coins that don't circulate.

Solve Case 11: Arrows of Knowledge

Activity Time

But enough talking about coins; let's look at some!  Check what you've learned about types of collections by clicking this case link.

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