Think back to your childhood. Remember stashing away coins in piggy banks, tins, and mason jars?
Coin collecting is like second nature, and it’s been going on for literally centuries! Where there are currencies, there are coin collectors. This hobby also speaks to people’s natural survival instincts to save anything of value.
At what point did collecting coins for a rainy day morph into a full-fledged hobby? What are some of the most coveted coins for today’s collectors?
Read on to discover the history, value, and future of coin collecting.
When Did Coin Collecting Start?
The start of coin collecting is attributed to several different eras.
Many scholars believe that the classic hobby began when the first coins first appeared in 650 B.C. These early coins likely belonged to early civilizations from Turkey, China, India, or Greece.
The Lydia Coins
Ancient coin scholars focus extensively on the Lydia Coins. Many experts believe these to be the first “official” coinage in the western world. Thus, they’re treasured to coin collectors.
Lydia was the ancient Iron Age Kingdom located in what is now modern-day Turkey. Lydia prospered during 7th-century B.C. and is credited with inventing the first gold and silver coins in history.
Early consumerism flourished during the Lydian era. The historical record also credits the Lydians for creating the first retail stores for consumers.
While the Lydian Kingdom came toppling down in 540 B.C., it left behind some of the most important customs in the western world, most notably, the invention and exchange of coinage for goods.
The Greek civilizations that superseded the Ancient Lydians adopted the fallen kingdom’s coinage and economic customs.
However, these are just the earliest coins documented in the archaeological record. Some experts trace back the hobby even earlier!
Before coins existed, early eastern and western civilizations used pieces of metal as currency and traded these metals for various goods. These first “coins” were valued by weight. Civilians would have to place their metal pieces on a scale before trading them out.
Everything changed when early government bodies minted this early currency, effectively making the first official coins.
Another early marker of coin collecting was coin hoarding during the Ancient Roman Era in 27 A.D. Once coinage was officially minted, it didn’t take long for people to hoard coins to build wealth.
However, coin collecting went beyond just wealth-hoarding. This period gave rise to the first hobby coin collectors like Caesar Augustus himself, Ancient Rome’s first emperor.
Since wealthy citizens and royalty were the only ones with access to such large amounts of coins, early coin collecting was an exclusively elite hobby.
Fast Forward to the 14th-Century!
Coin collecting didn’t emerge as a popular “modern” hobby in the historical record until the 14th-century. It’s emergence coincided with the end of Europe’s late middle ages and the start of the Renaissance.
By this time, western civilizations were starting to refocus on cultural advancement after the fall of the Roman Empire, which triggered the Dark Ages.
Collecting coins was still a hobby reserved for the wealthy elite. However, with more people collecting, the hobby advanced in several ways. Wealthy coin collectors were also known to give away their coins as gifts.
Other notable coin collectors included the infamous Louis XIV, Ferdinand I, and Petrarch, an Italian poet, who became one of the most prolific collectors in history.
Coin collecting also coincided with a renewed interest in academia, museums, the cabinet of curiosities, antiquity, history, and archaeology. Coins were more than just valuable. They were physical markers of the past.
Coin Collecting as an Academic Study
The intersection of coin collecting and academia eventually led to the creation of numismatics, which is the official academic study of coins.
Numismatics took off between the 17th and 18th-centuries and is still studied today! It’s gone on to cover broader monetary topics, like stocks and bonds, banknotes, old tokens, and gold bullion blocks.
The study official entered the historical record in 1514 and is credited to Guillaume Budé. Budé wrote about Numismatics in the first book ever written on coin collecting.
The field of Numismatics had a considerable influence on coin collecting as a hobby. Collectors started taking a more serious, scientific, and systematic approach to their collecting.
Numismatics introduced difference points of value for collectors, like geographical locations, rare coins, craftsmanship, functionality, and manufacturing methods.
It wasn’t long before early coin collectors drafted large academic papers on the subject. Numismatics inspired collectors to build more extensive collections and dedicate more resources to collecting.
Wealthy collectors could afford to create large private coin collections. These private collections fueled the study of Numismatics. They were also the inspiration for the first coin collecting clubs centuries later.
The hobby and study of coins coincided with history and archaeology in academia, which made collecting coins all that more valuable.
The First Clubs for Collecting Coins
As more people took up coin collecting, there became a real need for collectors’ clubs.
Inspired by the growing private collections of wealthy collectors, the first official coin collecting clubs appear in the 19th-century.
Early clubs included the American Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association.
These first coin collecting clubs brought together collectors from the private and academic worlds. These clubs are still operating today and now function as non-profit educational centers.
Both organizations have amassed some of the largest coin collections in the world, spanning over 2,500 years of eastern and western history.
Books and Journals
As new coin collection organizations formed, so did scholarly journals devoted solely to collecting and numismatics. Publishers were producing more coin collecting books, and the first coin collecting conventions hit the scene.
This era was an extraordinary time for coin collecting. The hobby was creating a culture of its own. These early conventions brought together amateur collectors, merchants, coin dealers, museum directors, and private collectors.
Coin Collecting as an Investment
The value of coins and collecting became more defined, as dealers produced detailed lists of coin values. Collectors could buy trade journals to keep up with the changes in the coin market.
No longer was coin collecting a scholarly and cultured hobby. Coins became a legitimate investment vehicle in the late 1800s. The higher the valuations, the higher the coin market grew.
Coin Collecting in the United States
The United States has produced some of the most coveted coins in collecting history.
The first coin produced in the U.S. was the half-cent coin in 1793. This was followed up by the large cent. Since the U.S. doesn’t provide half and large cents anymore, they’re highly valuable on the coin market.
This early U.S. coin features a female profile that was supposed to represent liberty. Just over 36,000 of these coins were produced, and none were created in 1815 due to a factory fire. That’s why these coins are some of the rarest in the world.
By the end of the 18th-century, the U.S. mint was producing the infamous silver dollars, which are highly prized by coin collectors. The silver half-dime, half-dollars, and Eagle dollars also appeared at this time.
Other rare U.S. coins include 20-cent pieces. The mint also produced real gold coins that represented values of $1 to $50.
Quarters with U.S. states on the back, also known as statehood coins, are the most widely collected U.S. coins to date. The U.S. mint started producing these quarters in 1997 under the Commemorative Coin Program Act.
Along with historical currency, learn more about other types of collectible U.S. coins, military challenge coins and trade tokens.
Collecting Coins Online
The early eras of coin collecting may be over, but the hobby thrives on the internet.
No longer a hobby reserved for the elite, coin collecting has never been more accessible to anyone.
There are still coin collecting journals, collectors’ conventions, and museum collections to admire. Rare coins frequently make appearances on popular collector shows like Antiques Roadshow!
Today’s collectors can choose from a variety of online platforms for buying, selling, and trading coins. Collectors can also attend online auctions to bid on rare and valuable coins. Even popular marketplaces like eBay have a thriving coin marketplace.
There’s the online platform, Numista, which connects coin collectors from all over the world. It also has one of the largest collectible coin catalogs on the internet.
Getting into this hobby has never been easier thanks to the internet. You can find countless free guides for beginning collectors, as well as in-depth books on Amazon. You can also visit your local museum to learn more about ancient coins.
Begin your journey by learning about the hobby’s most valuable coins. Put aside a small budget and create a list of currencies to watch. You never know what your investment could turn into!
Discover the Value of Coin Collecting
Coin collecting is more than just a hobby. It’s a study that’s steeped in history, archaeology, and finance.
Revive this tradition yourself by collecting coins that spark your interest and investment instincts. Use this guide to build a coin collection that you can be proud of!
This age-old hobby is just the start of more hobbies to come. Hobbies can enrich your academic life in several ways.
Check back often for more tips and tricks to grow your academic career.