Learn About Coins Tips

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Why do I want to collect Indian head pennies?

Indian Head Pennies from Heaven?

Can we still say "Indian head penny"? Numismatists seem to be politically incorrect. No one has proposed calling Indian head US coins Native American coins--possibly because new numismatists are too busy determining what Indian head coins are worth.

Most Indian Head pennies have been handled extensively in circulation. Often, you won't find an Indian Head collectible coin in an uncirculated or mint state. That's not surprising, since the coins were minted between 1859 and 1909.

A coin such as the 1857 Good/Very Goood (G/VG) Indian Head cent United States coin typically has signs of wear although some dealers and appraisers might rate it XF or Extremely Fine, which boosts the coin's value. Several G/VG coins sell for $350 to $650 for this piece of history.

You can tell an Indian head penny by the profile of an Indian head on the obverse and laurel leaves surrounding the words "One Cent" on the reverse.

Why collect Indian head pennies? They are a rare investment in United States coin history. As long as you skip politics and pay attention to grading (VG, XF, AG), you'll have quite a collection.

How do I avoid counterfeit coins?

Avoiding Coin Fraud

Fake fat and fake creamer you can handle. Spam or fake e-mail you delete. But fake coins...forget it.

If you're new to the collectible coin, or even if you've been numismatically inclined for years, you can be taken in by counterfeit or "puffed" coins. "Puffing" in real estate means exaggerating a property's benefits. In the world of US coins and foreign coins, dishonest dealers can go beyond hype. For example, United States coin counterfeiters can alter the date of a 1946 Mercury Dime collectible coin to read 1916, a more valuable year.

How can you avoid being scammed by collectible coin counterfeiters? Check with a dealer or appraiser you trust. Remember that although people are wary of buying on the Internet, fraud is just as likely when that huckster smiles at you face to face.

Know as much as possible about the United States coin you're collecting so you'll be able to tell when something is "off." But in general. Trust coins certified by a major authentication and grading service such as the Independent Coin Grading Company.

After all, while fake fat and fake creamer may or may not help you feel and look better, you don't want to be saddled with fake world or US coins.

Are the new coins better than portrait-gallery coins?

Redesigning Coins

Everything gets a makeover these days. Movie stars, homes, people who watch "Live with Regis and Kelly," cars...why not US coins?

What was wrong with the old portrait coins, you ask? Why shouldn't we continue to collect coins with presidents and Founding Fathers on them? Don't be in a hurry to toss out Abe Lincoln. Those coins with his profile will still be valuable, especially now that the US Mint redesigns quarters and commemorative coins every ten weeks. However, the release of the statehood quarters made Americans take a new look at the collectible coin.

After all, animal lovers will be happy to know that the vanishing American Bison is on the nickel redesign. Even the historic keelboat that Lewis and Clark used creates an alternative to the same portrait of Thomas Jefferson we've all grown up with. Historians and naturalists will appreciate the American Indians/Native Americans and wildlife Lewis and Clark encountered.

The new collectible coin won't replace the older coin, so don't go banking on your Jefferson nickels skyrocketing in value. Still, it might be time to have your coin collection reassessed, especially if you're planning to buy some of the revamped US coins.

After all, unlike some "Before" and "After" pictures, older vs. redesigned coins won't make you wince. And you won't have to worry that your coin collection has had too much plastic surgery.

Can too much handling damage a circulated or uncirculated coin?

Money Not in Your Hand

You never thought you would become one of "those" people. You know the type. Comic book collectors scream if you want to open a book to see what Batman looked like back in the day. Your neighbor keeps enough plates to start another Franklin Mint and protects them with a guard dog followed by a fully loaded shotgun. Your Trekkie brother will fire all phasers and attack you like a Klingon if you get near his Playmates figures of Kirk and Spock from 1975.

Now that you're venturing into coin collecting, you admire a circulated Kennedy half-dollar collectible coin. It's Very Fine (VF) or Almost Uncirculated (AU), with some dirt and nicks, but you pick it up gingerly anyway. You've made it your mission to learn about coins.

Coins and US coins, like vinyl records, need careful handling, especially an uncirculated United States coin. Fingerprints reduce the coin's grade. Don't touch the surface of the coin directly. The normal nicks and dirt on a circulated coin might not matter, but your coin could drom from a VF to a G if you finger it too much.

If that Kennedy half-dollar belongs to a coin enthusiast, handle on the edge only. That's good advice for your own collectible coins--after all, you want to purchase that Kennedy half-dollar. Don't try to clean a coin, even if you just want to wipe away fingerprints. Your fellow numismatist might like the slightly tarnished appearance, since it makes Kennedy look rugged.

You can take a little extra care with your coins. After all, you're not one of "those" people...hey, don't you dare breathe on my United States coin or I'll call the Marines! Where's that guard dog?

Can printing errors make a coin less valuable?

Printing Errors

Is that $10 bill with a Bonnie and Clyde Model-T collectible? Check your urban legends...you probably still believe alligators live in sewers. According to Snopes.com, no one ever intended to print a Model-T Ford on a $10 bill in 1928 when Bonnie and Clyde didn't rob banks until 1932. The new $10 design displays the US Department of Treasury.

However, if you became excited because of an extra leaf on your 2005 Wisconsin Statehood quarter collectible coin, you can be forgiven, because Snopes.com says that US coins with this error are valuable! (And no, conspiracy theorists, it wasn't a subliminal message signifying a UFO landing site in Wisconsin.) However, most of these coins have been found in Tucson where a dealer charged $1,499 ($500 per coin is more usual), and some of the coins made Texas collectors say yee-haw.

The Georgia Statehood quarter United States coin is slightly off-center, which boosts its value. When a coin is minted or struck, unintentional errors happen...though conspiracy theorists suggest a Mint worker created the collectible coin with the intent to profit from the mistake.

Common coin errors to look for:

* Image not centered correctly on the obverse
* Coins too thick or thin, or improperly weighted
* Upside-down print such as "One Cent" or "In God We Trust" on the reverse
* Planchette or blank-printed coins
* "Mules" or coins with two different denominations on the sides, such as a 1999 Lincoln cent with the reverse of a Roosevelt dime, a Sacagawea dollar reverse mismatched with a George Washington state quarter head, and a single Indian head penny with two Indian heads

Check with your local coin dealer. In the meantime, don't believe that story about Bill Gates sending you cash...although there might be a giant 13-foot alligator in Texas, collecting the Wisconsin Statehood error coins.

What do I look for in a collectible coin?

Collectible Coin Basics

Stamps didn't appeal, too much glue. Baseball cards? Too hard to clean off the chewing gum. But ah...coins don't have a downside, and they appreciate in value. Still, you're just starting out, and don't know a half-dollar from a palladium bullion United States Coin. Some hints to help you learn about coins:

* Like the '60s song says, you better shop around. Is there a coin store in your area? Your local bookstore usually has a section on hobbies and collecting. The Official Blackbook Price Guide to U.S. Coins 2005, 43rd Edition (Official Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins) is a great reference guide.
* Find out if those US coins Grandpa left you are circulated (lots of wear and tear) or uncirculated (in mint condition). This can affect the collectibility of your collectible coin. Even if your circulated United States coin has dings and signs that Grandpa handled the money, it can still be valuable, depending on the grade. The grade is the condition of the coin, and among both circulated and uncirculated world and US coins there are different grades that appraisers can use to tell you what your coin is worth.
* If the talk of circulated, uncirculated and grades has you thinking of collecting leaves or thimbles, don't worry. There are several excellent glossaries on the Internet and guidebooks. Learn the language of the collectible coin.

Besides, leaves attract bugs, stamps dry out, baseball cards remind you too much of the glory days before Senate hearings, but coins, like diamonds, are forever.

Should I start collecting current US coins?

Current US Coins

You might gripe about the Fed Reserve rates, the stock market and the price of gas, but you still want to invest in the red, white and blue...even if you're overseas or know America only from its TV shows (sorry about that.) The US Mint is a great source of current United States coin information. Some recent commemorative collectible coin issues:

* Commemorative Kansas quarters, the fourth coin in the United States Mint's 50 State Quarters® Program to be released in 2005
* Chief Justice John Marshall Silver Dollar
* Marine Corps 230th Anniversary Silver Dollar
* The second in the 2005 Westward Journey series, "Ocean View" Nickels

These US coins are fresh and uncirculated, hot off the press, as it were. If you haven't yet made a foray into old coin collecting, a US Mint collectible coin is an excellent investment.

No matter if you wave the flag or just see it on TV from overseas, no matter if you're concerned about the stock market, you can buy a recent issue United States coin with confidence.

Should I invest in coins rather than in the stock market?

Coins vs. Stocks

Money and stocks. Stocks and money. Like love and marriage, they go together. But, you think, what if I avoid the roller-coaster and the tech bubble? What if I start collecting coins to invest? I'm investing my money anyway--I might as well invest directly in money.

If you believe you're going to get rich without risk by buying a collectible coin or bidding on every Chinese or United States coin you can find on eBay, you probably staked a bushel of clams on MyCoolDotCom.com in 2000.

The metal in your coins directly affects the value of your coins. While gold endures, how much people think it's worth fluctuates, and so does the worth of your gold bullion dollar or Ireland euro coin. Some other cautions in coin investing:

* Remember Worldcom? Coins can be forged too, or values inflated. "Creative accounting" is as common with coins as it is with Fortune 500 companies.
* Like stocks and money, coins obey the laws of supply and demand. If there are too many Ireland euros flooding the market, yours won't be worth as much in the short term. Do you have the ability and discipline to hang on to your collection long-term?
* Experts believe only a small percentage of your portfolio hsould be allocated to coins, say 10-15 percent. For many investors, that may be too high.
* If you're young with a high risk tolerance or older and financially established, you're in a better position to gamble on speculative investments such as the collectible coin.
* As you would with any other investment, track financial data, "balance sheets" and long-term projections. While your rare old coin may be an excellent investment now, how much will it be in the future? Has it been preserved? What are the pricing trends? Know where your coin is going as well as where it's been.

Investing in stocks and investing in coins require time commitment and devotion. The difference is that unlike stock investing, coins can be a hobby. So while you can't separate stocks and money, you can collect coins for fun and profit without worrying about the next recession.

What do the different coin grades mean?

Coin Grading: Very Good or Fine?

Oh no, as if worrying about your grades or your kids' grades wasn't enough, now you need to watch for coin grades. What does "choice" mean? Is that like USDA choice? What does "fine" mean or "very fine"? Is there an "Excellent" or "Outstanding"? How about MS or AU?

Some pointers to remember...take notes, there will be a test!

* American Numismatics Association grades are different than world grades. For a collectible coin, dealers and enthusiasts in Tokyo and Toronto use Fair, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine, Uncirculated and Fleur-de-coin (N.B.: the best)--like different grading systems in colleges and high schools abroad.
* MS is the honor roll. It means mint state, and there are only a few numbers to remember. MS-70 is the ideal, and is rare. MS-60 to MS-65 are the norm, and the higher the number, the better the coin. The luster may be lacking, but as long as the coin has no wear, you have a MS-quality United States coin
* AU means almost uncirculated. It's the B+ or A- of circulated coins, just traces of wear.
* "Choice" means light or even wear on the coin's lettering and design. It's the equivalent of taking points off because you didn't spell check.
* If you receive a coin that's AG-3, that's the equivalent of writing your paper that morning: it's passable, but with defects (heavily worn, date may not be visible).
* Remember split grades? Your prof said the content in your last paper bordered on a B+ but the thesis was original and thought-provoking, an A, so you received a B in the final analysis. If your paper were a collectible coin, it would receive a G/VG or F/VF. The obverse (heads) may be good, but the reverse (tails) is very good. Usually, though, the overall grade is based on the obverse, which means that you lose points for the content of the coin.

Now, the final exam question: Is coin grading difficult? Is it worthwhile? Discuss why or why not. Relax--this is one of those open-end essay questions. While you don't want to end up with a bad grade or bad penny, one won't change your entire life. But you will get a great education.

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