From Alloy to Obverse—The 8 Terms You Need to Know to Start Collecting Coins

Man numismatist examines  coin with magnifying glass
Coin collecting, or “The Hobby of Kings,” has entertained the rich and well-heeled for millennia. It’s probably the oldest hobby in the world, too – with roots tracing back to the ancient Romans.

Know what to look for as you build your kingly collection. Here are the fundamental numismatic terms:

A mixture of two or more metals. For coins, the most common metals are gold, copper, and silver.

An engraved stamp used for impressing a design (images, value, and mottoes) upon a blank piece of metal to make a coin. All coins made in the U.S. are struck by a pair of dies. The dies are in a machine called a coining press.

A coin used to hold or “fill in” the spot in a collection until a better grade coin can be added to take its place. Collectors typically use a low grade or even a damaged coin as a filler until its replacement is secured.

The part of a coin’s design that is pressed into the surface. (As opposed to “relief,” where the design is raised above the surface.) Most U.S. coins use bas-relief, where the designs are above the level field of the coin.

The front (or “heads”) side of a coin. It usually has the date, mint mark, and main design, oftentimes a portrait. The opposite side is the “reverse” side.

The part of a coin’s design that is raised above the surface, the opposite of incuse.

The hue or color a coin acquires through age, as oxygen and sulfur alter the coin’s metal over time. It is most common in silver and copper coins; gold coins are the least susceptible to toning.

Type set
A collection of coins based on denomination. For example, a nickel type set would contain one of each of the four types of nickels that the United States Mint has produced. Traditional collections consist of all the dates within a series, such as the state quarters collection or the Lincoln set.

Type sets are more common among younger and newer coin collectors. Date sets are commonly sought by experienced and wealthy collectors.

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Main Street Coin specializes in rare coins and currency. We are also gold, silver, diamonds, and jewelry buyers. Visit us first for a free evaluation. We are located in Fairfield, Hyde Park, Milford, and Florence.

How the Lost Confederate Gold was Stolen

csa_coinsThe night was typical for late May in Chennault, Georgia: a little humid, but the ground where the Confederate soldiers slept was cool and welcoming. Captain Parker tucked his satchel beneath his head and finally drifted to sleep, worrying about the priceless treasure he was guarding.

His scouts had reported seeing Union cavalry ahead on the road to Augusta, so they had to find another way. He wished this trip were over already.

Hidden in wooden barrels or not, it wasn’t safe to travel with this much treasure.

Midnight Attack

Around midnight, one of the guards was alerted by a rustling sound. Suddenly, ragtag men rushed the wagon. 

“Woohoo!” one of the bushwhackers yelled, kicking a barrel off the back of the wagon. 

This crew wore ragged uniforms of both blue and gray – and there were many of them. The guard stood silently as the crowd descended.

Wealth Beyond Measure

The barrels exploded coins, socks full of specie, and ingots as it hit the hard ground.

Parker awoke to the thud of a man hitting the ground next to him. It was the guard, who’d been struck unconscious by one of the bushwhackers – some of whom stood knee-deep in Confederate gold.

One of the soldiers glanced his way, pulling a revolver from his hip.

“I know you’re tempted to try and stop us, but there’s far more of us than you. We don’t want to kill you. We’ll just be taking payment for our services from this here treasure you were trying to hide. We’ve lost more than this will ever cover, and we don’t give a damn about them frogs!”

Desperate, Hopeless Men

Parker knew many had lost everything in this war. Families, fortunes, and even entire towns had been destroyed, leaving some men had literally nothing to return to.

He knew it was foolish to ask his men to fight for the payment of a war they never wanted, to risk their lives one more time.

He threw up his hands and stood silently, accepting. The bushwhackers loaded their satchels,pockets, boots, and even their canteens with as much loot as they could carry.

The night ended with the sounds of coins hitting the ground like heavy rain drops. As the thieves rode away into the night, loose coins jostled out of their clothes as if to offer payment for compliance.

The Confederate’s massive treasure shipment melted away in that Georgia night. It was never recovered.

The $135,000 Star Wars Fan Holiday Gift

bb8_diamondHave you noticed? A little story about something that happened in a galaxy far, far away is taking over pop culture.

Star Wars fever is back with the upcoming December 17 release of The Force Awakens, and we’re about to see branded merchandise everywhere. It’s all exciting, but one piece of merch is obviously king of the heap.

Disney has released a one-of-a-kind spin on the flick’s cutest droid, BB-8, in 18-carat gold and diamonds. The resulting piece is probably the world’s shiniest robot and was appraised at $135,000.

The bejeweled droid is just 4.25″ high, weighs a little over one and a half pounds, and is made of 18-carat yellow gold and 18 carats of diamonds. (That’s an estimated 860 stones.)

It will be auctioned off later this month, after being displayed at the Force 4 Fashion exhibit in New York. Proceeds from the auction will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Shine on, you crazy diamond-studded robot. Shine on.

Three Worst Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Coin Collection

Coin collecting worst mistakes

John’s in deep trouble. He just started collecting coins, and had a great collecting plan: a smart budget, an interesting collection type, and a steady approach to shopping for his first coins.

Then he forgot it all and started making big mistakes. He got overexcited, pulled the trigger on a bunch of coins without researching them first. He blew his whole budget (and then some!) on a stack of coins worth less than what he paid for them.

Now he’s broke, has no money for new coins or anything else, and his wife is on his case.

Don’t be like John.

Coin collecting is a fun, rewarding, and potentially lucrative hobby. Stay smart and avoid these beginner mistakes.

Avoid Impulse Buys

Buying on impulse is the fastest way to throw away good money on a bad investment. Don’t get suckered by a smooth-talking salesman or a shiny Instagram pic.

Think about it just like any other investment. Do your research. Look at, PCGS, the Red Book, and other reputable resources to get an approximate valuation for that coin. These tools will let you pay a fair price and avoid those bad deals.

Store and Handle Coins Properly

Some inexperienced collectors take their coins home and toss them together in a box or storage container. The coins spend their days rattling around together, getting tossed out on a table and manhandled by grimy, uneducated hands.

This is a great way to destroy the value of your coins—so don’t do it!

Coins should be properly stored in special coin albums or folders. This prevents them from coming in contact with other coins, which will cut down on nicks, scratches, and other damage.

When handling the coins, hold the edge of the coin—never the flat obverse or reverse faces. This will minimize the transfer of oils to the coin, preventing unnecessary erosion or other damage.

Don’t Clean That Tarnish!

This is where many collectors run into trouble. It is important to use proper cleaning techniques on coins in your collection. The best advice for cleaning coins: DON’T.

It can be tempting to remove tarnish and imperfections from a coin, so you have a pretty collection of bright and shiny coins. However, this is one of the worst things you can do for your coins. Tarnish gives a patina to a coin that makes it more valuable to other collectors.

Store your coins properly and keep them away from cleaning supplies.

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