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How Do I Start A Coin Collection?

Most people who end up as coin collectors stumbled into the hobby, and began collecting purely for the love of collecting interesting and cool coins.  Most collectors are NOT motivated by profit.   While it is nice if your collection grows in value, it is not the primary motivator.  There are others who collect purely for profit.  These are not true collectors and some are sure to be disappointed as there is no guarantee that a coin you buy today will rise in price.  Saying you collect coins for profit, is like saying you collect stocks for fun.  That being said, if you are the type of person who has not collected coins but want to get started, it is not that hard.

Starting a coin collection is not that tough at all.  You may think that you have to buy a bunch of expensive coins, but you do not.  You can merely reach into your pocket and pull out a bunch of coins and you have a collection.  More accurately, this would be an accumulation.  OK, that does not sound like much fun, and there would not be any organization to it and thus, would likely not yield much pleasure.  But the point is, any logical grouping of coins can be a collection.    

In order to truly start and have some organization, you will need to determine two items.  The first is how much you want to spend and the 2nd part is what you may be interested in.  Let’s say for the sake of discussion you are interested in Lincoln Cents.  The first thing you should do is buy a few books on Lincoln Cent collecting.  Since I doubt you will go buy that book and then come back here and finish this article, I will discuss several ways to collect.  These strategies would be the same or very similar for any other series of coins.  Let’s discuss several of these strategies:

A Short Set

Many collectors will collect just a date range of a particular series.  The primary reason for this is cost while the other reason is availability.  Most series of coins usually have one or two coins that for a variety of reasons are just not available or way to pricey.  These coins are called “keys” or “semi-keys” and are called this because they are the key to the series, which means they are usually quite rare and pricey in comparison to other coins in the series.  An easy and popular example of a short set of Lincolns is the date range from 1941 to 1958, including all mint marks.  All the coins in this range are very easily obtainable and happen to coincide with the popular Whitman folders in regards to date ranges.  You can buy a very inexpensive folder, usually around $3.00.  The folder usually has the date range from 1941 to 1974, but many people stop at 1958 because that is when the Mint stopped making wheat cents and began Memorial Cents in 1959.  Since this is YOUR collection, thus choice is yours.  If you want a higher end collection, you can collect BU/UNC Lincoln Cents that are still blazing RED.  While it may cost you a few hundred dollars, it is very obtainable and your net result will be a very beautiful collection.

Another great example of a good short set is a set of Walking Liberty Half Dollars dated from 1941 through 1947 including all mints.  This set consists of 20 coins and can be obtained in average circulated condition for not much over melt.

A Set by Year

 Some collectors will collect a coin from each year.  The advantage to this is that you can usually obtain a coin from each year very reasonably and not have to buy any keys.  For example, many years have at least two and sometimes 3 choices to obtain.  In the Lincoln series, the year 1939 has a 1939 P, a 1939 D and a 1939 S.   But in 1922, only Denver made Lincoln Cents. Since there were no “P” and no “S” coins that year, the 1922-D is your only choice.  Note: While there are some 1922 Lincoln Cents without mint marks, they are rare and expensive and are the result of a mint error.  Another series where you might want to opt for is a year set is the Mercury Dime series,  The 1916-D is a very pricey coin while a 1916-P can be bought for under $5.00 for a G-VG coin. 

A complete Set

 Putting together a complete set in any series of coins is usually a challenge.  The Lincoln set is no exception.  A complete set is every coin from every year including every mint.  Some people will take this a step further and insist a complete set must include the most popular varieties/errors.  For the Lincoln series this might include a 1955 Double Die, the 1922 Plain and a few other coins.  These are very pricey.  To complete this series, you will need to spend several thousand dollars as the 1909-S VDB, 1909-S, 1914-D may run $2000 for just these 3 coins.

Almost all other series of coins can get very pricey when trying to put together a complete set.  A couple exceptions are Roosevelt Dimes and Jefferson Nickels


When beginning a collection, remember the choice is yours.  You can collect what you want and how you want.  When it comes to coin collecting, there is no right or wrong answer if you are collecting for fun.

Keith Scott has been a collector for over 30 years. His website has US coins for sale. He also writes Coin Collecting Articles for fun. Visit his websites for a history of US coins, metal market updates and news about your favorite coins.

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