For many years the U.S. Mint has sold annual sets of proof coins. These “regular” proof sets usually contain one proof coin of each denomination minted. In 1983, 1984 and 1986-97, Prestige Sets were also sold. Prestige Sets include all the coins in the regular set, plus one or two commemorative coins issued the same year.
Since 1992, the Mint has also offered Silver Proof Sets, which include 90% silver versions of the proof dime, quarter(s) and half dollar.
From 1992 through 1998, the Mint also offered a Premier Silver Proof Set. The two types of silver proof sets contain the same coins, with the premier set housing them in fancier packaging.
You could also collect slabs. A certified coin, or slab, is a coin that has been authenticated, graded and encased in a sonically sealed, hard plastic holder by a professional certification service. The holder affords protection from subsequent wear or damage but is not airtight and therefore will not prevent toning. Because any tampering with the holder will be obvious, it also prevents replacing the certified coin with something else.
Counterfeit and altered coins slabbed by major certification services are not unknown but are uncommon. The authenticity of a coin may be guaranteed by the company that slabbed it. Therefore, a coin slabbed by a major certification service offers some protection, especially when fakes are known to exist and the prospective buyer is not able to reliably determine its authenticity.
As we will discuss later, grades are opinions. The same coin may receive different grades if submitted to different services or even if “cracked out” and resubmitted to the same service. Furthermore, grading standards for some uncirculated coins have changed since slabs were first produced (1986), so a coin in an early slab may receive a different grade if resubmitted now.
The grade indicated on a slab represents the opinions of no more than a few persons who examined the coin at the time it was submitted, and not the final word on the subject. As a result, slabbed coins given identical grades may have different market values. Whenever possible, buy the coin, not the holder.
Prices range from $7.50 to $175.00 per coin, depending on the service and turnaround time, plus shipping costs in both directions.
The skills and equipment needed to encapsulate coins in slab-like holders can be acquired more easily than the expertise needed to accurately authenticate and grade coins. Holders from the services listed above are not the only types that appear in the marketplace.
However, slabs from some “services” may not be regarded by experienced numismatists as legitimate and may not even be backed by a guarantee of the coin’s authenticity. Learning about the service’s reputation and soliciting other opinions about a coin’s condition may save you from paying considerably more than its true market value.
Some collectors concentrate on world coins. This is the term given to collections of relatively recent modern coins from nations around the world. Collectors of world coins are often interested in geography. They can “travel the world” vicariously through their collecting.
A popular way to collect world coins is to acquire representative examples from every country or coin issuing authority. Some collect by subject. This could be finding coins from around the world that feature animals.
Because world coins are usually very inexpensive, this may be a good starting point for children. Many children find foreign coins by looking under change-to-cash machines where customers throw away assorted coins found in their penny jars. Some of these can be from Canada, South Africa, or Mexico.
We do have a section on getting kids started in coin collecting, so there’s much more information there about this aspect of coin collecting.
Here are some other suggestions on ways to categorize your coin collection and focus your efforts.
• Collect coins of a specific country or group of countries.
• A collector by type or series aims to acquire one of each type or series of coins, for example, U.S. gold eagles or Lincoln pennies.
• You may wish to concentrate on coins made of a particular metal such as gold or silver coins.
• Consider collecting coins with a particular theme such as coins with animal designs, boat designs or various commemorative coins such as Olympic coins.
• Some collectors focus on coins issued with some error in the coin’s design, composition, date or inscription.
• Another specialty is the collection of non-monetary “coins” such as war medals and commemorative tokens.
• Save a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter from the year you were born. Try to find one from each mint. Coins from the Denver Mint in Colorado and the Philadelphia Mint in Pennsylvania are different.
• Create a coin set from every year since you were born. Try to find them from both mints.
• Find coins from around the world. Locate their countries on the map. Learn what the coins’ pictures mean to that country.
It’s all really up to you what and how you collect your coins, but as we’ve said before, don’t start by collecting in too many styles – it could be overwhelming. Start small with one kind of collection and expand as you become more proficient.