There may be many good reasons why you might be thinking about collecting coins. Each coin tells a story of some kind, with the message delivered through its unique design, mint mark, and composition. You can even learn a lot about the life of a specific coin by the condition it is in. For some it's a unique glimpse into the past and a snapshot of a specific point in time. But to be able to read the story of how coins fit into our world, understanding coin collecting is essential.
Understand the Terms:
One of the first things you'll have to do when you become a collector is to learn the terms used to describe a coin. Knowledge of these terms will help you to communicate better with dealers and other collectors. Here are just a few terms that are essential for understanding coin collecting.
Obverse: The front of the coin or the "head." This is the side of the coin where the date is printed and the design is set.
Reverse: This is the back of the coin or the "tail."
Edge: Coins have different edges, a plain edge is smooth, a reeded edge has small ridges around it, a lettered edge has a series of letters or words embedded in it, and the decorated edge has a printed design.
Rim: The raised edge you find on both sides of some coins, usually added to protect the design from wearing down.
Legend: The inscription or lettering you'll find on every coin.
Mint Mark: You'll find a small letter or a symbol that identifies the location where the coin was made. Coins made today will have the letter (P) for Philadelphia, (D) for Denver, (S) for San Francisco, and (W) for West Point.
Relief: The raised design of the coin is the relief.
Field: The flat part of the coin's surface where no design or inscription is found.
These terms are only to help you to describe coins and to understand what a dealer may be telling you. There are a lot more terms you'll have to master before really understanding coin collecting.
Learn How Coins Are Made:
Making coins is not an easy process. It requires a lot of work and attention to detail in order to mint coins successfully. Each coin has to go through a series of steps: blanking, annealing, upsetting, striking, inspecting, counting, and bagging. Each step has a specific purpose and must be done with extreme care. If you really wish to become a coin collector, it might be a good idea for you to visit one of the mints either in Denver or San Francisco, and see first hand what goes into making the coins that we use every day. You'll learn a lot about why our coins look the way they do and why they are so valuable.
Whatever your reason for becoming a coin collector, it's more than just picking up something of value that you can share with the people around you, it's also about picking up a little of our history and what made us into the country we have today.