Pacific Northwest Numismatic Association

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Introduction to Numismatics (Class Notes)

by Numismatist Joseph E. Boling

  • IBNS (Treasurer; Past President; LM 8)

  • ANA (Board Member, 2007-2009, Chief Judge, 1991-93, 1995-2007; LM 2888)

  • PNNA (former Secretary, Treasurer; HLM 26)

  • ANS (Standing Committee on East Asian Coinage; Life Fellow)


Revised 7 January 2002; partially revised by PNNA webmaster, Sept. 2008.

Collectibles — money (numismatics)

  • Numismatics — the collection and study of coins, medals, tokens, decorations, paper money, stocks/bonds, souvenir cards, exonumia

  • Where found — circulation, family hoards, treasure, auctions, dealers, coin shows, "mints," museums

  • Sorting and classification — general knowledge, examination, reference books

  • Care (with care) and cleaning (don’t)

  • Housing and storage — working, permanent, short term, long term — metallic and paper

  • Authentication — contemporary counterfeits, museum counterfeits, commercial counterfeits, collectors’ counterfeits, "innocent" replicas, the Hobby Protection Act

  • Grading — adjectival, numeric, proof, third-party, foreign, paper

  • Evaluation — face value, intrinsic (bullion) value, retail sale offerings, auction prices realized, reference books

  • Retail vs. wholesale

  • "Investment" potential — short term (none), long term (possibly)

  • Appraisal — insurance, probate, sale

  • Disposal — gift (family, charity), auction, sale (collector, dealer), consignment for sale

  • Hobby associations — national, regional, local, specialized

  • Exhibiting — competitive, non-competitive (local, regional, national, international)

  • Sources of information — book stores, public libraries, numismatic book sellers, dealers, collectors, hobby association libraries

The following is a more detailed explanation of the above topics.

Numismatics — each of the areas below has a wide following and specialist organizations

  • coins — US, foreign, commemorative, "non-circulating legal tender," ancient, primitive, errors

  • medals — commemorative, award, amuletic, souvenir, elongated coins, love tokens

  • tokens — "good for," emergency, transit, sales tax, ration, advertising, gambling, communion, woods

  • decorations — orders, decorations, campaign medals, service medals, fraternal badges

  • paper money — currency (governments at all levels, banks), scrip, emergency, military

  • scripophily — stocks, bonds, autographs, warrants, broadsides, lottery tickets

  • souvenir cards — replicas of (usually) banknotes to commemorate coin conventions or other events

  • exonumia — political materials, advertising mirrors, ribbons

Where found

  • circulation — pocket change or current notes, domestic and foreign

  • family hoards — cigar boxes, safe deposit boxes, jars of cents, heirlooms (including jewelry)

  • treasure — sunken, buried, metal-detected

  • auctions — estate sales, liquidations, collectibles, numismatic

  • dealers — vest pocket, full time, storefront, itinerant, national and international houses

  • coin shows — local, regional, national, international

  • "mints" — national, commercial, mass advertisers, telemarketers

  • museums — local historical, banks, universities, numismatic

Sorting and classification

  • general knowledge — slang names, daily usage

  • examination — legends, devices, dates, mint marks, privy marks

  • reference books — general, specialized

Care and cleaning

  • Handle by edges (especially copper/silver, items with proof surfaces)

  • Handle with care (especially paper)

  • DO NOT CLEAN — use no abrasives, silver polish, "dip," soap and water, oils, erasers

  • Leave cleaning to specialists — there are safe ways to clean, but only in the hands of experts
    Editor's note: Also see my comments under "Grading."

Housing and storage

  • working storage — soft plastic holders ("flips"), 2x2 coin holders, paper envelopes, "penny boards"

  • permanent storage — archival materials (Mylar or polyethylene plastics, acid- and sulfur-free papers/bindings), low humidity, stable temperatures, no coins in contact


  • contemporary counterfeits — meant to deceive the commercial public in circulation

  • museum counterfeits — electrotypes, casts

  • commercial counterfeits (gold coins) — created when holding gold was restricted — thousands exist

  • collectors’ counterfeits — meant to deceive collectors (now or earlier) (cast, struck, altered)

  • "innocent" replicas — advertising promotions, amuletic pieces

  • Hobby Protection Act — requires that replicas be marked (since 1973); domestic application only; not well-known or well-observed


  • adjectival — poor, fair, good, very good, fine, very fine, extremely fine, about uncirculated, uncirculated (choice, gem, and so forth); different standards for every coin type

  • numeric — AG-3, G-4, VG-8, F-12, VF-20, VF-30, EF-40, EF-45, AU-50, AU-55, AU-58, MS-60 to MS-70

  • what’s a proof? — a method of manufacture, not a grade, though proof coins also get graded

  • third-party — ANACS, PCGS, NGC, others; "Eagle-Eye"; technical grading vs. "market" grading

  • foreign — some standards exist for Canada, Britain, but none so detailed as for US coins

  • paper — same adjectival grades, common across issues, but to different standards (IBNS for world notes, US commercial (more lenient)); numeric grading of paper just starting to be accepted
    Editor's note: Also see my comments under "Grading."


  • face value — if still valid (often worth more than face value for older issues in high grades)

  • intrinsic (bullion) value — value of silver or gold (in troy ounces) at market rate, less smelting charges

  • retail sale offerings — must be for same grade and variety; can vary widely

  • auction prices realized — must have several examples, and must also be same grade/variety

  • reference books — can be outdated, are only estimates in any event (or worse — can be self-serving)

Retail vs. wholesale

  • Spread can be as low as 10% for high value pieces with an immediate turnover; material can be non-salable if common or in low grade (or if offered to the wrong buyer). Figure on being offered 40%-60% of retail for desirable material; much less for low-end material.

"Investment" potential

  • short term — virtually none; the spreads are too large, the material not very liquid; exception could be bullion coins in a volatile precious metals market (with equal potential for loss)

  • long term — only if collected with an objective in mind and with knowledge born of studying the series; if the best quality material is acquired, then held for years (or decades); and if disposed of properly.


  • for insurance — appraise at replacement cost (must describe the material explicitly)

  • for probate — appraise at low wholesale

  • for sale — appraise at "best wholesale" or auction expectation (and be prepared to take the time to achieve this result — see disposal below)


  • gift (family) — bequeath or give to a family member who will appreciate the material or who will know how to dispose of it advantageously if retention is not desired

  • gift (charity) — similar to above, but with knowledgeable tax advice (this can be tricky)

  • auction — find the company that specializes in your material (divide it if necessary); be prepared to wait for several months to be paid; expect some results to be disappointing

  • sale (to collector) — find a collector who specializes in and needs the material (not someone planning to turn it over)

  • sale (to dealer) — find a dealer who specializes in your material (divide it if necessary); get several offers; negotiate

  • consignment (to dealer) — expect some pieces to not sell (and thus be nearly unsalable if you selected the proper dealer to handle the material); expect to wait many months for final disposition
    Editor's note: Also see my comments under "Coin Buying and Selling."

Hobby associations

Exhibiting — a means of sharing knowledge (or bragging about what you have)

  • competitive — for trophies, occasionally for valuable coins, at local to national levels

  • non-competitive — for the experience, or to educate, at local to national levels

Sources of information

  • book stores — for the most common general-purpose books on US and foreign coins or notes

  • public libraries — for the same books, and the occasional specialized book

  • numismatic book sellers — sell at retail or auction, and can be the only source for obscure or out of print books and journals

  • dealers — will often share their knowledge and libraries, but not always, and nobody knows everything

  • collectors — will often share their knowledge, and write many articles/books for specialty societies

  • hobby association libraries — have depth of resources found in few places; some loan books by mail

  • Editor's choice: This web site and the many other numismatic sites on the Internet!

National, regional, and specialty societies

  • American Numismatic Association
    818 North Cascade
    Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279
    800-467-5725 (member services)
    dues $33/yr ($29 for seniors 65+, plus $6 initiation fee, first year)
    monthly journal (The Numismatist), semiannual convention

  • American Numismatic Society
    Broadway at 155th Street
    New York, NY 10032-7598
    212-234-3130 (fax 212-234-3381)
    dues $40/yr, quarterly newsletter

  • Canadian Numismatic Association
    Executive Secretary
    PO Box 226
    Barrie, Ont L4M 4T2 CANADA

  • International Bank Note Society
    Milan Alusic, General Secretary
    PO Box 1642
    Racine, WI 53401
    dues $20/yr ($25 family), quarterly Journal

  • Society of Paper Money Collectors
    Bob Cochran, Secretary
    PO Box 1085
    Florissant, MO 63031
    dues $24/yr, bi-monthly Paper Money

  • Token and Medal Society
    PO Box 951988
    Lake Mary FL 32795-1988
    bi-monthly TAMS Journal

  • Numismatics International
    PO Box 670013
    Dallas, TX 75367-0013

Regional societies

plus state associations for most states, several each for the very populous states

Specialty societies

  • American British Numismatic Association

  • American Israel Numismatic Association

  • American Medallic Sculpture Association

  • American Political Items Collectors

  • American Society for Portuguese Numismatics

  • American Society of Check Collectors

  • American Tax Token Society

  • American Vecturist Association (for transit token collectors)

  • Amusement Token Collectors Association

  • Armenian Numismatic Society

  • Barber Coin Collectors Society (named for coin designer Charles Barber)

  • Bust Half Nut Club

  • Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club

  • Civil War Token Society

  • Colonial Coin Club

  • Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America (CONECA)

  • Currency Club of Chester County, Penna.

  • Currency Club of New England

  • Dedicated Wooden Money Collectors

  • Early American Coppers, Inc.

  • The Elongated Collectors

  • Indiana-Kentucky-Ohio Token and Medal Soc

  • Int’l Assn of Professional Numismatists

  • Int’l Association of Silver Art Collectors

  • Int’l Association of Wooden Money Collectors

  • International Primitive Money Society

  • International Society of Jeton Collectors

  • John Reich Collectors Society

  • Latin American Paper Money Society

  • Liberty Seated Collectors Club

  • Lithuanian Numismatic Society

  • Love Token Society

  • Medal Collectors of America

  • National Scrip Collectors Association

  • National Silver Dollar Roundtable

  • Numismatic Bibliomania Society

  • Numismatic Literary Guild (for authors and editors)

  • Old Time Assay Commission Society

  • Oriental Numismatic Society

  • PAK Jefferson Full Step Nickel Club

  • Paper Money Collectors of Michigan

  • Polish-American Numismatic Society

  • Professional Currency Dealers Association

  • Professional Numismatists Guild (for dealers)

  • Russian Numismatic Society

  • Societe Americaine pour l’Etude de la Numismatique Franηaise

  • Society for Ancient Numismatics

  • Society for Medieval Numismatics

  • Society for U.S. Commemorative Coins

  • Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors

  • Society of Philatelists and Numismatists

  • Society of Private and Pioneer Numismatics

  • Society of Ration Token Collectors

  • Souvenir Card Collectors Society

  • World’s Fair Collectors Society

Reference list

U.S. coins

  • Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins. Western Publishing Co., annual, "The Redbook" (retail values).

  • Yeoman, R.S., A Handbook of United States Coins. Western Publishing Co., annual, "The Blue Book" (wholesale values).

  • American Numismatic Assn., Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins, 5th ed. American Numismatic Association, 1996.

  • Ruddy, James F. New Photograde. Bowers and Merena Galleries, 1988.

U.S. paper money

  • Hessler, Gene. The Comprehensive Catalog of U. S. Paper Money. BNR Press, 1997.

  • Friedberg, Robert. Paper Money of the United States. Krause Publications, 199?.

  • Krause, Chester L., and Robert F. Lemke. Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money, Krause Publications, annual.

  • Newman, Eric P. The Early Paper Money of America, Krause Publications, 1997.

  • Criswell, Grover C. Comprehensive Catalog of Confederate Paper Money. BNR Press 1996.

World coins

  • Krause, Chester L., and Clifford Mishler. 2002 Standard Catalog of World Coins: 1901-present, 29th ed., Krause Publications, 2001.

  • ——. Standard Catalog of World Coins: 1601-1700, 2nd ed, Krause Publications, 1999.

  • ——. Standard Catalog of World Coins: 1701-1800, 2nd ed, Krause Publications, 1997.

  • ——. Standard Catalog of World Coins: 1801-1900, 3rd ed, Krause Publications, 2001.

World paper money

  • Shafer, Neil, and Colin R. Bruce II, eds. Standard Catalog of World Paper Money: vol. 1, specialized issues, 8th ed, Krause Publications, 1998.

  • ——. Standard Catalog of World Paper Money: vol 2, general issues 1368-1960, 9th ed., Krause Publications, 2000.

  • Bruce, Colin R. II and Neil Shafer, eds. Standard Catalog of World Paper Money: vol. 3, modern issues, 1961-2000, 7th ed, Krause Publications, 2001.


  • Schwan, Fred. Comprehensive Catalog of Military Payment Certificates, BNR Press, 1997.

  • Schwan, C. Frederick, and Joseph E. Boling. World War II Remembered: history in your hands, a numismatic study, BNR Press, 1995.


  • Coin World, PO Box 150, Sidney, OH 45365-0150, 800-673-8311 FAX 937-498-0812 subscriptions 800-253-4555.

  • Numismatic News; World Coin News; Banknote Reporter, Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001, subscriptions 800-258-0929 FAX 715-445-4087.

  • The Numismatist, American Numismatic Association, 818 North Cascade, Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279 800-467-5725 (member services).

plus hundreds of other titles (I have twelve bookcases of numismatic books and periodicals)!