Introduction to Numismatics

See the main reference page for other topics and resources.

Revised 7 January 2002; partially revised by PNNA webmaster, Sept. 2008 and Nov. 2023.

  • 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)
  • Several other clubs and organizations.

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 — bookstores, 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 and Cleaning.”

Housing and storage

  • working storage — soft plastic holders (“flips”), 2×2 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 COPY (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 now accepted.
    Editor’s note: Also see my comments under “Grading and Cleaning.”


  • 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 (or bullion) 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 “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

  • bookstores — 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 website and some of the many other numismatic websites on the Internet!

National, regional, and specialty societies

See each organization’s website for current dues and information. Some of the addresses listed below may be out of date.

Regional (and large state) societies

There are state numismatic associations for most states. Very populous states such as California have multiple associations.

Specialty societies

Some of these are included on our “Other Links” page.

  • 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 Collectors Club (C4)
  • 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 Française
  • 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 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.
  • 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!)