Welcome to iHCPL: The Next Generation. This site was created as the next step in Harris County Public Library's iHCPL Learning 2.0 Program; a discovery learning program designed to encourage staff to explore new technologies. The original iHCPL program was adapted from The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County's Learning 2.0 Program.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Crafts & Hobbies #65: Coin Collecting

Having finished pumping his gas, the old man walked into the station to pay the clerk. Ahead of him in line at the counter was a young man, who asked the clerk if he would accept a gold coin as payment. The clerk reluctantly agreed. Intrigued, the old man craned his head and caught a glimpse of a small $10 U.S. gold bullion piece being offered. A casual collector for most of his life, and having lived long enough to recognize a fool when he saw one, the old man realized he had an opportunity to capitalize on what seemed an otherwise insignificant transaction. He stepped up next to the counter as the clerk dropped the coin in the register. After paying for his gas, the old man made an offer. “I’ll give you $10 for that coin.” “Sure,” the clerk replied. “Not sure I can do anything with it anyway.” The deal struck and the coin now in hand, the old man had a hard time concealing a self-satisfied smirk as he walked back to his truck. It was the easiest profit he ever made. The unwitting clerk had practically paid the old man for a full tank and a few to follow.

True story.

This post is worth .5 training hours.

© 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
You may not know it, but most of the coins you’re accustomed to handling day in and day out have two different values -- one as legal tender and one for coin collectors and dealers. No, you’re not likely to find any single piece of change in your pocket that will instantly alter your fortune, but if you keep a brand new coin in excellent shape it’ll probably be worth at least a little more than face value down the road.

Coin collecting, besides being an investment, is a fun and interesting hobby that you can pursue in a variety of directions depending on your resources and what catches your eye. A good place to begin online to find out which coins strike your interest is the U.S. Mint’s website. There you can learn about all of the coins currently in circulation here in the U.S. along with special and commemorative coins that you can purchase directly from the mint or from a local coin dealer.

One of the most common starting points for a collector is what you’ve got in your pocket or piggy bank. For many—usually the younger ones—it all starts with a curiosity in the ubiquitous Lincoln cent. It just so happens that 2009 marks its 100th year in circulation, and the Mint has seen fit to strike four new designs on the reverse of the coin during the year in commemoration of this anniversary. If, however, the penny holds little curiosity for you, almost anyone would be familiar over the last few years with the state quarters program, which sparked an interest in casual collecting among the general public. All of the designs had been struck and were in circulation by the end of 2008, and you probably wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find someone—maybe yourself—with a complete set in their possession.

Perhaps after a little time you become interested in something other pocket change. You might browse through the U.S. Mint’s Historical Image Library and find something more appealing. Or perhaps you thumb through what’s known as the Red Book, the official annual price guide for U.S. coinage, or other books in the library on the hobby and find something much more lucrative worth collecting. In any case, it definitely pays to do your research before you exchange a stack of hard-earned bills for a few coins, albeit attractive ones. You might even want to take a look at some reputable sites online, such as this one at About.com, which offers quite a bit of valuable info in one place for both new and experienced collectors.

So, once you know what you want and have educated yourself on how to pursue the hobby as a wise investor, how do you find the coins you crave? Well, there’s always Google Maps, where you can simply enter “coin dealers” and your zip code in the search field to find a dealer quick, easy and close. But where else? To find a trustworthy and reputable dealer, you might want to try the Professional Numismatists Guild’s dealer search. If, however, you’re the type who’d prefer to shop at home, there are plenty of online auction and dealer sites, one of the most popular of course being eBay, which boasts a substantial online marketplace for common collectibles. As always, be sure to check eBay seller ratings before making any bid or sealing any deal. Also, another well-known auction site worth looking into for the rarest and most expensive of coins is Heritage Auction Galleries, based in Dallas, Texas.

If you find yourself getting serious about the hobby and decide to deal in rare and expensive coins, you might want to consider having them graded for a fee by a professional coin grading service. Many serious collectors prefer these “slabbed” coins since an official grade can solidify value and effectively narrow a price when selling or purchasing. About.com again offers good info on the subject of coin grading. Among the more well-known and respected services is the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). Other services include the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the American Numismatic Association Certification Service (ANACS), and the Independent Coin Grading Company (ICG).

You’re probably not going find yourself dealing in graded coins anytime soon, and chances are you won’t come across a rare find during a casual trip to the gas station. However, given the chance, coin collecting can be a one of the most rewarding hobbies with lasting value.


1) Spread out some of the change in your pocket, purse or piggy bank and see if you find anything interesting upon closer inspection. If not, ask an older relative if they have something stashed away somewhere, as they often do. See if you can identify them at the Historical Image Library website or with the most up-to-date copy of the Red Book at your library branch.

2) Try to find a local coin dealer using the Professional Numismatists Guild’s dealer search or Google Maps. If you get a chance, make a visit and do a little window shopping. See if anything catches your eye.

3) Blog about your experiences or thoughts on this module or coin collecting in general. Did you run across anything attractive or intriguing? Could you see yourself getting seriously interested in the hobby or would you consider yourself only an occasional collector?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I ran across an interesting dollar bill the other day. It wasn't old or even worth more than a dollar, but it was marked with a "Track George" stamp. There is a website called Where's George. It tracks bills as they travel around the country. www.wheresgeorge.com You just type in the serial number of a dollar bill and then it locates where it has been. The bill I found had traveled from Santa Clara, CA to Houston in 150 days. Just a cool little sight.