1: Old equals valuable. Many beginning collectors opt for the oldest coins they can find, assuming that the age of the coin contributes significantly to the value. This is not the case; for one thing, fakes and replicas of ancient coins have flooded the market, and it is often difficult if not impossible to be sure which ones are real. The coins often have little to no provenance, and some have been collected illegally. If you want to collect ancient coins, by all means, go ahead! There are many beautiful and worthwhile coins in this category. Just be aware that these coins are not inherently valuable due to age.
2: Early 20th century is old. If you participate in any coin collecting groups on Facebook or other social media, you know that it’s not uncommon for a stranger to post in a group, asking for help getting a value for an “old” coin, that turns out to be from the 1940’s, or a similar date. Twentieth century coins can be valuable, but they are not considered particularly old (nor would being “old” necessarily add much value.) The penny has only changed reverse design a few times since 1909, and the obverse is almost unchanged. Many of our other coins are similarly static.
3: Errors are easy to spot. Many errors on coins are very difficult to see, and frequently only visible to a very practiced eye (armed with a good magnifying glass!) Some errors, like offset coins or other mint errors, are obvious, but usually less valuable than the more subtle errors.
4: Fakes are easy to spot. As with error coins, some fakes are obvious, but others are very difficult to detect. More and more mints around the world are using new technologies to prevent fakes from being passed off as real coins; as technology improves, so do the quality of fake coins.
5: “Very good” is an excellent grade of coin. Not necessarily. The Sheldon grading scale, the most common one in use today, ranks coins from good to worse as follows: Mint State (MS-66-70), Mint State (MS-60 to 65), About Uncirculated, Extra Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good. Coins in “Very Good” condition are often more affordable than others, but may not have the value of higher grade coins. However, if the main interest is the design of the coin rather than the condition, these can be excellent options for a collector.
6: Grading is objective. Not as much as we wish! It would make collecting and selling/buying coins much simpler if grading were perfectly objective. While there are some objective markers (damage to a coin’s surface, etc) that can affect quality, many coins may be graded differently by different people. Even experts don’t always agree. Most collectors are content with gradings done by professional grading services, but this is often cost-effective only for coins of higher value.
7: Collecting coins is a good way to make money. Have people made money from coin collections? Absolutely. Is it a reliable gold mine? Absolutely not. A coin collection can be a decent investment, but is best enjoyed as a pursuit in its own right. (Those seeking investment opportunities might find that bullion meets their needs better than coins.) Why bother to collect coins if you don’t enjoy them? Collect what you like without worrying too much about investment.