In 1999, the United States Mint began releasing the new State Quarter designs. Serious collectors and the general public alike were delighted by the coins, trying to collect each new design as soon as it came out. Collections were displayed in various ways, from professional frames to maps to homemade mountings. The New York Times reported that nearly half of all Americans collected the coins, either as a serious pursuit or casual collections. It was easily the most popular numismatic program in the nation’s history.
If you’re like many Americans, you have a full or partial set of state quarters somewhere, gathering dust. Do you still look at them and remember how fun it was when you saw a new design for the first time? Maybe you miss the excitement of finding a new design in a handful of change.
Coin collecting can still feel like that! You don’t have to focus on “serious” coins to be a serious collector. If you want to learn all the ins and outs of mint marks, strikes, and other numismatic concerns, great! If you don’t, that’s fine, too. Coin collecting is open to everyone from every interest and budget.
“But I don’t know what else to collect!”
The short answer: you can collect anything you want. But that’s probably not very helpful. Here’s a better way to think about it: what interests you?
Coins have been made for thousands of years; for most of written history, in fact. So whatever historical period catches your attention, you can collect coins from it. Ancient coins will be more expensive and harder to find than modern coins, but they are available. And there’s nothing wrong with collecting modern coins! Maybe you’d like to find every coin minted in your birth year, or collect pennies from every year of the twentieth century. Whether you’re into the 1980’s or the 80’s AD, there are coins for you.
You can often get lovely commemorative or uncirculated coins with historic themes. For example, the Australian Mint has a stunning set of convict-themed coins, linking back to the country’s history as a penal colony.
Some of the earliest coins made depict various animals, and they have always been popular subjects for coins and currency. Powerful creatures like eagles and lions are common, but stags, antelope, beavers, and even the odd kiwi bird have made appearances. Commemorative coins are often a good place to find your favorite animals, but many can be found on circulating coinage from around the world.
Got a green thumb? Check for your favorite plants on coins. Palm trees and olives are common, but you can also find unique plants if you look closely enough. The 1938 Newfoundland 1 cent coin has a purple pitcher plant on the reverse, possibly the only carnivorous plant to appear on a coin.
A plant that appears on a coin may be something native to the country, such as the olive on this Palestinian coin. It may also have a symbolic meaning, such as palms for victory.
Many mints produce coins to commemorate particular events, notable people, and other special subjects. These coins are often highly decorative, and may have bright colors or use multiple metals. These coins never go into circulation, so you’ll have to make a special purchase to get them.
The Canadian Mint just released a spectacular new set of Star Trek coins, with several colorful designs. (In fact, they even invited William Shatner to see the Mint and strike one of the coins! You can see that moment on their Twitter page.) They also produced a stunning Superman coin to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the character.
Going somewhere? Keep your pocket change after the trip! Challenge yourself to find as many different kinds of coins on the trip as you can. Display them with photos of the trip as a special memento, or create a map of your journey with the coins attached (be sure to find a type of display that won’t damage your coins: any good coin collecting supply store can help.)
If your destination is somewhere special to you, you can collect coins that remind you of the area, or reflect local history or flora and fauna.
Is science your thing? Many coins reflect scientists, discoveries, and scientific equipment. This coin from the Canadian Mint celebrates the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, and has a glow-in-the-dark feature. Or, if paleontology is more your style, you can collect dinosaur coins. If you’re into biology, you could collect coins from the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin made some of his key discoveries.
These are just a few ideas for coin collections: you can always create your own idea, or go with some of the classics. CoinWeek has some great ideas for traditional collections.