One particular style of collecting coins is so typical and familiar that even non-collectors are often aware of it. Placing one coin of each date and mintmark into a book or album is an image that many of us will remember from childhood, even if we never became lifelong collectors. Although today’s version more typically involves purchasing certified or graded coins that do not fit into those traditional coin albums, the essence is the same—numismatists over the years have tended to acquire one of each date and mintmark of a particular series, or perhaps one of each type for a “type set.”
While it is a classic and well-loved way of building a set, however, this is certainly not the only way. Another enjoyable way of putting together a coin or paper money collection is by theme. This can be based on a historical time period, the life of a person that interests you, or simply a general theme that ties coin issues together.
Topically, collectors can go in any variety of directions when choosing how to focus their set. You might consider collecting coins that were struck in off-metal compositions or as accidental errors. This could include off-metal patterns, uncommon metal compositions such as 1943 Steel Cents, and more. Error paper money could accompany such pieces quite well. Another topic to build a collection around might be animals, given that coins from antiquity to present have been produced by many countries with birds, bears, wolves, owls and much more that grace their surfaces. Finally, some collectors choose exclusively pieces that were designed by the same artist, such as the ever-popular Augustus St. Gaudens. When you think about it further, there is almost no limit to the entirely intriguing ways that people can put together a set of coins or paper money by theme.
Collecting coins by historical time period can also be especially rewarding. For example, many collectors enjoy the array of coins and paper money produced during World War I or World War II by various countries. Earlier on, during the 1860s and the Civil War, many tokens were produced due to the lack of change in commerce, adding further flavor to a Civil War era coin set. Changes in government also can often produce changes in the coinage, resulting in several different designs over time and the basis of an interesting collecting topic. Yet another example would be coins and tokens produced during the California Gold Rush, but there are also many more that numismatists have dreamed up over the years.
Next, focusing on coins that feature a historical personage or people group that interests you can be another way to incorporate thematic collecting into your repertoire. Many collectors, for
example, focus specifically on the many different pieces made to celebrate George Washington during and after his lifetime. These pieces from the colonial and post-colonial series are so well-recognized that the Guidebook to US Coins, or “Redbook,” actually has a separate section devoted to such coins, tokens, and medals, calling them “Washington Pieces.” Others may choose coins that were influenced by or involve Benjamin Franklin, ranging from Franklin Press tokens to Benjamin Franklin Half Dollars. Finally, one might consider collecting coins that represent women, ranging from commemorative pieces like the Isabella Quarter to modern-day Sacagawea Dollars.
No matter how you choose to collect—whether a date set or something more surprising—we hope that you collect what you love. Numismatics offers a wide array or themes and topics—from ancient to present, from panda bears to Presidents—to suit nearly any collector. When you find something that makes you enjoy the thrill of the hunt for the perfect piece, that is a worthwhile challenge.
By Sarah Miller