The Various Types of Coinage Available to Collectors
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Regular issue coins are struck by a government authorized mint and are intended for general circulation and commerce. They are legal tender and are commonly struck each year in significant quantities due to the demands of both commerce and the collecting community. Most coins that are collected fall into this category since they are the most available and readily collectible at a lower cost.
Examples: 2000 Sacagewea, 1881-S Morgan Dollar, 1999 Lincoln Penny.
Proof coins are struck using a specific technique to produce highly-mirrored fields and frosted devices. These coins are generally struck with more force, usually twice, and with polished dies. This technique produces a beautiful coin that is intended to be used as a gift, collectible, or display piece. While the coin does have a legal tender value, it is generally sold at a much higher price due the special processing required, the higher cost of manufacturing and quality assurance, and its collectible nature.
Examples: 1922 Matte Proof Peace Dollar (rare), 1999-S Delaware State Quarter Proof, 1995 Proof Silver Eagle
Commemoratives (or "commems" as they are called for short)
Commemorative coins can be either uncirculated or proof and they are typically are minted in silver or gold. The most common denominations are half-dollar and one dollar coins (gold commems tend to have higher denominations such as $5 or $10). The commemorative coin is typically struck to commemorate a significant event, person, or organization. In recent years, part of the proceeds from commemorative sales have gone to benefit a charity, institution, or organization. For example the sale of the U.S. Capital Visitor Center coin will help build a new visitor center under the U.S. Capitol’s East Plaza. There is a long history of commemorative coins in the U.S. A comprehensive listing of modern and early date coins can be viewed online at GainPayment.com.
Examples: 2001 Buffalo Dollar, Community Service Dollar, 2002 Winter Olympics Silver Dollar
Error coins are coins produced via normal means, but have some sort of error introduced during the production process. This can be as simple as a misalignment or doubling of the image.
Below are a few of the types of error coins you can collect: Blank Planchets, Broadstrikes/partial collars, Capped Dies, Clips, Double/Triple/Multiple Strikes, Doubled/Tripled dies, Fragments, Major Die Breaks (Cuds), Off Centers, Split offs/Laminations, Struck Thru's, Vam Varieties.
Example: Sacagewea Mule Dollar
Bullion coins are minted in regular issue or proof. The uncirculated coins are generally sold at near "melt value" (proofs carry a premium). These coins are made for people to invest in rare metals, and are generally not considered collectible (many collectors would disagree!). The coins are silver, gold, or platinum.
Example: 2001 Silver Eagle Bullion 1 oz., 1999 Platinum Eagle 1/4 oz. Bullion.
Patterns are coins produced by a mint as a test or proof of concept. The coins are generally minted in low volumes and are fairly expensive and rare. They are typically quite unique and were not released into circulation. The mint used to sell the pattern coins so many are available for collecting.
Example: 1783 Nova Constellatio Pattern
U.S. Colonial Coins
Before the U.S. was formed, the individual states issued coinage. These coins are hard to find in excellent condition, and are therefore rare and expensive.
Example: 1787 Colonial Massachusetts Cent
"Coin-Like" Medals or Tokens
Tokens or medals are special issues from the mint to commemorate a person or event; however they are NOT legal tender. They are frequently produced in bronze or gold.
Example: Bronze "Code Talker" Medal soon to be available at the U.S. Mint
These are coin-like metal "rounds" produced with images and commemorations popular among casual collectors. The "rounds" are NOT legal tender and are not considered coins.
Example: Fake buffalo dollar rounds, Christmas image rounds
Coins from ancient civilizations are fascinating to collect. You can find: Greek, Roman, Celtic, Byzantine, and Biblical coins among others.
Example: Widows mites, Silver denarius
Many collectors seek coins from other countries.
Example: The new 2002 Euros!