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Common Questions About Coin Collecting

Coin Collecting Supplies

We stock an excellent selection of supplies and the latest references at our Almonte coin gallery, including Lighthouse, Unitrade, and CWS products.

As well, we are always happy to custom-order supplies for our coin, banknote and stamp customers, and can ship anywhere in the world.

You are welcome to browse the online catalogues of the following distributors / manufacturers, who offer through dealers the largest possible variety of supplies for Coin, Banknote, and Stamp Collectors:

Common Questions

If you are new to the world of collecting coins, you may find our Anatomy of a Coin page extremely helpful; it provides a sample coin with labels and descriptions of common elements.

What makes a coin valuable?

The value and desirability of a coin is generally determined by two critical factors: scarcity and grade/condition.

Scarcity

The scarcity of a coin is usually determined by the original mintage figures – how many pieces were actually struck for circulation, and (perhaps more importantly) what the surviving population of a given coin is within our present market. Coins with very large mintages seldom command much collector’s value, while scarcer pieces continue to be sought-after as demand continues to overtake supply.

Grade/Condition

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The grade (or state of preservation) of a coin is of equal importance. As with most antiques and collectibles, collectors prefer coins in as original condition as possible. Almost without exception, an original mint-state coin will always command more attention and value than a heavily-circulated example where much of the technical detail has been lost to time. Where a particular coin combines both scarcity and superior grade, the resulting demand and value can be staggering. Even a low-grade example of the scarce 1859 "double-punched narrow nine type I" Canadian large Cent would normally fetch at least $200-$300, yet we blew away the record books by purchasing this superb, finest-known example in January of 2003 for an incredible $16,500 CDN.

Contrary to popular thought, age is perhaps the least important factor in determining a coin's value, due in large part to the high surviving populations of many of the early powers' abundant mintages. Hitting this point home, it surprises many to learn that a 1991 Canadian Quarter regularly commands more interest than many common ancient bronze coins of the Roman Empire.

Should my coins be cleaned?

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As a general rule, coins should never be cleaned. Collectors prefer coins in their original state of preservation, even where they may have become oxidized (or "tarnished") as is often the case with silver coinage. Even a light cleaning will reduce the value of a coin, in some case with devastating results. This rare mint-state Edward VII Half Dollar oxidized over the years into a rich silver-charcoal toning. It is possible that the underlying brilliant finish could be restored by an expert using a specialized coin-dipping acid, however many collectors would prefer this original toning as testimony to its age and sheltering from the many pockets of the world. One fact is beyond dispute, however: even an innocent light buffing would likely knock a whopping $3,000 off its value!

The above having been said, while purists would condemn the cleaning of even a two-dollar coin, if you have properly determined that a coin in your collection has little or no monetary value, then there is ultimately no right or wrong in doing whatever is necessary to make the coin more aesthetically pleasing to you, the owner.

How can I organize and store my collection?

Proper handling and storage of a coin or banknote collection is critical, in terms of preservation, security, and enjoyment. We have always looked at the development of the "coin supply industry" in terms of three historical watersheds.

The Renaissance, and birth of serious coin collecting

Arguably it was during the European renaissance of the 14th and 15th centuries that the birth of serious coin collecting accompanied a widespread rebirth of interest in the art, literature, and science of antiquity. Many of what would become some of the world’s finest "royal" coin collections saw their beginnings here, as well as the corresponding introduction of the first wooden Coin Cabinets designed to store and preserve these new collections. Ranging from small table-top cabinets with a few sliding trays, to large and elaborate wall-sized cabinets of the finest craftmenship, coin collecting generally remained the domain of the wealthy who could afford such cabinetry.

The Whitman Coin Folders - bringing coin collecting "to the masses"

Around 1950, the revolutionary "Whitman Coin Folder" was introduced in the United States, for the very first time offering an inexpensive coin storage system available to everyone. These folders featured pre-cut holes for insertion of coins of a specific denomination (different folders for different denominations), and fostered a sense of "completeness" for the beginning collector. As well as pre-printed detailed dates, the folders also indicated mintages - a hugely-important step forward, in that for the very first time, scarcity became properly associated with mintage. While these folders fostered the wide-spread collecting of both U.S. and Canadian coins, advanced collectors continued to see the need for improved and more varied "off-the-shelf" coin storage solutions.

The industry today - as many products as there are collectors!

We have now enjoyed yet another "renaissance" in terms of the supplies and services available to coin collectors. The collecting bug is wide-spread enough that sufficient "R&D" investment has been devoted to servicing the hobby. There now exists a myriad of choices ranging from new and improved versions of the older Whitman-style folders and albums, to individual coin holders made of everything from inert plastic to acid-free paper to high-end plexiglass, as well as custom holders made to house specific sets or series of coins. Fortunately, a serious emphasis has been placed on preservation as well as presentation. Gone for the most part are the dangerous chemical-laced holders of the 1960s and 1970s, which risked serious long-term damage to coins through their oils and other unfriendly components. Today's product range emphasizes archival-quality materials and inert plastics. Our own primary recommendation is the use of "two-by-two's" - small 2-inch white cardboard holders (which look very much like photographic slides) that contain an inert transparent plastic window in the center. The holder folds over to safely suspend a single coin within this window, and is then secured by three staples at the holder's three open edges. The holder can then be safely handled with no direct contact to the coin itself, and any desired pricing and identification information can be written directly on the holder. These "two-by-two's" can then be stored in special 20-pocket pages designed to fit any standard 3-ring binder, facilitating easy and inexpensive expansion of the collection as required. In terms of cost, presentation and storage, we highly recommend the "two-by-two" system for both beginner and advanced collectors.

For the collector of paper money, the choices seem to be far fewer. Individual acid-free plastic banknote holders are available at low cost (usually in packages of 10), and these can then be stored in three-pocket pages that once again fit any standard 3-ring binder.

What are 'Certified' coins?

A "Certified" coin is one which has been independently graded and authenticated by a third-party grading service, who (for a fee) will render an opinion and then seal the coin in their own unique tamper-proof holder. Founded in 1986, the International Coin Certification Service (ICCS) of Toronto, Ontario remains the most respected third-party grading service for Canadian and Maritime coins and tokens (although they will also certify U.S. and British Commonwealth coins, on request). Founded at approximately the same time, the US-based Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) is the world's largest grader of US, Canadian and foreign coinage. The contribution of these various services to the hobby have been profound. Certified coins allow both advanced and beginning collectors to purchase scarcer coins with increased confidence, and without themselves having to be an expert. With authenticity and grade assessed by third-party expertise, the only remaining issue to be debated between purchaser and seller is the price. This offers some significant security to both parties, where even a single grading error could result in a loss/gain of hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of dollars.

Interestingly, one of the most significant contributions of third-party grading services to the hobby and industry is the accumulated results of 15+ years worth of grading statistics. The quarterly ICCS "Population Report", for example, details the cumulative results of all coins graded since November of 1986. Far more important than simply fueling the competitive nature of those seeking to acquire the 'finest-known examples' of various coins, these reports have shed light on the actual comparative scarcity of many issues. The results have been enlightening. Many long-appreciated rarities have indeed proven to be scarce, while numerous issues that were previously dismissed due to bountiful mintages have proven to be considerable scarcer than anticipated (especially in higher grades). Conversely, some coins which saw fairly small mintages seem to have survived in greater proportional numbers than those with larger mintages. Various theories have been proposed to explain these discoveries, ranging from undocumented re-meltings at the Mint not reflected in official mintage figures, to limited geographic circulation of some issues such as those in the Maritimes, resulting in continued availability of some statistically scarce coins. The dedicated collector eventually has to develop a minimal comfort level in his or her grading skills, however, and we encourage the submission of even a few common coins to ICCS in order to develop a "reference set" in order to hone one's skills. Feel free to contact us for advice regarding the submission of your coins to either of these grading services.