Coin Collecting Misconceptions — Video Vignettes

Rod Gillis, the ANA’s education director, highlights some of the most common misconceptions regarding coin collecting.



Hello, my name is Rod Gillis, and I’m the Education Director at the American Numismatic Association. One of the jobs that I have at headquarters is that I’m responsible for taking phone calls from the public, from people who have coin questions. And so today I want to spend a little bit of time with you talking about some of the favorite topics that people call me about, and hopefully, we’ll be able to take care of some numismatic misconceptions.

The very first numismatic misconception that people call me about is cleaning coins. Lot of times people wonder, “Should I clean coins that I have?” And generally, the answer is, no. Let’s spend a moment talking about why you would want to clean coins. Generally, people want to clean coins because they have a old worn, corroded, dirty coin, and they are hoping that by cleaning it up they’ll enhance it’s appearance and then make it more valuable. After you’ve cleaned a coin, generally what happens now is that you have a very shiny worn coin, and that really doesn’t help the value of the coin. As a matter of fact, it’s safe to say that in most instances cleaning a coin will destroy the coins value, so it’s a good idea to keep the coin as you have found it without attempting to clean it.

Now, if it’s to the point where it’s so corroded that you can’t tell what it is, then we always suggest that you clean it by using the least invasive way possible. A little distilled water and some mild dish soap can go a long way. Anything other than that, you want to stay away from, and please remember that if you have the idea that, “If I just clean it a little bit, no one will ever notice.” That’s just not true. Folks who have been in the hobby for a long time can tell a coin that has been cleaned a mile way, so please try your best not to clean any coins.

The second misconception that I would like to talk about is that you encounter a coin that you believe to be rare. You know, a lot of people will encounter a coin in change, or maybe it is in their parent’s old sock draw, or it’s been passed down within the family and because you’ve never seen that coin before you naturally assume that it’s rare. That’s not always the case. One of the most numerous calls that we get concerns a 1943 cent. We get calls all the time about people telling us that they have a silver penny, and that it must be rare because they’ve never seen it before. When in actuality a 1943 cent is made out of steel. It looks like silver, but it’s not. It’s made out of steel, and as a matter of fact, over a billion 1943 steel cents were made, and so their value is very modest. You may have never seen one before, so you assume that it’s rare, but again, it’s really not. So don’t make the assumption that just because you’ve never seen a coin before that, it must be rare than it really is.

A third misconception that I want to talk about is that you can make a ton of money by collecting coins. Now, there’s always the exception to the rule, and there are times when people do generally find a very rare and valuable coin, and they put it in their collection, and they can make quite a bit of money, But for the regular folks like you and I, we stress trying to enjoy the hobby. Don’t collect coins with the idea that you’re going to make a ton of money when you sell them. As a matter of fact, I kinda feel sorry for people who have that mentality because you’re really missing out on the joys of coin collecting. We always think of coins really as a primary historical document, so when you’re collecting coins collect for the fun of it, collect for the knowledge behind the coin. Who has used it? Where has that particular coin been? What happened in the year that coin was invented? That is the real joy of coin collecting not how much money that you can make from selling that coin.

One of the things I think that keep people away from coin collecting is that they believe that it’s a solitary hobby for nerds. You know, that’s really not the case. There are a lot of people who enjoy coin collecting, and it can be a sociable venue if you want it to be. Most likely there’s a local coin club very near your home where there are a lot of people who might share your passion of coin collecting. Now, if it’s something that you enjoy doing just by yourself, you certainly can, but you shouldn’t try to box yourself in. There are a lot of people who will share your hobby, and a lot of people that you can meet who are very knowledgeable and will become good friends of yours, and so I encourage you to find your local coin club, your local coin dealer and see if you can make some friends and strike up some interesting conversations about the hobby we so love.

And the final misconception that I’d like to speak with you about today is counterfeit coins. A lot of times people will send us an image of a coin that they believe is extremely valuable and we have to give them the bad news that the coin is counterfeit. And at first they have a tough time believing that because the coin has been in their family for a very long time, and it’s because it’s very old. We hear all the time, “That coin is very old, they didn’t counterfeit back then.” Well, the true story is that the first counterfeit coin that was made, was probably made about 15 minutes after the first coin was made. Counterfeit coins have been around for very long time. How can you tell whether a coin is counterfeit? Well, sometimes it’s very easy, if it’s a bad counterfeit. Sometimes it can be very difficult.

What we do do is encourage you to use, for example, the ANA library. It’s the largest lending numismatic library in the world, and so that can help you learn about whether your coin is authentic or counterfeit. Of course, you can always take classes at the ANA during summer seminar, and there are courses just dealing with counterfeit coins to help you become better at identifying an authentic coin from a counterfeit coin. You’ll notice that in everything we’ve talked about today that education is really the key behind enjoying your hobby more. It can tell you whether a coin is rare or not. Education can help you find people who share the passion of the hobby, and it certainly can help you identify whether a coin is authentic or counterfeit. We encourage you to think about joining the ANA, if you haven’t already, use its resources and most of all, we encourage you to have a lot of fun with your hobby.

This is Rod Gillis, Education director. Enjoy yourself with coin collecting.



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