Our young numismatist group has found and used these handy folders to organize and guide some of our collecting.
Whitman blue folders (or Harris folders, or Littleton's) provide an easy entry point for an inexperienced person into the coin collecting hobby. You don't have to be an expert to understand it, do it, or enjoy it. You can choose the type of coins you wish to collect and the type of set you want to make based on your interests and your budget. As you fill a folder, you will naturally gain experience and learn many of the basics of coin collecting. These folders provide an economical way to collect, display, and store those less-than-investment-grade coins in your collection.
Their attraction is partially based in their simplicity: you simply pick a type or set that interests you. The empty holes tell you what coins you need; and when you find one, you push it into the appropriate hole in the folder. However, some folders are harder to fill than others, due to some sets having rare key dates, more coins total, or more expensive coins on average. Determining ahead of time a budget, and being patient, will greatly help the folder-filling collector succeed.
For those looking to get started but not sure which folder to pick first, I make the following recommendations: First, figure out what you can afford to spend on collecting, and how much of a challenge you want it to be. Here's how I see the various folder choices in terms of cost and challenge level:
1.) Lincoln Cents #3 and #4, or Lincoln Memorial Cents #2; Jefferson Nickels #3; Roosevelt Dimes #3; Washington Quarters #4; or the Harris brand Statehood Quarters Vol. I and II.
These are most likely to be filled out of your loose change and will give young or inexperienced collectors some easier, inexpensive successes before tackling the more challenging sets.
2.) Lincoln Memorial Cents #1; Jefferson Nickels #2; Roosevelt Dimes #2; and Washington Quarters #3.
These are slightly more challenging to find in change, but fairly obtainable. You might have to resort to searching rolls of change from the bank for the last few.
3.) Lincoln Cents #2.
This is a good, fun challenge for a young collector. Half the cents are wheat-back cents, which are all but missing from change these days. But it's still a pretty affordable and obtainable set with a little time sorting the bucket of wheat pennies at the coin shop.
4.) Early Presidential / Sacagawea / Susan B Anthony Dollars.
These coins are fun and obtainable at the bank... but they will cost at least a dollar each even in poor condition.
5.) Eisenhower Dollars.
They're big, affordable, and a short span of years, making them an easily attainable set; and they even contain a special American Bicentennial subset. But you will be hard pressed to find them anywhere else but the coin shop, where, unless they are in extremely poor condition, they will certainly cost you more than face value.
6.) Lincoln Cents #1; Jefferson Nickels #1; Roosevelt Dimes #1; Washington Quarters #1 and #2; Franklin Half Dollars.
Now you're dealing with more key (hard to find, expensive) dates, and the silver content in the dimes, quarters, halves, and wartime nickels. You can always leave the rarest key dates empty; those who know will understand. When the value of the silver content of a coin is worth more than the coin's face value (denomination) or its collector value (price guide), a dealer will charge you for the silver content; better condition coins may also carry a collector premium over that. Most coin dealers keep "cull" boxes of worn silver coins that can be sorted for common dates yet bought for their silver content. The Franklin half dollars are more expensive for their silver content; beyond that there aren't any truly rare mintages, and they were only made for 16 years, so it's not a huge or difficult set.
7.) 20th Century Type Coins.
This folder represents an obtainable, interesting, attractive, and educational example of 100 years of US coinage, and for this reason is highly recommended for the casual collector. It could be partially filled from pocket change for the late-century types, and the rest readily obtainable from a coin shop. As it's only a type set you do not need to collect examples from each mint or rare dates. However, sometimes even well-worn examples from the early 1900s types will cost more; coins in better grades with more design details visible may cost much more.
As for the rest, Kennedy halves are fun, but since 2002 have not been minted with intent to circulate, but only to satisfy collector demand. Banks don't regularly stock them, so you'd have to order at least a few hundred dollars' worth to search rolls; 2002-present dates would be likely found at the coin shop for a premium. Morgans are great, but their price reflects not only their silver content but their high demand, and some are rare. Other types face similar challenges for the casual or new collector. But for some, a bigger challenge simply means a bigger thrill and more enjoyment.
Based on the above, figure out what you can afford to collect, select a folder, and patiently look for the coins you need to fill it. When you find a coin that fills a hole in your folder, rejoice! Then wash your hands, dry them, and use a clean soft cloth (or wear soft cotton gloves) to push the coin into its hole. Even clean fingers contain salts and oils in the skin that can damage a coin's surface over time. There's no sense doing any more damage to your collection. But don't clean your coins! If you have dirt or gunk on a coin, ask an expert numismatist what, if anything, they would do. Sometimes the answer is to find another one without gunk on it.
Please note that sometimes it can be difficult to push the coin all the way into the folder. This is a good thing, because if it were loose, you could lose your coins when they fell out. To push it in, it is recommended that you try pushing half the coin into the hole first, then push in the rest (e.g. top edge, then bottom; or left edge, then right, etc.)
Coin folders like these offer a certain level of protection to your coins. Your coins will be much better off in a Whitman folder than in a change jar or in your pocket, or rattling around loose in the bottom of your sock drawer. However, only the reverse and the edge of the coin benefits from this protection; the obverse (front of the coin) is exposed to touch and other environmental factors. If you are just trying to get a complete decent circulated set with readable dates and mint marks, this is fine. But this isn't an ideal storage situation for protecting higher grade or rare coins, where a slight difference in wear and tear might mean a difference in value of many dollars. Buying high grade coins to push them into a folder is not recommended. There are other options for collecting, storing, and displaying higher grade coins, such as albums or individual cases, which provide better protection and even let you see both sides of the coin.
Although this is personal preference, coins that generally fall into the same categories of condition and brightness look best together. If that matters to you, find coins that look similar in wear and toning and group them together. Don't try to artificially make them all look the same by trying to shine the dull ones or dull the shiny ones. Again, don't clean them!
One rule of coin and currency collecting is to buy the best example you can afford. This is because there are only so many good examples in the world, and they can only get fewer; the remaining good examples will only increase in value and cost you much more later. Hopefully, as we find ourselves in improved circumstances later in life, we will find we can afford to spend more on better coins than we could when we first started; and then we might upgrade some of the coins in our collections. What to do, then, with the ones being replaced? This may be one of the best uses of the Whitman blue folders: to form repositories for our nice, but lesser grade coins, that we have upgraded. These can then be passed along, either as complete sets or "starter kits", to a beginning collector, to get them started in this fascinating hobby.
Leave me a comment and let me know if you agree with my recommendations and assessments!