How to Start Coin Collecting in the UK: Beginner’s Guide
Coin collecting, also known as numismatics, is a fascinating hobby that allows enthusiasts to delve into the rich history and culture of the United Kingdom while discovering rare and valuable treasures. If you’re a beginner looking to embark on this exciting journey of coin collecting in the UK, you’ve come to the right place. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the essential steps, rules, and best practices to kickstart your numismatic adventure. From understanding the basics of coin collecting to expert tips for building a valuable collection, this article aims to be your roadmap for a rewarding and educational experience.
The United Kingdom, with its long and storied history, is a coin collector’s paradise, offering a plethora of opportunities to explore coins from different eras, each with its unique story to tell. Whether you’re captivated by ancient Roman coins, medieval treasures, or modern UK currency, this article will equip you with the knowledge and insights needed to start your coin collection with confidence. So, let’s dive into the world of numismatics, discover what to look out for, and uncover the best practices to become a successful coin collector in the UK.
Why Collect Coins?
At its core, coin collecting is a journey into the past, a tangible link to the history and heritage of nations and peoples. Coins, as miniature time capsules, bear witness to the events, leaders, and ideologies of their eras.
Whether it’s an ancient Roman denarius, a medieval English groat, or a contemporary commemorative coin, each piece carries a unique narrative waiting to be uncovered. As you embark on your numismatic adventure, you’ll not only acquire tangible artifacts of history but also develop a profound connection to the stories they tell.
Here are some benefits to coin collecting:
- Owning a piece of history: British coins date back to ancient Celtic and Roman times. You can own iconic pieces celebrating kings, queens, and major events through the centuries, practically holding a piece of history in your hands
- Affordability: Building an impressive collection doesn’t have to be expensive. Many common UK coins like Victoria pennies or Edward VII sixpences can be found in circulation or purchased inexpensively. Rare specimens like George III gold guineas or Queen Anne ‘Vigo’ five pound coins offer investment potential too. With both accessible and high-end coins, there are options at every budget level
- Variety: From medieval hammered coins to intricate modern commemoratives, UK coins come in many types, themes, metals, shapes, and sizes. You can collect by monarch like a complete set of George VI coins, by denomination like farthings or crowns, by composition like silver Maundy money or gold Sovereigns, and more. New designs and limited editions are released frequently as well, providing endless variety.
- Educational value: Coins can improve your knowledge of British history, art, science, and culture. As an example, 1797 cartwheel pennies and twopences depict advancements in minting while Victorian coinage shows symbols of Britain’s colonial reach. You’ll gain insight into monarchs, politics, technology, and more
- Social benefits: Connecting with other collectors sharing this interest promotes this hobby and passion within the community. You can attend coin shows, join clubs like the British Numismatic Society, and make collector friends to share your passion with
Coin collecting is an engaging pursuit that’s suitable for all ages. The thrill of the hunt and discovering treasures makes it an exciting and rewarding lifelong hobby.
How to Start Coin With Coin Collecting (Step by Step Guide)
Collecting UK coins is easy to get started with just a small investment. Follow these beginner steps:
1) Learn the basics about coins and numismatic history
While you may stumble upon rare or valuable coins by chance, learning numismatic basics will make you a more informed collector. Study the history of British coinage from ancient Celtic gold staters to intricate Gothic florins of Edward III.
Research major coin types like crown, farthing, and groat, the monarchs and symbols depicted on them, mintage figures for each year and monarch, and other important details.
For example, understand that key dates with low mintages like 1826 crowns or 1937 penny proofs are highly coveted by collectors and command significant premiums. Knowing the background empowers you to make wise collecting decisions.
2) Determine your collection type
British coins can be collected in many ways:
- Date and monarch collections: Coins portraying a particular king, queen, or time period like Queen Victoria’s reign or the Tudor dynasty. This allows you to focus on a specialised area
- Denomination collections: Specific coin types such as sixpences, crowns, farthings, or pennies. You can try assembling a complete date run of every florin issued
- Coind with errors collections: Coins with minting errors like off-center strikes or interesting numismatic quirks like overdates. These oddities have a fascinating appeal
- Bullion collections: Gold and silver coins like Sovereigns and Britannias collected for their precious metal content and investment potential
- Circulated collections: Worn, everyday coins telling a story of their usage in commerce. Their imperfections add character and make them unique
- Proof and commemorative collections: Special uncirculated coins marking events, anniversaries, etc.
Decide what speaks to you most and create a focus for your collecting goals. Having a focused collecting goal in mind will help guide your acquisition decisions wisely. And that doesn’t mean you have to limit or restrict yourself to a single type of coin collection, you can always expand into other areas later as your knowledge, expertise, and interests evolve with time.
3) Get the necessary equipment
When you’re just beginning your journey into the world of coin collecting, it’s essential to gather the necessary equipment to ensure you can handle, preserve, and appreciate your coins properly. Here’s a list of fundamental tools and supplies that will make your numismatic adventure more enjoyable and fruitful
- Magnifying Glass or Loupe: A high-quality magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe is indispensable for closely examining the fine details, inscriptions, and condition of your coins. Look for one with good magnification, ideally 5x to 10x, to help you spot the intricate features that might otherwise go unnoticed
- Coin Holders and Capsules: These are essential for protecting your coins from wear and tear, as well as environmental factors that can cause corrosion. Coin holders, which come in various sizes, allow you to securely store your coins, while capsules provide added protection and allow you to view both sides of the coin without handling it directly
- Cotton Gloves: To prevent oils and dirt from your hands transferring onto the coin’s surface, invest in a pair of cotton gloves. These will help maintain the coins’ condition and prevent fingerprints or smudges
- Coin Folders or Albums: These are fantastic tools for organizing and displaying your collection. Coin folders and albums come in various sizes and designs, allowing you to neatly arrange your coins by type, date, or theme. They’re an excellent way to keep your collection organized and easily accessible
- Digital Scale: A precision digital scale is handy for determining the weight of your coins, which can be a crucial factor in identifying their authenticity and assessing their value. This is especially important for collectors dealing with older or rarer coins
- Reference Books and Catalogs: A good collection of numismatic reference books or online resources is invaluable for research and identification. These resources can provide historical context, information on coin varieties, and current market values, helping you make informed decisions about your collection.
As you progress in your coin collecting journey, you may find it necessary to invest in more specialized equipment, such as coin grading tools or a safe for secure storage. However, these basic tools will give you a solid foundation for starting your coin collection and enjoying the hobby to its fullest.
4) Start the coin hunt
When you’re ready to start building your coin collection, it’s crucial to know where to source coins, especially as a beginner. Fortunately, there are several excellent places to start your numismatic journey:
- Coin Shows and Conventions: Coin shows and conventions are fantastic gatherings of coin enthusiasts, dealers, and collectors. They offer a prime opportunity to explore a wide range of coins, including rare and unique pieces. You can interact with experienced collectors, learn about the hobby, and make informed purchases. Keep an eye on local events in your area, as well as larger national or international conventions
- Local Coin Shops: Local coin shops, or numismatic dealers, are a valuable resource for beginners. These experts can provide guidance, authenticate coins, and help you start your collection with coins of varying values and historical significance. Establishing a relationship with a trusted local dealer can be an invaluable asset throughout your collecting journey
- Online Marketplaces: The internet has opened up a world of opportunities for collectors. Websites and online marketplaces like eBay, Heritage Auctions, and specialized coin collector forums allow you to access a vast array of coins from around the world. Just be sure to do thorough research and verify the credibility of sellers when making online purchases
- Coin Clubs: Joining a local coin club is an excellent way to connect with fellow collectors. These clubs often have regular meetings, events, and opportunities for trading or purchasing coins from other members. Being part of a community can be not only informative but also highly rewarding for your collection
- Estate Sales and Auctions: Estate sales and auctions can be hidden gems for coin collectors. Keep an eye on local estate sales or online auction platforms. These events often feature a wide range of items, including coins. It’s possible to uncover rare finds and unique pieces at competitive prices
- Banks and Financial Institutions: Believe it or not, it’s still possible to come across interesting coins in your everyday transactions. Check your pocket change, visit local banks, and keep an eye out for coins with unique designs or errors. This can be a cost-effective way to add interesting pieces to your collection
Remember, patience and a discerning eye are essential as you source coins for your collection. Be sure to research, ask questions, and never hesitate to seek expert advice when evaluating and purchasing coins, especially if you’re just starting. Numismatics is a rewarding hobby, and your collection will grow and evolve with time, experience, and dedication.
5) Handle and maintain your coin collection
Coins must be stored and handled with care to preserve their condition:
- Never clean or polish coins as this permanently damages the original patina and surfaces. Even wiping with a cloth can create hairline scratches
- Hold coins by the edges and wear cotton gloves if possible. The oils on your skin will accumulate on the surfaces over time
- Use archival-quality, non-PVC coin flips and folders. Poor quality supplies can potentially react with the coin metals
- Avoid exposing coins to humidity, temperature extremes, or direct sunlight for long periods. This contributes to the degrading of the metal.
6) Catalog and Organise
Keep detailed records of your expanding coin collection. Photograph or log each new acquisition in a spreadsheet, detailing the coin’s description, grade, provenance, purchase price, and other relevant notes.
Organise your physical collection systematically in folders or albums for easy browsing, such as grouping together all coins of a particular monarch or denomination. This allows you to both document and access your coins effectively.
7) Connect with other collectors
Continue expanding your numismatic education and meet fellow enthusiasts by:
- Reading books like Humphrey Sutherland’s ‘Coins of England’ or periodicals like Coin News. There’s always more to learn
- Joining coin clubs and attending meetings, lectures, or conventions to connect with the community
- Following the Royal Mint and respected dealers on social media for news and releases
- Participating in online coin communities and forums to exchange knowledge.
Coin collecting, much like any other hobby has a strong following of passionate individuals and it’s a great way to connect, meet, and interact with like-minded people.
Continue building your collection
As your knowledge grows, you can upgrade your collection by selectively acquiring more important, rare UK coins:
- Focus on condition: Well-preserved coins with sharp details are always more prized by collectors than worn specimens. Study grading scales
- Key dates and mintages: Certain years had miniscule original production numbers – like the 1887 Gothic florin with a mere 4,000 struck. These low-supply coins command huge premiums
- Errors and varieties: Oddities like double-struck pennies, inverted legends, or over-dated dies attract specialist collectors
- Early hammered coins: Ancient coins from medieval times featuring crude designs and hand-cut dies offer a window into this early period of mints and moneyers
- Gold and silver coins: Sovereigns, Britannias, Maundy coinage, and proofs are pursued for their intrinsic value and artistic beauty
- Naturally toned coins: Many collectors prize the colorful patinas that develop on silver and copper coins over decades
- Certified/graded coins: Coins authenticated and graded by services like NGC provide quality assurance and can realise stronger auction prices
- Complete sets: Assemble runs of entire date-sets of denominations like crowns or half farthings to display the full span
With dedicated research and patient acquisition, you can upgrade to a blue-chip collection of elite British coins over time.
Best Practices for Beginner Collectors
Follow these proven tips to find success as a new coin collector:
- Take it slowly – Building an exemplary collection takes patience and budget. Let your resources and learning evolve naturally over months and years without rushing
- Create a budget – Only make purchases you can responsibly afford. Having an allocated collecting budget prevents spending beyond your means. Save up gradually for higher-end coins
- Buy the book before the coin: Fully research any unfamiliar coins before acquiring them. Know their characteristics, normal prices, and potential problems. Avoid surprises
- Focus on quality over quantity: A few nice, properly preserved coins are better than hoards of poor condition examples. Establish a baseline standard for your acquisitions and don’t collect without a strategy and purpose
- Find a specialty: Develop a deep interest in a particular series or type of coin and become knowledgeable about them. This gives you an edge
- Make connections: Talk to advanced collectors; join a club; network at shows. You’ll gain mentors and improve much faster than going solo
- Keep learning: Never stop researching new areas of numismatics. Study past experts like L.A. Lawrence. Absorb everything possible
- Have fun: Follow your passion, whether it’s die varieties, medieval hammered coins, or modern proofs. The joy of participation is key
Coin collecting is meant to be an engaging, rewarding hobby. Be an informed collector and your passion will continue paying dividends for a lifetime.
Key Date British Coins Worth Collecting
Certain British coins are more valuable and sought-after because of low mintage, precious metal content, or historical significance.
Here are some of the top rare issues to keep an eye out for:
- Edward I and II silver pennies – Highly ornate, decoratively sculpted coins from 1279-1327. The designs provide a Gothic medieval aesthetic.
- Edward III florins – The first major broad thin English gold coin starting in 1344 under Edward III. Provides a gateway into collecting early gold.
- Henry VII sovereign – The first Tudor monarch gold coin dating to 1489. A benchmark gold issue of Henry VII that established the denomination.
- Charles II Petition Crown – Elaborate commemorative crowns dated 1663, 1664, and 1665 that featured ornate Baroque busts on the obverse. These rare crowns have exceptional provenance from the 17th century.
- Queen Anne ‘Vigo’ five guinea – Extremely rare and valuable 1703 gold five guinea coins made from gold captured from Spanish treasure ships. The coins bear the word VIGO below Anne’s bust to commemorate the naval Battle of Vigo Bay where the treasure was seized.
- George III ‘cartwheel’ twopence and penny – Iconic large thin copper coins dated 1797 with intricate designs depicting Britannia. Encapsulate the use of steam powered coin presses to create uniform coinage.
Modern Decimal Coins
- Queen Victoria ‘bun head’ pennies – Pennies issued beginning in 1838 bearing Victoria’s earliest portrait with hair in a bun. An important first depiction of the long-reigning monarch.
- Edward VIII coinage – No coins for Edward VIII were officially issued for circulation, but pattern examples exist making them great rarities.
- George VI 1937 penny proofs – Extremely rare proof sets of pennies dated 1937 with errors where the King’s initials are missing from the reverse.
- 2012 London Olympics £2 coins – These commemorative £2 coins had very limited mintages in gold and silver making them quite valuable today.
This overview just touches on some of the many important and scarce coins every UK collector would love to own. Discovering the possibilities is an intriguing part of the hobby.
Join a coin collecting club or community
Getting involved in a coin club provides many benefits for a collector:
- Grow your knowledge – Listen to presentations from veteran members and get your questions answered by experts on old and new coins alike. This level of ongoing education is invaluable.
- Gain access to coins – Many clubs hold exclusive conventions, shows, auctions, and dealer events allowing you first crack at uncommon coins before they hit the wider market. This provides an advantage for finding gems.
- Get mentorship – Develop relationships with longtime collectors who can provide personalised guidance, share insight on building a great collection, and help avoid pitfalls.
- Meet local dealers – Network with professionals in your area who might offer you special buying opportunities. These connections are key resources.
- Share your passion – Meet fellow enthusiasts who enjoy the hobby as much as you do. Discuss your favorite coins, locations for “coin hunting,” and other common interests.
- Obtain evaluations – Have club specialists examine new acquisitions or oddities you find and provide their opinion on authenticity, condition, and value. Get second opinions before major purchases.
The British Numismatic Society, founded in 1903, is the premier organisation for coin collectors and historians in the UK. Local clubs exist nationwide as well. Make the most of your membership by being an active participant in their events and community. The relationships built will pay dividends throughout your collecting journey.
Uphold the coin collecting ethics and standards
As with any hobby, following ethical collecting principles and industry best practices will ensure you make responsible choices as your collection grows in value:
- Learn provenance: Only buy rare coins from reliable sources, and understand the complete ownership history to ensure it’s not a possibly stolen or illicit item. Provenance protects the integrity of your collection
- Check authenticity: Be cautious of potentially counterfeited or altered coins, as forgeries exist in the marketplace. Having in-hand opinions from experts often helps detect fakes using microscopic details unseen to the novice
- Conserve coins: Never overclean or improperly handle coins. Follow archival storage and grading company encapsulation standards to preserve coins in their original state. Heavily damaged or worn coins should be appreciated for their imperfections rather than artificially enhanced
- Keep detailed records: Diligently log your acquisitions to document what coins you own. This also allows you to look up background information on each piece when needed
- Follow regulations: Abide by laws regarding coin exports, currency restrictions, sales reporting requirements, dealer licensing, and other numismatic sales rules. Avoid violating the law
- Join respected groups: Affiliate only with reputable clubs and organizations that have clear ethics standards and avoid questionable dealings. This maintains the good standing of the hobby
Upholding these responsible collecting principles will protect the coins, your investment, and other enthusiasts who share this passion.
Final Tips for Coin Collecting Beginners
Coin collecting provides immense opportunities to learn history while pursuing a rewarding hobby. Here are some final pointers to help launch your numismatic journey:
- Don’t feel like you need to start with rare dates or expensive coins. Begin by accumulating affordable coins to gain hands-on experience. Study them closely
- Have patience and persistence. Check many sellers and coins to uncover that undergraded find or inexpensive variety. Establish relationships and visit shops repeatedly – the time invested often pays off down the road with access to fresh inventory
- Stick to a prudent collecting budget that fits your existing finances. Allow your investment in the hobby to grow slowly and sustainably over the years. Don’t spend recklessly on coins you can’t afford
- Always be a student. Continuously read books and periodicals, browse auction archives, study registry sets, and soak up as much knowledge as possible from fellow collectors. Never stop learning new information and continue to educate yourself
- Follow your passion. Let your specific interests dictate which coins excite you – whether it’s toning, die varieties, medieval hammered coins, or modern commemoratives. Pursue what speaks to you most.
With a curious mindset and dedication, you’ll be astonished at the treasures you unearth. Hopefully this guide will have armed you with all the essential information to start your coin collecting journey!