Coin Collecting – a fascinating and rewarding hobby PART I – Where to Start?

Coins are all around us, not just in Britain but all over the world.  There are 28 billion circulating in this country alone! Your collecting adventure could take you anywhere – and as far back as 700 BC – and you’ll find yourself picking up a wealth of knowledge about geography, history, economics and even politics. It’s a world of fascination just waiting to be discovered!

The great thing about coin collecting is that you can collect exactly what you want, when you want. Reach into your pocket or purse and take out a handful of coins.  There will be different values – perhaps pence, two pence, five pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, one pound, and two pounds.  They will have different dates, different portraits and be in different conditions. 

You can start right there, collecting circulating UK coins from your loose change.  Later you can add coins that are in perfect condition – proof or uncirculated – that you don’t find in your change.  You could go deep into history – many Roman coins have been unearthed over the years and are surprisingly affordable.  You could save particular sorts of coins such as pre-decimal pennies or sovereigns. One fascinating field is to collect “commemorative” coins, struck to celebrate a particular event or anniversary.  The first step, though, is to establish a relationship with a coin dealer you can trust.

The Westminster Collection – a helping hand

A small error in striking or a rare mint mark can hugely increase the value of a coin.  This has led to people altering or forging coins and offering them for sale to unsuspecting collectors.  Dealing on the internet needs particular care as some offers may not be quite as good as they seem.  

There are of course many reputable coin dealers who can guide and assist you every step of the way.  The Westminster Collection is one of the largest and most established collector-facing companies in the UK.  Founded by Stephen Allen in 1987, The Westminster Collection is an authorised distributor for the Royal Mint and principal UK agent for several of the world’s leading mints.  This means that you will be one of the first to  buy before an issue sells out and receive pre-release notifications, often at special collector prices.  When you buy from Westminster, you have complete quality assurance, enjoy interest-free credit and the right to return any purchase within 30 days. For the beginner or experienced collector, The Westminster Collection provides a safe and rewarding path on your collecting journey.

Coins – a brief history

Coins last a long time – especially if they are made of gold. Which means that we have still have the first ever coins from Lydia (now in modern Turkey) minted around 650 BC. From there they were spread by the Greeks and Romans around the known world. Coins circulated in Celtic Britain, but the Roman occupation from 43 AD to about 410 AD, brought in a flood of Roman coins and later, coins from local mints. After the Romans left Britons went back to bartering. Not until the 7th century did the dominant Anglo Saxons start minting coins.

Hammered coins
At this time all coins were made in roughly the same way: you started with a round blank of gold, silver, copper, bronze or a mixture. You put this on a die (a piece of hardened metal engraved with a reversed-out pattern) and put another die on top. Then you hit the top die with a hammer. Finally you remove your finished coin known as a “hammered” coin.

The milling revolution
Hammering persisted until the sixteenth century, when a new method was tried in France. It was known as “milling”, using a screw press rather hammering, and produced coins of much better quality. For the next century it was tried in Britain but only fully replaced hammering after the 1660 restoration. Coinage had entered the machine age. The next leap forward came in 1796 when Matthew Boulton used his steam engine to power a new coin press – this was just in time for the Royal Mint to meet the massive demands of the great recoinage of 1816.

Decimalisation
This brought in “token coinage” – coins with intrinsic value less than their face value. Even so, gold and silver coins still circulated in Britain until 1917 when gold was withdrawn. The last silver coins were replaced with cupro-nickel in 1947. Then in 1971 came the end of centuries of tradition when the pounds, shillings and pence system was replaced by today’s decimal based coinage.

Next time - Part II – What to Collect?

About Sarah Leavesley

Online Editor for The Westminster Collection, the UK's leading mail order business selling coins, stamps and other collectables.
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