Methods of Collecting Coins

Photo by Baley, PCGS forums

For years I followed the collecting philosophy of “collect what you like”. What I ended up with was a hodgepodge of random coins from all over the spectrum: moderns, random 19th century type, the odd world coin, etc. It was clear my collection had no focus. So I began “filling holes”. This means concentrating on a specific series and attempting to accumulate each date and mintmark of that series, usually displaying them in a folder or album. These albums consist of individual spaces, or holes, for each coin, thus the term “filling holes”.

If you were to poll 100 coin collectors, you would probably find that these two approaches are the most common. However, I was always disappointed with my “random accumulator” collection. There was plenty of variety but it looked amateurish. There was no theme, no common thread. Likewise, the “hole filler” collection was focused, but boring. Who wants to look at 74 Lincoln cents where the only difference is the date and the presence of a minute “D” or “S”?

Please understand that I’m not condemning either method. Your collection is YOUR collection. Ultimately, the only person who has to be satisfied with it is you. But if you’re like me and have found your collection is lacking in some way, here are a few alternatives for your consideration.

Type Set

The type set is a classic. There are several ways to approach it, depending on the depth of your pockets. You can attempt it on a grand scale, acquiring one coin of each representative type in every denomination. For example, in Large Cents you would have one each of the Chain, Wreath, Liberty Cap, Draped Bust, Classic, Matron, and Braided Hair cents. Then you would move on to a Flying Eagle cent and one each of the different types in the Indian Head cent series, and so on. Many subsets can be accomplished in each denomination if completing the all encompassing U.S. Type set is out of reach. Pick a denomination, break out the Red Book for the different design types, and let the hunt begin!

Grading Sets

These are cool to assemble and very educational as well. For this set you would pick a series, say Buffalo nickels, and then find examples in each grade: About Good, Good, Very Good, Fine, and so on up through mint state. You can rely on your own grading skills or a grading service (preferably PCGS or NGC). Once complete, you will have an excellent reference set with which to compare future purchases.

Year Sets

For this you’ll want to get your Red Book out again. The idea here is to get one of each denomination for a given year. My mom was born in 1950 so I would find a Lincoln cent, Jefferson nickel, Roosevelt dime, Washington quarter, and Franklin half dollar from that year to complete the set. This may seem simple but pick a year like 1868 and you would have to include 10 coins, and that’s if you exclude the gold issues!

Mintmark Set

Mintmarks were a relatively late addition to U.S. coinage, coming about in 1838 with the addition of an “O” to coins struck at the new branch mint in New Orleans. Collectors didn’t even pay attention to mintmarks for the most part until the 1930’s when “penny boards” included the Denver and San Francisco coins as separate representatives of a given year. This particular set would be similar to a type set but only coins from a given mint would be included. It could be large or small depending on the mint you pick. Again, the best reference to guide you would be your trusty copy of the Red Book!

These are just a few suggestions but you can see there are many ways to spice up your collection. Don’t despair if you feel like you’re in a rut. With a little creativity, opportunities to diversify abound.


  1. Mike Watson says:

    I can appreciate where you are coming from on this one. I am living the random collection method as I write. To be quite honest … I end up buying all kinds of coins without giving real thought to what my collection needs and end up not wanting to relinquish the duplicates I own. I am going to end up with a coin store worth of coins and no particular set ever finished. To be quite honest, that’s a little frustrating.

    Maybe I’m just a hoarder instead of a collector and coins are my object of pursuit.

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