5 Amazing Coin Collecting Facts You Didn’t Know

1 There’s no official “penny” in United States circulation. That term actually derives from the British, who make a coin called the “penny.” However, the official name of the U.S. coin that we Americans call the penny is actually just the one cent coin.
2 These first one-cent pieces were made from 100% copper and had a diameter close to a modern-day half dollar coin.
3The first English coin to be known as a “penny” was introduced around 790 A.D. by Offa, an Anglo-Saxon king.

Originally, the penny was made from silver, but in later times was minted in copper.

There are 100 British pennies to the nation’s pound, just as there are 100 U.S. cents to our dollar.

4 Benjamin Franklin, to whom we owe the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned,” designed the first one cent coin in 1787.

Called a Fugio cent, this piece depicts a sun over a sundial and the motto “Mind Your Business.” On the reverse side is the motto “We Are One,” which is encircled by a chain with 13 links, representing each of the original colonies.
5 The one-cent coin actually contains very little copper these days.

This follows a major change in the composition of one-cent coins back in 1982, when the penny (I’ll still call it) saw a reduction in copper content from 95% (and 5% tin and zinc) to only 2.5% copper, with cheaper zinc making up the balance.
6 It costs around 1.8 cents to make a penny today.

While the cost of making a one-cent coin had fallen dramatically in 1982 after it was first made from primarily zinc, metal prices have risen so in the last 30 years that it again is cost-ineffective to strike the penny as it is made now.

Multiple efforts to to abolish pennies in the U.S. — like what happened in Canada in 2012 — have been sidelined by some opposition on Capitol Hill.
7 The Lincoln cent was designed by Victor David Brenner, a Lithuanian-born sculptor whose initials can be seen on the coin as V.D.B.

The initials are famously on the reverse side of some 1909 pennies, along the rim on the bottom. After being dropped later in 1909, the V.D.B initials returned to the coin in 1918 and appear to this day as very tiny letters under Lincoln’s shoulder.


Gold Coins

The most perfect monetary system humans have yet created was the world gold standard system of the late 19th century, roughly 1870-1914. We don’t have to hypothesize too much about what a new world gold standard system could look like. We can just look at what has already been done.

Contrary to popular belief, people generally did not conduct commerce with gold coins. Yes, gold coins existed, but people mostly used paper banknotes and bank transfers, just as they do today. In 1910, gold coins comprised $591 million out of total currency (base money) of $3,149 million in the United States, or 18.7%. These gold coins were probably not used actively, and served more as a savings device, in a coffee can for example.

Silver coins were also used, but by then they had become token coins, just like our token coins today. By 1910, most countries in the world officially had “monometallic” monetary systems, with gold alone as the standard of currency value. This eliminated many of the difficulties of bimetallic systems, which had caused minor but chronic problems in the earlier 19th century


Most Common Misconceptions About Coin Collecting

People will often describe a coin as being “Very Good”. But as you can see, a “Very Good” coin is not all that great. In “coin language” it means the coin is only average compared to other coins of its denomination collected from circulation.

An Uncirculated coin means just that. It has never been used for commerce, has absolutely no wear other than bag marks. It is as it came from the mint presses.

An Uncirculated coin may still not qualify as Brilliant Uncirculated, which is reserved for the most perfect of coins. The BU designation is reserved for those coins that have the best strikes from the press.

The Shedon Scale

William Sheldon is credited with creating the coin grading system primarily in use today. Known as the Sheldon Scale, it is a numerical scale from 1-70 that corresponds to the system above with 1 being the Poor end of the scale and 70 being the perfect, or nearly pefect, Brilliant Uncirculated coin.

In the Sheldon Scale:
Poor=1, Fair=2, About Good=3, Good=4-6, Very Good=8-10, Fine=12-15, Very Fine=20-35, Extra Fine=40-45, About Uncirculated=50-58, Mint State=60-70 and Mint Proof State=60-70

If you’ve poked around a few coin shops or checked out the coin auctions like at eBay you’ll have seen coins designated VG, MS64, AU55, F45. Now you’ll know what those designations mean!

Grading coins, though, is subjective. What I may think of as an AU50 you may see as only a F45. Learning to grade coins is a skill you’ll want to start learning even before buying your first coin.