Jeff Garrett's Advice on Getting Started in U.S. Coin Collecting

Noted numismatist, Jeff Garrett, offers excellent tips for collectors interested in collecting U.S. coins but may not know where to start.

by Jeff Garrett l Published on September 21, 2019

The Fall 2019 edition of CPG® Coin & Currency Market Review

This article appeared in print in the October-November-December 2019 issue of The CPG Coin & Currency Market Review. Click here for more information on this publication.

I often have conversations with others about the growth of numismatics. Most, if not all, agree on the importance of attracting young people to the hobby.

Not long ago, I spoke with a marketing director for the Royal Canadian Mint. Their research shows that it is very important to target people ages 6–12, with the knowledge that they will most likely leave the hobby temporarily. The hope is that they will return to the hobby after they have established careers. The mint’s idea, in essence, is to plant numismatic seeds.

I often have conversations with others about the growth of numismatics. Most, if not all, agree on the importance of attracting young people to the hobby.

The new director of the United States Mint, David Ryder, reportedly also has been looking into how to attract young people to numismatics. The recent issue of “W” quarters into circulation was a great idea, one that I know for a fact got many young people and adults looking at their change for the first time in years.

The US Mint is reported to be considering a producing its first colorized coin in the near future.

This approach is different from decades ago, when people started collecting coins as kids and continued through adulthood. Beginning collectors would buy a coin album and attempt to find the coins in their change. Like millions of others, this is how I started collecting. Today, when young or middle-aged people re-discover the hobby, they will most likely start collecting vintage coins.

I am often asked by people in this stage of the hobby to advise them about what to collect. They have an interest in numismatics but are confused about where to start.

Picking coins from circulation is not an option for these folks and they usually are trying to find an interesting series to focus on. Their nearly endless choices are limited only by their budget, and they usually try to find a series that they can afford.

When buying vintage or modern coins of relatively high value, it is important to purchase NGC certified coins. This will ensure the best possible resale in the future.

Coin collecting offers many opportunities, and with patience you will probably find a series or issue that will be exciting and profitable to collect.

The following are just a few of the possible ways to start your coin collection.

Silver Eagles 1986 to date, graded NGC MS and PR 69

Many individuals discover numismatics after purchasing silver bullion or an American Silver Eagle. The recent rise in bullion prices will bring a lot of new rare coin buyers into the market. Assembling a complete collection of these in NGC MS 69 is a relatively easy project and can be accomplished for less than $1,500.

A complete set with all MS and PR coins would cost around $12,500.

The complete set looks quite impressive and there is a rather strong bullion play. The only downside is that some of the issues are quite common and for you to make money, silver would need to rise substantially.

Twentieth Century type set, NGC MS 63 or better

This set would include every coin made in the 20th Century and is quite easy to assemble. The most difficult to find are the Barber coins, the dime, quarter and half dollar designed by United States Bureau of the Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber and minted between 1892 and 1916.

The set offers an interesting window into this era’s history of the United States and includes some of the most beautiful and popular coins ever stuck, such as the Standing Liberty Quarter and Walking Liberty Half Dollar. The set can be completed for less than $2,000.

Morgan Silver Dollars

Morgan Silver Dollars, which probably are the most popular United States coin.

Assembling a complete set in Mint State is beyond the means of most collectors. Many try to purchase as many different dates as possible in the highest grade they can afford. There are dozens of issues that can be purchased for less than $100 in Mint State.

There is an amazing amount of literature about the series, and as usual I recommend that you do your homework before taking on the task.

Assembling a set Morgan Dollars can be a lifetime pursuit for a serious numismatist.

Type Set of United States Gold Coins—8 or 12 Pieces

United States gold coins are an incredible value at today’s prices in relation to gold bullion prices. The premium over the bullion price is the lowest in my 40-year career. You should consider assembling a basic eight- or 12-piece type set. The set is quite attractive and should be purchased in the highest grades you can afford. Most collectors choose coins graded NGC MS 63 or better.

The 8-piece set consists of the following:

  • Liberty Quarter Eagle, 1840–1907
  • Liberty Half Eagle, 1866–1907
  • Liberty $10, 1866–1907
  • Liberty Double Eagle, 1877–1907
  • Indian Quarter Eagle, 1908–1929
  • Indian Half Eagle, 1908–1929
  • Indian $10, 1907–1933
  • Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle 1907–1933

The 12-piece type set includes the above and the following:

  • Liberty Gold $1, Type One, 1849–1854
  • Indian Gold $1, Type Two, 1854–1856
  • Liberty Gold $1, Type Three, 1856–1889
  • Gold $3, 1854–1889

Short Set of Walking Liberty Half Dollars, 1941–1947

The Walking Liberty series started in 1916 and runs through 1947. The early dates of the series, 1916–1940, are full of very expensive and elusive rarities, especially in Mint condition. Many collectors choose to assemble a complete set from 1941 to 1947, commonly referred to as a “Short Set.”

An MS 65 set can be a challenge to assemble and would cost about $2,000. These coins sold for over $20,000 in 1989 at the peak of the last bull market. They are beautifully designed and should experience a boost of interest when the Mint strikes gold versions of the series later this year.

Classic Commemorative Silver and Gold Coins, 1892–1954

Silver and gold commemoratives from the classic period have been in the market doldrums for the past decade or more. Many of these issues can be purchased at the same prices they sold for in the 1980s. These sets are actually quite challenging to assemble in matching grades and with similar appearance.

Several books have been published about United States commemorative coins. Study the series and, again, buy the best you can afford. Also, pay close attention to buying coins with good eye appeal. Many classic commemorative coins are darkly toned and will be hard to move when it’s time to sell.

Sets of Lincoln Cents, Jefferson Nickels, Roosevelt Dimes and Washington Quarters

Years ago, beginning collectors could find most of these coins in change. The challenge was exciting and stimulated a generation of new collectors. Today, this is impossible, but these series remain popular and attractive.

These issues also are among the most highly sought by set-registry collectors. With just a few exceptions, these sets can be completed over time in Mint State on a relatively small budget. As usual, buy the best you can afford with attention to eye appeal.

American Colonial Issues

Most collectors consider American Colonials to be for advanced numismatists.

Personally, I think this is not true and would be a great place to start your collection.

There is an amazing amount of literature on the subject, and the Guide Book of United States Coins (Redbook), has all of the information needed to get started.

Many of these issues are well within the budget of most collectors.

You can start with Type examples from many of the original 13 colonies. In recent years, several giant collections of colonials have entered the market and prices are somewhat depressed.

This would be a great time to start a collection of American colonials.

Set of Indian Quarter Eagles, 1908–1929

This relatively short series is a great target for anyone new to the hobby. Most of the 15 coins in the set can be purchased for less than $500 in Mint State. Only one coin, the 1911-D, is really expensive, and they can be found without difficulty.

Prices for this series have fallen considerably in recent years, and now would be great time to start gathering them.

Modern United States Silver Dollars, 1971–Date

Dave Bowers, co-founder of the Stack’s Bowers Galleries rare coin auction house, has published a great book on this subject and has stated that he was surprised by the complexity of the task.

While most of the issues can be found with some effort, there are plenty of true rarities mixed in. A complete set of these would be an impressive accomplishment.

These are just a few ideas on how to start, or restart, your numismatic journey.

As I have stated many times, it is important to find someone you can trust for advice. Also, join the American Numismatic Association ( and try to learn as much as possible before spending substantial sums.

Once you start, numismatics can give you a lifetime of enjoyment. 

Visit these great CDN Sponsors

CDN Sponsors

Author: Jeff Garrett

Jeff Garrett image Jeff Garrett is the former President of ANA and PNG and is an award winning author, including 100 Greatest US Coins and Encyclopedia of US Gold. He can be reached by email at