Some of the main elements of a coin
Obverse: The front of a coin or the 'heads' of 'heads or tails'.
Reverse: The back of a coin or the 'tails' of 'heads or tails'.
Edge: The outer border of a coin, also called the 'third side' (not to be confused with the rim). Edges come in various styles but most commonly they can be plain, reeded, lettered, or decorated.
Rim: The raised edge on both sides that helps to protect the coin's design from wear.
Legend: The principal inscription or lettering on a coin.
Mint mark: A small letter or symbol on a coin to indicate the issuing mint.
Relief: The part of a coin's design that is raised above the surface.
Field: The flat portion of a coin's surface not used for design or inscription.
A word of advice to the new coin, token, and note collector:
Collectors should specialize, not only because of limited budgets but also because it gives them the opportunity to thoroughly study the various types of series collected. Here are some types of collections that might interest you.
For the beginner, try collecting:
- Notes, tokens, or coins with a similar theme such as boats, animals, birds, kings, or flowers
- Items with odd shapes
- Coins with the same metal content. For example, collect only gold, silver, or copper coins.
- Collectables from countries starting with the same letter.
- Notes, tokens, or coins from different countries in alphabetical order; one piece from a country whose name starts with an A, one piece whose name starts with B, etc.
For those looking for a challenge, try collecting:
- By type: a piece of every denomination and sovereign of a given series, including the principal varieties.
- By issue year. You can pick, for example, the year you were born.
- By sovereign: including all pieces bearing the portrait of the same head of state.
- Commemorative pieces: including all pieces issued to commemorate an event, for example, the Olympic Games.
- Your wallet
- Ask your family and friends
- Your local bank
- Collectors and coin clubs
- Coin dealers
- Coin shows
- Mail order
- Flea markets, antique shows, and craft fairs
- Auctions (must be 18 years or older to buy)
- Internet (must be 18 years or older to buy)
Investing in your collection
- Collecting can be a long-term investment but it should be done primarily because you enjoy collecting.
- Buy quality. It is better to buy one quality piece than many low-quality ones.
The basic tools you will need to start collecting
- Envelopes, holders, or albums for storing your coins and notes.
- A high-quality magnifying glass so you can look at a coin or note's tiny details.
- A good general numismatic reference book. It should include information on dates, mint marks, major varieties, grading guidelines, and prices.
- Soft cotton or nitrile gloves.
- A plastic ruler that measures in inches and millimetres. Avoid hard metal rulers that may scratch your coins.
- A padded jeweller's tray, plush towel, or some other soft cloth to set coins on when viewing them.
- Good lighting, such as a halogen lamp.
Improper and frequent handling of coins or notes can significantly diminish their numismatic value. Here are some tips to help you handle your coins with care.
- Handle coins, tokens, and notes only when absolutely necessary!
- Avoid touching the surface of a coin with your fingers. Coins should always be held by their edges. You can also wear nitrile or cotton gloves while handling them. Your fingers contain oils and acids that can damage the surface of a coin or paper bank note.
- When viewing a coin, always place it on a soft surface such as a felt pad. Dropping a coin on a hard surface can result in nicks or scratches.
- Store your coins and notes in transparent holders so that they stay protected while you examine them. For some ideas on how to store your collection go to the links to the Canadian Conservation Institute below.
- If coins are being shipped, it is important to package them properly so that the coins cannot bump against each other. Ideally, each coin should be packaged individually with appropriate padding.
- Protect your coins and paper money from high humidity and heat. Store them in a cool and dry place. Although some people keep their coins and bank notes in the attic or in the basement, these are not good storage spaces. The high temperatures sometimes found in attics lead to the deterioration of bank notes. Basements are often too humid and this can lead to the development of mould on paper and corrosion on metal coins and tokens.
- Display your collection away from direct sunlight. Exposure to sunlight can cause a note's ink to fade while the paper itself can deteriorate and become brittle.
- Ensure that all material used for storing and displaying your notes and coins are PVC-free and acid-free. Otherwise your storage materials may actually be contributing to the deterioration of your collection. For some ideas on how to store your collection go to the links to the Canadian Conservation Institute below.
Cleaning your coins, tokens, and notes
Never, never, never clean rare coins or coins you intend to sell! The Currency Museum does not recommend cleaning coins. Any attempt to improve the appearance of a coin, unless done by a professional, can cause damage to the piece and reduce its market value. Most collectors and dealers refuse to buy cleaned coins. Don't clean your paper money or try to repair it! Whenever you attempt to clean or repair paper money, you risk damaging it further. Only experts, called paper conservators, should repair paper money. If you need to contact a paper conservator, you may want to ask a well-known numismatic or art museum, or an archival library.
Resources for coins, tokens and notes
Researching and identifying currency is not rocket-science if you know where to look. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, catalogues, and websites are there to help.
Coins of Canada 2012
Haxby, James A., and Willey, R.C.
Unitrade Press, Toronto
Canadian Paper Money Society
Royal Canadian Numismatic Association
The Currency Museum is closed.
Due to renovations of the Bank of Canada’s head office facility, the Currency Museum is closed for a three-year period.