Coins offer more than just monetary value. Collecting can relieve anxiety, unearth historical findings and introduce you to a social world of like-minded people
People collect coins for many reasons – their beauty, value, memories of friends, family and fun times. But why do they enjoy it and what skills does a coin collector need?
Whether you want to collect the most ancient of coinage or the latest Royal Mint releases for 2012, collecting items such as coins brings rewards that money cannot buy.
Professor Stephen Palmer, director of the coaching psychology unit at City University, London, says: “Coins can trigger memories of happy times.
“When you pick them up they can remind you of people you have had happy relationships with, which is unrelated to the coin’s monetary value.”
Many people also find that collecting reduces anxiety, and when they complete a collection they feel pleased with themselves, he says.
There is also the thrill of the chase; collectors enjoy seeking out coins to add to their coin arsenal.
However, the rewards go beyond collecting itself.
“There is a social side. Collectors meet and talk to other collectors, especially now they can communicate online,” says Palmer.
Tony North, 62, from Yorkshire, collects Anglo-Saxon silver coins from seventh and eighth-century England. He says: “I get pleasure from sharing findings with a wide circle of numismatists. The reward is sharing a discovery with colleagues who are working towards understanding the context and significance of finds.
“The variety and iconography of these tiny coins, called sceats, is remarkable. Many match the best of early Anglo-Saxon art and are inscribed with runes. We are gradually learning what the iconography and inscriptions represent.”
North enjoys the historical and research aspects of coin collecting and has catalogued more than 520 main varieties and numerous sub-varieties of sceats as well as organising symposia and publishing papers on the subject.
Research like this can mean coin collectors make significant contributions to history.
Dr Rory Naismith, a junior research fellow in Anglo-Saxon history at Clare College, Cambridge, describes himself as a collector and a “scholar of coins”.
He says: “Coins can transform our historical knowledge. We have no written documents about the state of the English economy in 650-800 AD but the number of sceats found has shown that it was pretty prosperous.”
Many numismatists start as children, perhaps inspired by the gift of coins from loving relatives.
“Children enjoy making collections not just because of the pleasure of collecting but because it gives then a degree of power,” says Palmer.
“They may collect items such as picture cards which they then talk about with other collectors and swap in the playground, which allows them to develop useful skills such as negotiation.”
Most numismatists build collections with a theme, such as examples of all the coins issued in the reign of a single monarch, or a collection of gold sovereigns through the ages.
This is no mean feat, as the sovereign stretches from 1489, when King Henry VII ordered the first to be struck. At the time they were the largest and most valuable coins in England. Of course, coins mark great events as well as great figures in history – with a new English gold sovereign issued by The Royal Mint to commemorate this year’s Diamond Jubilee, restricted to 2012 only.
“Whatever coins they collect, the collection becomes a project. Determined collectors have a list and enjoy ticking off items as they get them,” says William MacKay, British coins auction specialist at coin and medal dealer Spink in London.
Eye for design
Any coin can be a stepping off point for a historical journey. “For instance, coins of the Roman emperor Nero show him progressing from a young man to an old, fat, dissolute reprobate,” says MacKay.
Many people collect for aesthetic reasons. Ancient Greek coins, for instance, are renowned for their high quality engraving and beautiful motifs of birds, animals and plants.
Collectors need research skills to track down the coins they are looking for among the millions on offer, on dealers’ websites, in shops and at coin collectors’ fairs.
They also need a knack for design. “You need to develop an eye for technical detail and condition in order to spot a good specimen,” says MacKay.
Do not expect them to gleam like new pennies, however. “You can still find Roman coins with smooth, unpitted and uncorroded surfaces, though they will not be shiny,” says MacKay.
Whatever coins you collect, the pleasure and sense of history they bring will be the same whether they date back to the ancient Greeks or are issued in 2012 – a year of great opportunity to start or rekindle an interest in coins as we celebrate London 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee.