By Jeff Burns
“Hi, my name is a Jeff, and I’m a numismatist.” Not really active that much anymore, but once a numismatist (or notaphilist), always…. A numismatist is a coin collector, and a notaphilist collects paper currency, banknotes. Coin collecting was one of the gateways that I believe led to my love of history.
My mother unwittingly started me on this path with a Christmas shopping stuffer that she got from a Sears Wishbook, the source of most of my childhood Christmas gifts. The stocking stuffer was an inexpensive little plastic treasure chest , with a plastic bag inside containing a few dozen foreign coins. I was immediately enthralled. Each coin told a different story with different designs, denominations, and languages. Each coin was an invitation to learn more. Who was the man or woman on the coin? What language is that? Why does it have it a hole in the middle? Why is it not round? What country is that? Where is it? Why did they choose that to represent their country?
I started learning all I could about coins and collecting more, carefully mounting them in coin holders and cataloging them, looking for pieces to complete sets. Around the world, countries decorate their coins and banknotes with important political and cultural figures. You get a real sense of the things and people that are important to the people of the country. Often, you won’t be familiar with the people and places featured; that’s the real treasure hunt begins, as you look them up and research to learn more about them.
Then, I slowly got into American coins as I acquired a few old coins from various family members here and there, wheatback pennies, buffalo nickels, Morgan and Peace silver dollars. American coins brought whole new vistas, and a new world of commemorative coins, to explore, and I learned more about American history.
Numismatics or notaphily are easy hobbies to start. Foreign coins and banknotes are still relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Online dealers or Ebay offer lots at low prices. Every town has a coin shop nearby, and every flea market has a coin stall or stalls. There are lots of books, magazines and websites readily available to help you figure out what you have. Just be sure not to approach it as a way to make money. The chances of you making a valuable find are pretty rare. Do it for the fun and education value, or start your kids on it.
Today, my collecting amounts to a jar in which we put any leftover coins or notes when we’re lucky enough to travel abroad, and I have a few banknotes I use at school, things like Confederate and colonial currency (reproductions) , German inflation notes from the 1920s, and Japanese occupation notes from World War II (real and easy to acquire, still inexpensive), but I still fondly remember my active collecting days and all that I learned about the world and history as a result.
What to learn more? Try these sites:
Introduction to Collecting World Banknotes How to start collecting Coins
U.S. Mint Collecting Basics
Beginner coin Collecting
World Coin Price Guide