10 things you didn't know about coin collecting

A coin collector's work is never done. There will always be more history to research, more facts to check, more auction catalogues to pore over, and more bids to make on quality coins.

To prove our point, even the most dedicated numismatist, dealer or hobbyist may be unaware of some of the fascinating facts below. Here's what you (probably) didn't know about one of the world's most popular collecting categories.

1. Romans began coin collecting around 100 AD

Augustus coin
Augustus gave rise to one of history's most popular hobbies

People have collected gold and silver coins for their bullion value since time immemorial, but it was always thought that true coin collectors first emerged during the Italian Renaissance. However, new evidence found in Suetonius' (AD 69-122) De vita Caesarum suggests that emperor Augustus was interested in collecting, and frequently gave old and foreign coins to his friends.

One of the first commemorative coin issues ever produced was created under the reign of Trajanus Decius (AD 249-251), depicting all of Rome's deified rulers.

2. Exonumia

Exonumia is the study of items of numismatic interest, aside from coins and notes. You may not have heard the term before, but as a collector, you will have seen these items in the backs of catalogues. A good example of these are the altered "hobo nickels" of the US, or China's good luck money charms, both of which are collectible.

Tokens are another popular form of exonumia, such as the US' Hard Times Tokens and Civil War Tokens.

3. Stamps once replaced coins

One of John Gault's encased stamps, a form of exonumia

In the early days of the US civil war, the public were fearful of the hard times ahead and began to hoard coins, thereby removing them from circulation. Combined with various disruptions to trade from the Confederate army, this led to a shortage of silver and copper-nickel coins, and small transactions were soon rendered impossible.

To remedy the situation, the Postal Currency Act was signed and the public were allowed to use postage stamps as currency. Inventor John Gault then had the idea of encasing the stamps to protect them, with advertising space available on the reverse of the small metal container.

Today, these are incredibly rare, providing a fascinating area of research for both stamp and coin collectors.

4. Things are speeding up

It took the United States Mint two years to produce its first million coins, but the Philadelphia Mint can now produce that amount in 45 minutes. In 2013, the US mint produced 11.9bn coins.

5. The times they are a-changin'

Spot the difference: the new note with additional safety features

It's almost common knowledge in the US that the clock in the vignette of Philadelphia's Independence Hall found on the $100 bill is set to 4:10 (in contrast to the film National Treasure's fictitious reading, 2:22).

However, on the new $100 note (released on October 8, 2013), the clock's hands read 10:30. There appears to be no significance in the times, though the change will no doubt set conspiracy theorists alight.

6. Uzbekistan has the least valuable currency

In 2013, the BBC released a list of the world's least valuable currencies. Uzbekistan, the landlocked central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union, tops the list, with 1 Tiyin worth the equivalent of 1,999 US cents, or 3,038 British pennies.

Burma, Tanzania and North Korea all appear at the top of the list, though you might have a hard time finding some of the coins. Even though they are legal tender, they are not often found in circulation as people simply cannot spend them - perhaps their rarity and intrigue could be the formation of a new collection.

7. No faith in currency

President Theodore Roosevelt ensured that the words "In God We Trust", a mainstay of US coinage, were not printed on the 1907 $20 coin, as he heavily believed in the separation of the church and the state. He said it showed a lack of respect to God, as the money would be used to buy worldly goods and services.

8. More than a mint

None of the 147.3m ounces of gold have entered or left Fort Knox in decades

The United States Mint holds 147.3m ounces of gold, with a value of $42.22 per ounce, which equates to a total of $6.2bn. However, the Mint also holds valuable items belonging to other governments and royalty, such as Britain's Magna Carta and the crown jewels of St Stephen, king of Hungary.

It has also been home to America's most important documents: the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, three volumes of the Gutenberg Bible, and Lincoln's second inaugural address.

9. Traveller's cheques have a chivalrous history

Between 1118 and 1307, the Knights Templar used a cheque system to fund the travels of pilgrims. Working much like today's traveller's cheques, they were a precursor to the popular choice of holidaymakers.

10. Dirty money

Contrary to popular opinion, coins aren't all that dirty. Only 13% of coins test positive for unpleasant bacteria, while 42% of notes were discovered to contain nasties such as fecal bacteria.

The odour left on your hands after handling coins is actually caused by you, not the cash. After coming into contact with iron, some of the skin oils break down and begin to decompose, creating the smell that numismatists relish… or did, until they read this.

Paul Fraser Collectibles brings you all the latest coin collecting news and auction updates. We also have a superb selection of rare coins available in our online store.

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