I started collecting coins when I was around four years old. My father loved collecting coins and enjoyed building sets of Lincoln Cents and Walking Liberty Half Dollars. Growing up, I helped my dad with odd jobs he did on weekends, and we split the proceeds and visited a small shop in North Providence, Rhode Island, called Little Rhody Coins. It might have been that we had just $5 or $10 to spend there, but it felt like a fortune. My dad would buy a Lincoln Cent or two for his albums, but I preferred to use the funds to buy a whole pile of world coinage. I would then go to Marion J. Mohr Library in Johnston, right next to my middle school, and look up all my new treasures in the Standard Catalog of World Coins they had there as a reference – it was the size of a phonebook!
One of the coolest deals that came in was when I was in middle school. A giant box of struck Chinese coppers showed up, weighing about 60 pounds! I paid $2 a pound for the group, which was completely unsorted and stuffed into a banker’s box. I remember being so excited to learn about these, and became very quickly frustrated with how difficult these pieces were to identify. Descriptions for different types were much more complicated than with other coins (Pearl with 5 Flames versus 7 Flames, Square Mouth Dragon versus Flat-Faced Dragon, and so on!). Being an impatient 12 year old, I decided it was too difficult of a challenge, and I wanted to get rid of them. I'm still not sure where my dad found this guy, but a couple of weeks later, a professor from Brown University showed up to our house in his 1960-something Volkswagen Beetle and traded a partially filled U.S. stamp album for my box of Chinese coins. Needless to say, that was not one of the best trades I've ever made!
Telling people I was into coins opened up all sorts of opportunities back then. At one point, when the initial Pokémon card frenzy was over, I traded my prized Charizard for an AU-ish common-date Barber Dime (Another not-so-great trade in hindsight…). Another time, I was telling my Uncle Johnny about my coin collection, and he brought down a box of old world coins that had been given to him by a relative. One coin in that box became one of my favorites, a design which I still have great affinity for, perhaps due to nostalgia but more likely because of its timeless neoclassical design. That coin, the 1934-1935 Melbourne Centennial Florin, was the centerpiece of my collection all the way through high school!
My second semester of my freshman year at the University of Rhode Island, I realized I needed to raise some funds for my tuition, and unfortunately, the only asset I had to raise that sort of money was my collection. As this was 2006 and eBay was in its glory days, it was a fairly straightforward process to borrow a friend's digital camera and get all of the pieces listed for auction online. Unsurprisingly, these coins sold for much more than I was expecting and much more than I paid for them. I even ended up with a small surplus after paying my tuition, which I used as a bankroll for buying and selling coins for the rest of the time I was in college.
Since going full time into the coin business as the proprietor of Boardwalk Numismatics around 10 years ago, one of my favorite aspects of working in the industry is helping people who are buying their first world coins. As there are so many eras, styles, and themes, it can be a bit daunting when you first start out. At the recent American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Pittsburgh, I had several people come up to our table looking to begin collecting world coins. My favorite experience of the show was helping a young man who came in with his parents looking for a very specific coin from Trier, Germany, dated from the 1760s, as it depicts his great-great-great-great-great grandfather. By some wild happenstance, we actually had an example of the piece!
If you are delving into world coinage for the first time, I have found that many times a good place to begin is an area involving your family heritage, a particular animal for which you have an affinity, or a country with a history or culture you love. Conversely, you can do the exact opposite, and start with an era or country you know nothing about and learn the history through numismatics. This is an approach I have taken a few times when I was completely ignorant of a certain area of history and have gone down many rabbit holes I would have never gone down if I didn't take this approach.
Last summer, I got a phone call from an old friend from college who knew that I did this professionally now and decided it was time for her to buy her first world piece. She was looking for something she could give as a gift to her husband for their bronze anniversary. I asked a few follow-up questions and found out that he was of Spanish heritage and one of their shared passions was literature. I recommended a PCGS-graded example of a bronze Miguel de Cervantes medal we had in our inventory, and I was told it was a very successful gift!
If you have not begun to explore world coins and medals, it may be a good time to start digging around. Look at some areas that may appeal to you and have a conversation with a dealer who specializes in that particular area. You might find another facet in numismatics that you can explore for many years into the future!