Saturday, November 30, 2013

What are KM Numbers?

Mauritius 1992 5 rupees, KM# 56
Once you start to explore the world of foreign coin collecting, you'll inevitably run across KM numbers (frequently abbreviated "KM#"). Collecting sites like Numista and World Coin Gallery list them prominently in their search results. eBay auctions for individual foreign coins frequently contain them. NGC's World Coin Price Guide includes them in its results. And if you ever tried to trade coins with someone with more collecting experience, they probably asked for, or gave, a KM number when describing a coin.

KM numbers are a numbering system for world coins created by the authors of the Standard Catalog of World Coins - Chester Krause ("K") and Clifford Mishler ("M") - which was first printed in 1972. The authors very astutely realized that it would make it easier for collectors to use their reference guide, and to be able to discuss specific coins, if there was a shorthand way of identifying a specific coin (instead of saying "The second type of the India 25 paise coin from 1967").

In the Standard Catalog, each country's coins are given a number (starting at 1 and counting up). KM numbers are generally assigned from oldest to newest, then from smallest to largest denomination. For example, in Mauritania the KM numbers look like this (ordered by KM number):
  • 1/5 Ouguiya (1973): KM# 1
  • 1 Ouguiya (1973): KM# 2
  • 5 Ouguiya (1973-): KM# 3
  • 10 Ouguiya (1973-): KM# 4
  • 20 Ouguiya (1973-): KM# 5
  • 1 Ouguiya (1974-): KM# 6
Notice that for the coins starting in 1973, the KM numbers follow the denominations - 1/5, 1, 5, 10, 20. Then in 1974, the 1 Ouguiya changed its design slightly and was given a new number (#6).

When a coin gets a new design (even a slight change), it usually is given a new number. In Great Britain, the pound coin cycles through different reverse designs to signify the 4 members of the United Kingdom (Great Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales). Each of these reverse designs is given its own KM number. Sometimes, a small design change receives a decimal-point number ("214.2") instead of an entirely new number.

When a coin's composition (the metal that it is made of) changes, however, it usually does not get a whole new KM number (as long as the design stays the same). Instead, a letter is added to the KM number to signify the change in materials. For example, Singapore's KM#1 is the 1 cent coin made of bronze; the copper-clad steel version is KM#1a.

It is imporant to note that KM numbers are only unique within a country - most countries have their own "KM# 1". They also usually aren't specific to a year - Switzerland's KM# 29 (20 rappen) starts in 1881 and continues to this day. In order to properly refer to a coin you should include:
  • KM number 
  • Country
  • Year
  • Denomination
For example: Netherlands 1 Gulden 1973 KM# 184

As you can see from this example, in many cases the KM number is actually unnecessary to identify a specific coin. The country, denomination, and year are sufficient to pinpoint the coin being discussed. The most crucial use of KM numbers occurs when there are multiple designs for a single year. For example, the India 10 paise coins between 1988 and 1993 were issued in 2 different styles - a scalloped coin (KM# 39) and a plain round coin (KM#40). In this case, using the KM number would help communicate which coin you are referring to.

Because of the way the numbers have to be assigned, KM numbers are not very useful for organizing coins in a collection. Numbers that are close to each other could represent different designs of the same coin, or completely different coins. If you stored your collection in KM# order, it would probably look a little funny. And it is very difficult to find a coin in one of the Standard Catalog of World Coin books by KM number and country alone, because the catalog is organized by denomination and year. However, it is common to write KM numbers on the coins in your collection (usually on the back of your protective coin flips) so that, should you need to know them, you don't have to repeatedly look up the coins in a catalog.

Other Catalog Numbers

The Standard Catalog of World Coins was not the first to assign numbers to coins. Even within the Catalog there are references to coin numbering systems that were introduced by other catalogs and are in common use. While KM numbers are probably the most familiar for world coin collectors, you may also run across:
  • Y#: Modern World Coins and Current Coins of the World - Richard S. Yeoman
  • C#: Coins of the World, 1750-1850 - William D. Craig
  • K#: Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Coins - Eduard Kann

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reading Thai Numbers and Dates

Thailand 1962 1 baht
Thailand, located in southeast Asia a little south of China, is another country that does not use Western Arabic (European) numerals (0, 1, 2, 3...) to represent numbers. In order for coin collectors in the United States, Europe, and similar locations to properly identify both the denomination and year of a Thai coin, it is useful to know how to translate Thai numbers and dates to their European equivalents.

The Thai Numerals

The symbols that the Thai language uses to represent the numbers 0 through 9 are known as Thai numerals and are based on older symbols known as Khmer numerals. Below is a chart showing the Thai numerals that represent the Western Arabic numerals 0 through 9:

The Thai numeral system is a positional number system, so numbers larger than 9 are constructed as they would be using Western Arabic numbers:
  • 10 = 
  • 23 = 
  • 496 = 
On coins, the denomination (value) of a coin is usually followed by the Thai word บาท ("baht", the name of the Thai currency).

Here are some examples from actual Thai coins:
Left to right: 1, 25, and 10
To translate Thai numbers, you just replace the Thai symbols with their Western Arabic equivalents (there is no calculation involved, unlike Japanese numbers). Some more recent Thai coins include the denomination in Arabic numerals (note the "10" on the right-most coin).

Thai Dates

Once you can translate the Thai numbers, converting the date on Thai coins to the Common Era (e.g. 2013) is done by subtracting 543 from the Thai year. (Wikipedia has more information about the Thai Solar Calendar for those that are interested.)  The coin's year usually follows the initials พ.ศ. ("B.E.", which stands for Buddhist Era).

Here are date examples from actual Thai coins:
Left to right: 2551 (2008), 2543 (2000), and 2552 (2009)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Collectible Coins Versus Circulating Coins

If you browse the coins available for sale at a large world mint like the Royal Canadian Mint, alongside uncirculated and proof sets of the country's regular coins you'll probably see some fancy coins. Very fancy coins. Coins with color pictures on them, or crystals embedded in them, or coins made of silver and gold (or both at the same time), or coins in special shapes. And you may ask yourself, "Do people in that country walk around with such spectacular coins in their pockets all the time? That would be awesome!"

It would be awesome to have such a variety of coins in use, but these coins are not meant to ever be spent. Mints have the technology and expertise to make coin-like objects, so many branch out and use this power to create collectible coins (also known as collector coins) - special, limited-run coins that usually both commemorate some important person, place, thing, or event, and which frequently make use of technology, design, or materials that would be too expensive in an every-day coin. In recent years, it's not uncommon to also find tie-ins to movies (The Hobbit, Transformers) or well-known characters (Scooby-Doo, Dr. Who).

Canada's 2012 Prehistoric Animals dinosaur
collectible coin with glow-in-the-dark skeleton
One such coin is pictured here. This is the Royal Canadian Mint's first coin in their "prehistoric animals" series, issued in 2012. It has 2 special features that you wouldn't find on pocket change. First, the full-color picture of a Pachyrhinosaurus Lakustai on the back, which is common for collectible coins (it helps them really stand out compared to regular coins). Second, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton of the animal will appear if you shine a light on the picture and then take it into the dark. (This glowing feature is one of the major selling points of this series, and it generated quite an Internet buzz when it was first announced.)

Collectible coins have a denomination (value) on them so that they can be considered a coin instead of a medal or token. This technically makes them legal tender (able to be spent), but the cost of acquiring the coin makes it impractical to actually spend. For example, the Pachyrhinosaurus coin pictured above has a denomination of 25 cents (Canadian), but it will cost $30 to get one - 120 times the value printed on the coin itself.

In contrast, circulating coins are the coins that you use on a daily basis - you get them as change, you find them on the ground, or you spend them in vending machines. These coins are made of inexpensive metal, the design doesn't change very often, and the mints produce thousands if not millions of them each year. You usually don't buy these coins directly from the mint - banks trade in old, worn-out coins for new coins from the mint so that the number of coins in use stays around the same. To get a circulating coin, you either get it as change from a sales transaction, or you can go directly to a bank and "buy" one by trading in an equal amount of money (for example, trading 1 dollar for 4 25-cent coins). (One exception to this are mints, like the US Mint, that sell bags or rolls of uncirculated coins.)

Because of their higher cost, you need to protect collectible coins differently than you would protect regular circulating coins. A folded paper flip isn't going to be enough. Many collectible coins sold today come in their own protective hard-plastic container. This protects them from dust, scratches, water, fingerprints, and other wear (and should never be opened). If you get a collectible coin that doesn't have such a container, visit your local coin shop and get something that will fit the coin securely and tightly - you don't want it to slide around in its protective case.

As a world coin collector, you can specialize in either collectible coins, circulating coins, or of course both. Because collectible coins are so much more expensive, it is more common to start out collecting circulating coins (especially for kids). However, collectible coins make great gifts, especially if you find one with a subject that the recipient will find interesting.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Small World Coins

In the United States, our smallest circulating coin is the dime (10 cents). Its diameter is 18mm (a little less than 3/4 of an inch), which is only 1mm smaller than the penny (1 cent). The size difference is not easily noticed, which is why the dime is a different color (silver) and has a reeded edge to make the 2 coins more distinguishable.

While the dime seems pretty small, there have been plenty of modern world coins which are even smaller. The main reason to mint a small coin is, of course, to use less metal (which makes the coins less expensive to make). But from a practical sense, a country probably can't make all of its coins small because it would be more difficult to tell them apart. And smaller coins are easier to lose, which is why typically only the lowest denomination (value) coins which are made small.

There is also a practical limit to how small a coin can be. It has to be big enough to be able to read the information on it (year, country, value) and heavy enough to not blow away in a light breeze.

The prize for smallest circulating coin issued since 1900 probably goes to Panama's 2 1/2 centismo, which was issued in 1904 and then again from 1975-1982. This coin was only 10mm wide (almost half the size of a US penny), and due to its tiny size received the nickname "Panama Pill". A 10mm coin seems like it would be difficult to use and easy to lose. In 1907 a new 2 1/2 centismo was minted which measured in at a whopping 21mm (in comparison).

Here is a list of many of the small coins which have been issued around the world since 1900. If you know of anything missing from the list, let us know in a comment.

Algeria 1 centime
Argentina 1 centavo
Armemia 10 luma
Aruba 5 cents
Australia 1 cent, 3 pence
Azerbaijan 1 qepik
Bahamas 1 cent
Bahrain 25 fils
Bangladesh 1 poisha
Belgium 25 centimes
Bolivia 2 centavos
Brazil 5 centavos, 20 reis
Brunei 5 sen
Bulgaria 1 stotinki
Cambodia 50 riels
Costa Rica 5 centimos
Ceylon 1 cent
Chile 5 centavos, 1 peso
China 1 fen
Croatia 1 lipa
Cyprus 1 cent
Czech Republic 10 haleru
Finland 1, 10 penni
Denmark 1, 5 ore
Egypt 1/10 qirsh
Euro 1 cent
Guatemala 1/4 real
Iceland 10 aurar
India 10 paise
Japan 1 sen
Kazakhstan 1 tenge
Mexico 5, 10 centavos
The Netherlands 1/2, 10 cents
Netherlands Antilles 1 cent
Norway 10 ore
Pakistan 1 pie
Panama 2 1/2 centismo
Philippines 1 sentimo
Poland 1 grosz
Romania 5 bani
Russia 1 kopek
Singapore 1 cent
South Africa 1 cent
Spain 1 peseta
Thailand 25 satang
Turkey 1 kurus
United Arab Emirates 1 fil

Monday, July 29, 2013

Andorra's New Euro Coins In 2014

The winning designs for Andorra's new euro coins.
Andorra is a small country (a microstate) with a population of around 85,000 located in Europe between France and Spain. Andorra is about half the size of Rhode Island, the smallest US state, to give you an idea of how small it is.

Being so small, Andorra does not have its own currency. Before the year 2000, both the Spanish (peseta) and French (franc) currencies were used for transactions within Andorra. In 2000 both Spain and France switched to the euro, and Andorra similarly changed its legal tender.

In 2011, Andorra requested, and eventually received, approval from the European Union to issue its own country-specific Euro coins. The resulting agreement between the EU and Andorra authorizes Andorra to mint and distribute coins with a face value of up to 2.5 million euros annually.

In early 2013, the Andorran government held a contest for the designs of the new coins (except for the 2-euro coin, which would display the Andorran coat-of-arms), and the results were announced in May. The 1, 2, and 5 euro cent coins will feature the image of a Pyrenean chamois (a goat-like animal native to the area); the 10, 20, and 50 euro cent coins depict the fresco of Christ in Majesty at Sant Marti de la Cortinada; and the 1 euro coin will display an image of the former Andorran Parliament building - the Valley House. The new coins are expected to be available starting in January of 2014.

For foreign coin collectors, what is exciting is that we get new euro coins without replacing an existing currency. Most European countries, when they switch to the euro, must leave their old money behind - so while the collecting world gets a new euro to collect, the country's former coins are taken out of circulation. Since Andorra doesn't have its own currency (though it did occasionally issue coins),  we don't have to say good-bye to any existing coins.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Soccer Coins

Football (or soccer, as it is known in the US) is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the world, regularly played by hundreds of millions of children and adults in all corners of the globe. It should come as no surprise, then, to find out that such an important activity has found its way onto a variety of countries' circulating coins. I don't think that any other individual sport has been featured on as many coins as soccer has.

Great Britain 1996 2 pound coin
My favorite soccer-themed coin of all is the Great Britan 2 pound coin from 1996. This coin commemorated the 10th European Football Championship (Euro 96), which was held in England. The reverse of the coin is designed to look like a soccer ball, and the 16 small dots surrounding the year represent the 16 teams which participated. (Germany won.)

Spain 1980 1, 5, 25, and 50 peseta coins
In 1982 Spain hosted the World Cup, and in 1980 Spain's coins celebrated the occasion with special soccer imagery on their reverses.

Somalia 2001 25 shillings
In 2001, Somalia's 25 shilling coin featured a uniformed soccer player on the back.

Congo 2002 50 centimes
In 2002, the Democratic Republic of Congo's 50 centime coin had a similar idea, with a uniformed soccer player heading a ball.

Here are other circulating soccer-themed coins that I know of.  If you are aware of any that are missing, mention them in the comments.
  • Argentina 1977-1978 50 pesos
  • Belgium 2000 50 francs
  • China 1991 1 yuan
  • Ethiopia 1974 2 birr
  • Germany 2011 10 euro
  • Jamaica 1982 1 dollar
  • Mexico 1986 200 pesos
  • Netherlands 2000 5 gulden
  • Poland 2002, 2006 2 zlote
  • South Africa 2002 50 cents
  • United Arab Emirates 1991 1 dirham

Update 7/4/2013: Added Spain 1, 50 peseta coins to picture.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

New Singapore Coin Designs in 2013

Singapore is a small island city-state located in Southeast Asia, just off the southern tip of Malaysia (near Indonesia and Australia). It spent the first half of the 20th century as a British colony, but gained its independence and became the Republic of Singapore in 1965. Singapore's current population is around 5 million people.

The 20, 10, 5, and 1 cent coins from
Singapore's first series (1967-1984)
Singapore issued its first independent coins in 1967. These coins, known as the "first" or "marine series", primarily featured images of marine life local to Singapore (including a lionfish, seahorse, and swordfish). Neighboring Australia and New Zealand had both started using coins with similar designs featuring important or well-known local fauna only a year prior (1966). And the Cayman Islands' first coins, issued in 1972, are again quite similar.

The 20, 10, 5, and 1 cent coins from
Singapore's second series (1985-2012)
In 1985, a new series of coins was released. This second, or "floral", series (in use through 2012) included a redesign of the reverse to include the Singapore coat-of-arms and "Singapore" in the country's 4 official languages - English, Malay, Mandarin (Chinese), and Tamil. The obverses contain images of local plant life, including the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid (Singapore's national flower), Star Jasmine, and the Yellow Allamanda.

The coins of Singapore's third series
starting in 2013 (Images from the
Monetary Authority of Singapore)
In 2013, Singapore will release their third series of circulating coins. The new coins feature images of important or iconic Singapore landmarks, such as the Port of Singapore (one of the 5 busiest ports in the world), the Changi Airport, and the Esplanade at the Theatres on the Bay center for performing arts. Singapore stopped minting a 1-cent coin in 2002, so this new series will only contain 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent, 50 cent, and 1 dollar coins. The 1 dollar coin in the third series will be bi-metallic for the first time, and include laser-etching to make it more difficult to counterfeit. (It also features the image of a merlion, an important mythical figure for Singapore.)

For collectors, the new series is a welcome addition to the coins of Southeast Asia. We look forward both to adding this new set to our collections, and making sure to fill in any holes we might have from the first and second series coins.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Foreign Coin Exchange Values

India 5 rupees
Exchange value: $0.09 US
Recently we discussed ways that you can research the value of a foreign coin. We talked about the difference between book value, market value, and trade-in value for a coin. There's another important value that you may sometimes find useful, but it only applies to recent coins - the exchange value.

If a coin is still being used in its home country (it hasn't been devalued, or replaced with another currency such as when the French franc was replaced by the euro), then that coin has actual buying power in that country (in other words, you can spend it). These coins are called circulating coins, because in the issuing country they would be the coins that are currently in circulation - the coins that people use every day to buy things.

All active currencies have an exchange rate, which is how much that currency is worth in other nations' money. You may have run into this before if you have done any international travel and had to exchange your money for that of the location you were visiting. For example, today $1 in US money is worth the same as 2 Brazilian reals, 12 Mexican pesos, or 98 Japanese yen.

The exchange value of a foreign coin is how much that coin is worth in your currency, based on the current exchange rate between that country's money and your own. You can look up current exchange rates at places like CNN, CoinMill, and Yahoo (along with many others). The exchange value doesn't care about condition, age, rarity, or anything else that affects the value of a coin as a collectible.

However, it only applies to current, active currencies which can still be spent in their home country. For example, much of Europe has changed over to the euro. The old Spanish pesetas, French francs, German marks, Italian liras, and Greek drachmas (to name a few) aren't active currencies anymore - they can't be exchanged, and have no exchange value at all. (If you're unsure whether a coin that you have is a current circulating coin, you can use Web sites like Numista to find the coin and see if it is listed as demonetized - this means that it is no longer an active currency, and has been replaced with something else.)

A good example is money from the United Kingdom (Great Britain), which is consistently one of the highest-valued currencies in the world. A recent exchange rate for the Great Britain pound to the US dollar was $1.54 (1 pound = $1.54 USD). So if someone asked about the value of a 2010 1 pound coin in US dollars, you would have these "values" to choose from:
  • Book value: $3 (for a coin in uncirculated condition)
  • Market value: $1-$1.50 (approximately)
  • Trade-in value: $0.25 - 0.50
  • Exchange value: $1.54 (dependent on the current exchange rate)
In this case, the exchange value gives you the highest estimated value of the coin (unless you happen to have a coin in really great condition). This means that to get the most money for your coin, you'd need to exchange it for US dollars somewhere.

Australia 1 dollar
Exchange value: $1.02
And that is the problem with the exchange value - it is one of the hardest to capitalize on because it is not easy to exchange foreign coins for US dollars. Most large banks will exchange foreign bills (paper money) at a rate close to the daily exchange rate, but they usually don't accept coins.

Instead, you'll have to look for a currency exchange in your town. Currency exchanges are businesses which buy and sell foreign money. They are frequently used by people who have either returned from foreign travel (and have unused foreign money they want to get rid of), or people who will be traveling soon (and want to get some foreign money for their trip). Exchanges are sometimes found at bus stations (especially near Canada or Mexico) or airports (especially airports which have international flights). Cities which have a lot of international travelers (New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Victoria B.C.) may have exchanges located all around town to serve the many travelers who visit. Individual exchanges may or may not accept coins, so you may want to call first to ask.

At either a currency exchange or a bank, don't expect to get an exchange rate exactly like the rate that you find online. These businesses need to be able to make some profit for the service that they provide, so they will typically buy foreign money at less than the current exchange rate, and sell it for more than the current rate.

Besides using a currency exchange, you can also try to sell your foreign currency to someone (a family member or business acquaintance) who is traveling to the country that the money is from. That way the money can be returned to its original country and spent. Or you can try selling your extra coins online through a service like eBay - people who are traveling to that country might buy your coins so that they can spend them on their trip (but you may or may not get values close to the current exchange rate).

Exchange value is one of several ways to measure the value of a coin, and it is a good value to be aware of when trading or selling coins (you wouldn't want to sell 25 British pounds for $1.50 when the exchange value is closer to $37). But don't let it restrict your trading, either - trading an Australian dollar ($1) for a Chinese yuan ($0.16) is a good trade if it adds something new to your collection. As with all measures of value, let it guide your trading, buying, or selling activity and help you make informed decisions.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Latvia Introducing Euro Coins in 2014

Latvia 1-santims and 1-lats coins
Latvia is an eastern European country of about 2,000,000 located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Its neighbors are Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, and Russia to the east. In 2004, Latvia was one of 10 European nations which were accepted into the European Union.

The current currency of Latvia is the lats. 1 lats = 100 santims. But in January 2014, Latvia is expecting to become a full member of the Eurozone and replace their national currency with the euro. This would make Latvia the 18th European nation to join the Eurozone (the countries of the European Union which have switched to the euro).

Latvia euro coin design models
Latvia's lats and santims coin designs have been in use since 1992, when Latvia restored their independence from the Soviet Union. Annual commemorative/collectible 1-lats coins since 2001 have featured animals, plants, a Christmas tree, and a snowman on their reverse.

According to the Bank of Latvia (Latvijas Banka), the country's euro coin designs were chosen by a country-wide competition held in 2004. The original wining design for the obverse of the 2-euro coin, the Freedom Monument located in Riga, was decided to be too difficult to depict on a coin and be easily recognizable, so the image from the 1-euro coin, the Latvian folk maiden originally from the 1929-1932 5-lats coin, will be used instead. The euro cent coins will feature the Latvian coat-of-arms.
Latvia 2-euro original design
featuring the Freedom Monument

As always, it is exciting to have a new type of coin for world coin collectors to search for. But it is bittersweet because in order to have the new coins, the old lats and santims must be retired. The usual practice for switching over to the euro is to offer a period of time when the old currency is traded in for the new currency, so within a short period of time a large percentage of the old Latvian circulating coins are going to disappear. If you don't have a full set of current Latvian coins, you may want to try to complete your collection in 2013.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Will Coins Change With New Netherlands King?

On January 28, 2013, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced that she would be stepping down (or abdicating) as the ruler of the Netherlands on April 30, 2013 (the date of the annual Koninginnedag, or Queen's Day, celebration). Beatrix became Queen in 1980, when her mother Queen Juliana similarly abdicated (retired). On April 30, Beatrix' son Willem-Alexander will take over as King of the Netherlands - its first King since 1890.

Like many countries, the Netherlands has a long history of incorporating its current monarch on their coins. Beginning in the early 1800s with King Willem I, nearly all of the Netherlands' coins have used a profile of the ruling monarch on their obverse.
Netherlands 1 cent 1948
Queen Wilhelmina
Netherlands 2 1/2 gulden 1970
Queen Juliana

Netherlands 1 gulden 1980
Ascension of Queen Beatrix

The last such change in the Netherlands' coins was in 1980, when Queen Juliana gave up her rule so that her daughter, Pricess Beatrix, could take over as queen.

Netherlands 5 gulden 1990
Queen Beatrix
In 1982, the coins of the Netherlands not only changed portraits from Queen Juliana to Queen Beatrix, but underwent a complete redesign (both front and back) to give the coins a more modern look. (At the same time, the 1-cent coin was eliminated from circulation.)

Netherlands 50 euro cents 1990
Queen Beatrix
In 2002 the Netherlands gave up their national currency, the guilder, and moved to the euro. The obverses were again redesigned for the Netherlands' euro coins (the reverses are the same for all euro-using countries) while maintaining their modernist flair.

With Willem-Alexander's ascension to the throne, we should expect to see new designs for the Netherlands' euro coins in 2014 or 2015. Will they stick with tradition and add a portrait of Willem-Alexander to the euro obverse? Or will they take the opportunity to switch their coin designs to incorporate national symbols instead? Only Monaco and Vatican City's euro designs have changed significantly since the euro began in 2002, so it will be exciting to watch what the Netherlands does with their coins.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Finding the Value of a Foreign Coin

Great Britain 1/2 crown 1945
When someone comes across a foreign coin, there are usually 2 questions that immediately run through their mind:
  • Where is this coin from?
  • How much is this coin worth?
We want to know the value of things, whether coins or baseball cards or shoes or cars, so that we can determine a thing's importance (especially compared to other things). If I see a penny on the ground, I know its value is so low that I won't bother to pick it up. A quarter, however, is worth stopping for. If I'm shopping for a car, I want to know the value of the cars that I am looking at so that I can decide if a particular price is a good deal. When the thing is a foreign coin, which we naturally associate with money and value, it is hard not to wonder about how much it is worth.

For a world coin collector, even someone who isn't investing in expensive coins, it can be useful to know the value of a coin:
  • It is important to know the approximate value of your coins in order to avoid over- or under-insuring your collection.
  • Comparing the values of multiple types of the same coin (different dates or mint-marks) helps you choose the more valuable coin for your collection.
  • Knowing the value of a coin can help you make sure you are making equitable trades with other people (though you shouldn't be nit-picky when making trades - trading a 25-cent coin for a 5-cent coin is a good deal if it's a coin that you don't have in your collection).
  • For those valuable coins that you do run across, you'll make sure to take better care of them so that they continue to stay valuable.

Book Value versus Market Value

When we talk about the value of something, especially something that is collectible, it is important to know that there are actually 2 different values that we can consider (and that are found in different ways) - its book value, and its market value.

Things (coins, cars, houses) usually don't have a single, fixed "value" or "price" that everyone agrees to. If you go to 3 different grocery stores, you'll probably find 3 different prices for the same items. For things that people commonly collect (like coins, comic books, or baseball cards), some person, group, or company has probably created a "price guide" - a book (or magazine, or Web site) which lists the different items and gives them an estimated value (usually based on a lot of research). A commonly-used price guide for cars is the Kelley Blue Book, for example. When you get the value for something from some kind of a price guide - whether from an actual book or a monthly magazine or  a Web site - it is called the book value.

Book values are useful as estimates (for insurance, or for comparing the estimated values of several coins), but they are usually not what you could actually buy or sell a coin for.

The market value of a thing is what someone would actually pay for it, which can be more than or less than the thing's book value and can change frequently. I may have a coin that a book says is worth $100, but if nobody is willing to give me that much for it, is it really worth $100? Or I may have a coin that a book says is worth 25 cents, but it is very popular right now and I am able to sell it for $1. Finding the market value of a coin is more difficult, and requires you to do some research.  It's also only really useful to know if you want to try to sell a coin (or are checking if a coin you want to buy is a good deal).

Finding the Book Value of a Coin

For foreign and world coins, the main book source of coin values is the Standard Catalog of World Coins, published by Krause Publications. It is currently available in multiple editions (coins from 1601-1700, from 1701-1800, etc.), and is updated annually. These are big books, listing nearly every coin ever made with pictures and the number of coins minted, with estimated values based on the coin's date and condition. Every world coin collector should have one of these. You can find these books at Amazon, or you can check if your local library has a copy.

The nice thing about book values is that you don't need to have the most recent book (or to buy a new book every year) to get a good sense of the value of a coin (or to compare different coins). If coin X is worth more than coin Y in the 2002 edition, that's not likely to have changed in the 2012 edition.

Krause Publications has put their coin value database online at For a monthly or yearly subscription fee, you can look up the coin values from their current books online without needing to buy a book. Depending on what you need, it may be a better deal to buy the book or to subscribe to

In June, 2011, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) released a free World Coin Price Guide Web site based on Krause Publication's coin value data. I don't know if the information is any different than what is available at Numismaster, but I've noticed that it is not as complete as the information I can find in the printed Standard Catalog books (not all the coins are listed, and there are fewer pictures than in the book). If you haven't yet invested in a Standard Catalog of your own, start with the NGC's price guide and see if it is sufficient for what you need.

Finding the Market Value of a Coin

To try to figure out the current market value of a coin, you need to find out what people are willing to pay for that coin. The best way to do that is to see what people have actually paid at auction sites like eBay allows you to search completed auctions, which lets you know how much people actually paid for things. It is unlikely that all the sales were for the same value, so using this method you end up with a market value range - if there were 3 similar coins that sold in the last 30 days, for $1.50, $0.99, and $1.10, you can take the average to arrive at a reasonable current market value for the coin. If you were going to sell the same kind of coin, that would give you a good idea of the price to use.

The difficulty with finding a market value is finding completed auctions. eBay only allows you to search for completed auctions within the last 3 months, so for less common coins you may not find any actual sales.

Trade-In Value

While the market value of a coin gives you a good idea of what you can sell it for, it only applies to selling the coin to another collector (e.g. in person, through the mail, or in an auction).

If you're going to try to sell a coin to a coin dealer (someone who buys and sells coins professionally), then a third value comes into play - what I call the coin's trade-in value. Any coins that a dealer buys from you, they will have to then try to sell to someone else - that is their business. A dealer wants to resell the coin at its current market value, which means that they need to buy it from you at lower than market value (the "trade-in value"). This trade-in value may be anywhere from 25% to 50% less than the market value or book value of the coin. If you take a coin to a dealer and ask for the full market or book value, they are very unlikely to be interested.

The best choice for getting the most for a coin is selling to another collector, either in-person or online. But selling coins this way presents its own set of challenges (fees for selling your coin through an auction site; fees for accepting credit cards; risk of not getting paid; etc.) so it may be easier, though less profitable, to work with a local coin dealer instead.

Exchange Value

See our other post about the exchange value of a foreign coin.

Collecting foreign coins is about enjoying the beauty and variety of the world's money, about glimpsing another culture through an ordinary, every-day object which is very commonplace but is also very important. Foreign coins show us what that country thinks is important enough to honor by immortalizing it in a small sculpture that will be seen by millions of people. While there are collectors who search for only rare or valuable coins, they are missing out on the thousands of other interesting coins that make world coin collecting fun. For that reason, I don't recommend that you focus too much on how much coins are worth. Most modern world coins are minted in the millions, and are going to be neither rare nor valuable. The excitement comes from finding a coin that isn't already in your collection, that fills a hole or completes a set and gives you a sense of building something. If the coin happens to be worth something, then that's an added bonus, something that you can showcase as part of your ever-growing collection.