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"Coin Collecting - Introduction"

Part art, part science, part history lesson... but all adventure! That's coin collecting.

It's sometimes hard for 'outsiders' to see the attraction. There's the inherent value of the coins, of course. Money is money, after all. But beyond the dollar value of metal currency, there's all the excitement of the chase, the intrigue of sleuthing and the rush of snaring a great catch.

Pursuing a rare coin requires patience. There are dusty old books to read and sellers to visit. Correspondence with other collectors can put you on the trail of a 1917-S Lincoln Cent. Or, an old coin book can alert you to a fraudulent 1878 Morgan Silver Dollar.

The Internet, as it has with so many pursuits, has transformed coin collecting. Research no longer requires spending hours in a library or driving around town from seller to seller. You don't have to wait a week to receive a reply via snail mail from a numismatic expert. And you can get a first class introductory education by searching around the web to read those who really know their stuff.

But even with all the advantages the Internet offers, there is still the need to sleuth out those great deals on a mint Buffalo nickel. And nothing beats finding that 1856 Flying Eagle cent that you thought was extinct. There's no substitute for patient clue gathering and careful study to find those rare deals.

Coin collectors enjoy learning all about the minutia of different types, years, mints and the history behind all the designs over the years. They see the world in a small, round piece of metal with an interesting design.

And like other areas of history, there are frequent and continuing debates about a wide variety of issues. Did Anna Willess Williams really model for the Goddess Miss Liberty? The answer affects not only the value of and historical interest in the coins, but branches out into the worth of the estate of the model, the designer and others.

But along with the art and adventure, there is much detailed science. Minting practices over the centuries, grading systems - which have grown significantly more complex and detailed in the last 25 years - and many other areas where the border between art and science meet must be mastered.

Not quite gone are the simple days of PO (Poor), Fair (Fr), Very Fine (VF) and the rest. But, though these designations are still used, they've been expanded and supplemented to encompass a much more precise, though still something of an art, grading system.

The current trend began in the 1950s with the Sheldon scale, a numeric system ranking coins from 1 to 70. Beginning in 1986 with the incorporation of PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service), authentication and grading has been taken to new heights.

Today, many are experimenting with computer grading systems. None has yet captured the imagination. But with the increasing sophistication of image analysis software, it may only be a matter of time.

But no one need fear that using the modern tools of science will quash the art and romance that is coin collecting. No matter how clever machines become, there can never be a substitute for good taste, clever insights and the Eureka! phenomenon that is supplied by the collector.

And no machine will in the foreseeable future stand in awe as it gazes upon the latest unearthed numismatic treasure.