Coin collection is a fascinating hobby that has been enjoyed by many people over centuries, offering a wide range of Coin Types to discover and appreciate. But is a coin just a coin? Or can coins differ depending on their use, design, and composition?

Ancient coins are those which were used by ancient civilizations and peoples around the world. Commemorative coins are produced to mark people, events, or significant landmarks. Bullion coins are intended as legal tender and are valued for their weight and purity. Error coins are highly valued by collectors for their rare errors, and modern coins are in current circulation.

Today, we will be introducing you to some of the different types of coins you may come across from ancient to modern coins. We will describe their main features and give you some excellent examples within each category.

Ancient Coins

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Ancient Coins
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As the name suggests, ancient coins are those which were used by ancient civilisations such as the Ancient Romans or Greeks. The use of coins has a long and well-established history dating back to around the 7th century BC! Due to their historical and cultural significance, and what they can tell us about ancient civilisations, ancient coins are particularly desirable and difficult for a collector to get their hands on. Find out more about collecting ancient coins here.

Ancient Coins: Key Features

To help you identify an ancient coin, we have assembled a handy table of key features to summarize ancient coins. This list is not exhaustible but will give you a well-rounded idea of the main traits. Check out this cool coin chemistry article on ancient coin analysis.

Feature Description
Historical significance Ancient coins depict emperors, symbols, structures, animals and other imagery representative of an ancient civilisation at that point in time. They can be clues to, for example who the ruling Roman emperor was and how long they ruled for. The techniques used to make the coin are also important and give us an insight as to the sophistication of the civilisation via the mark making and resolution of the coin.
Precious metals A great many ancient coins were struck using precious metals. Some of the most common include gold, silver and bronze, or a combination of these. Coins have almost always been traded as currency (and sometimes as gifts or offerings), so their value was and still is based on the purity of the struck metal and the weight of course.
Archaeological provenance Most ancient coins are found on archaeological sites. Those in good condition are usually found within hoards buried by people as an ancient means of saving those precious pennies.

Ancient Coins: 5 Examples

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Ancient Coins 5 Examples
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There are a great many fascinating ancient coins out there, but we have chosen just 5 to pique your interest. Perhaps you can start forming an ancient coin collection starting with these beauties…

  1. Gupta Gold Coins (India) – The Gupta dynasty began in the 3rd century BC and became extensive and powerful across India and the whole of southern Asia. Gold coins were made during their reign, depicting emperors. These were so prolific during the Gupta dynasty, indicating their power and wealth, that the coinage has been termed the “rain of gold”.
  2. Ban Liang Qian (China) – During the Qin dynasty (201-227 BC), both gold and bronze coins were precious metals used as legal tender. These coins are iconic for their square hole in the centre and detailed calligraphy. Each feature has high significance within Chinese symbolism.
  3. Byzantine Solidus – Constantine the Great was responsible for reforming Roman coinage and replacing it with the solidus, a relatively light-weight gold coin. It was minted between 312-1453 AD and used as the main currency of the Byzantine Empire. These coins are notable for their depiction of rulers on the obverse and the Christian adaptation of pagan symbols on the reverse.
  4. Roman Denarius – First minted in 211 BC, the Roman denarius is the longest surviving currency attributed to the Roman empire. At first these coins were struck in silver, and later in bronze and copper. Key political and social information has been ascertained from these coins including the order of Roman emperors and their length of rule.
  5. Tetradachm of Athens (Greece) – The tetradachm or Athenian owl tetradachm of ancient Greece is an iconic and beautiful coin depicting an owl and an olive branch intended to symbolize wisdom and peace. On the obverse is a portrait of Athena.

Commemorative Coins

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Commemorative Coins
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Commemorative coins are those which have been specifically minted in order to celebrate a key event, person or anniversary. They have been produced for centuries, all over the world, and contain some of the most exciting and interesting designs and significance in the field of numismatics. One example could be the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II – the first British monarch to have reigned for more than 70 years.

Commemorative Coins: Key Features

Some coin collectors form their entire collection from commemorative coins. It is likely their value will increase in time due to the historical and cultural significance of key events from the past which form societies today.

Feature Description
Unique designs Commemorative coins feature significant events such as coronations, anniversaries of key occasions, people such as monarchs, politicians or societal heroes. Often prominent artists will be responsible for creating the designs for the obverse and reverse of the coins.
Limited mintage One of the most important features of commemorative coins is their intentionally low mintage. Often they are intended just for collectors, or for important figures in society. Sometimes they are issued as medallions. Usually, they are not intended for circulation.
Precious metals Like ancient coins, commemorative coins are often struck in precious metals to highlight their rarity and value. This is usually gold or silver, but can be something more unusual and valuable such as platinum. Often designs feature multiple precious metals to further bring out the pattern.

Commemorative Coins: 5 Examples

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Commemorative Coins 5 Examples
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  1. NASA Space Shuttle Coins – over the years, a great many coins have been issued to commemorate the launching of space shuttles by NASA, such as the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary coin series. Significant events like the first people to land on the moon are marked using mostly gold and silver coins.
  2. World War II Coins – commemorative coins marking key events in World War II, usually the end of the war and beginning of peace times, are common throughout the world. Often soldiers, key battles or events, known landmarks and symbols of peace are used.
  3. Olympic Games Coins – the significance of countries from all over the world coming together to compete in Olympic games is a feat truly worth marking using commemorative coins. Usually these will feature a reference to the host city and the Olympic rings.
  4. Royal Event Coins – Royal events such as weddings and coronations are popular in commemorative coin series. Prominent royal families such as the British royal family are often featured during big events, and coins will feature people, places and words or symbols to mark them.
  5. US 50 State Quarters – between 1999 and 2009, the US government launched a 50 state quarters program depicting, yes, the 50 states of the US and symbolizing harmony in the country. Every coin in the series features images to represent each state such as state flowers, landmarks, and other symbols reflective of the respective state.

Bullion Coins

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Bullion Coins
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Bullion coins are perhaps the odd one out on our list of types of coins today. They are not necessarily collectible coins, and cannot be used in circulation. Their key value is the use of precious metals and the weight and purity of these metals. This is why they are often thought of as an investment opportunity and usually issued by governments.

Bullion Coins: Key Features

The features of bullion coins will vary depending on issuing country and type of metal. These features listed below are intended as an overview only.

Feature Description
High purity The purity of precious metals in bullion coins is usually incredibly high, often at around 99.99%. Purity values will often be inscribed or stamped into the coin, or it may come with a certificate of authentication to prove its purity.
Legal tender Often bullion coins can be used as legal tender according to their governing bodies. The value of the coin will be based on its metal content and weight rather than face value like typical modern coins in circulation.
Precious metals The defining feature of bullion coins is their composition of precious metals, usually gold, silver, platinum or even palladium. Bullion coins or bars are usually thought of as reliable, long-term investment opportunities.

Bullion Coins: 5 Examples

If you are interested in getting hold of your own bullion coins, they can be purchased directly from government mints, and specialist coin retailers. Bullion coins are typically available at different sizes, weights and purities. It’s important to make sure you are purchasing genuine bullion coins.

  1. Gold Panda Coin (China) – The Chinese Mint produces this beautiful gold coin depicting a giant panda holding a bamboo shoot. Several mints across the country produce the coin but will not print a mint mark – this can be found from the original casing of the bullion coin.
  2. Gold Kruggerand (South Africa) – The gold Kruggerand coin is traded all over the world but is minted in South Africa. One side features a springbok antelope, while the other side features a portrait of Paul Kruger after whom the coin is named.
  3. Australian Kangaroo (Australia) – The Perth Mint is responsible for the mintage of gold and silver kangaroo bullion coins in Australia. The famous kangaroo is featured on the reverse of the gold coin, accompanied by a joey on the reverse of the silver coin, while a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is featured on the obverse because Australia is a commonwealth nation.
  4. Silver Maple Leaf (Canada) – The maple leaf silver bullion coin is produced by the Ottowa facility of the Royal Canadian Mint. Gold coins are also produced here. The maple leaf or multiple maple leaves are depicted on the reverse, and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is depicted on the obverse as Canada is also a commonwealth nation.
  5. American Eagle (US) – The American Eagle bullion coins are produce by the US Mint in a range of sizes and different metals. On the one side is the head of the iconic golden eagle of the US, and on the other is a full-length portrait of Lady Liberty.

Error Coins

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Error Coins
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Error coins are popular in the world of numismatics because they carry rare errors which were made during the production of a coin. Errors such as planchet and double die errors are the most common. These kinds of mistakes make a coin unique and can lead to a very high value.

Usually error coins are those which were intended for circulation and have been minted on a planchet of common metal such as copper or nickel, like most modern coins. Misalignments and over-printed dates are particularly popular in coin collections. Find out more here!

Modern Coins

From Ancient To Modern A Guide To Coin Types - Modern Coins
Credit: @kalkatklan

Modern coins, also known as coins in circulation, are those which we use day to day all over the world. Most of these coins have been issued just in the last few decades. There are some highly sought after modern coins for collections due to their recent historical significance.

Often collectors or investors will buy rolls of these coins fresh from the mint as a future investment opportunity. When preserved in mint condition, these coins may become incredibly valuable for collectors in the future.

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