In the United States, U.S. coin collecting is by far the most popular. However, one country and about 250 years of history is only a tiny fraction of what’s available in the world of coins!
Many collectors have decided to branch out into foreign coins, and some even choose world coin collecting from the start.
Let’s peel back some of the mystery from world coins and review how you can try out this exciting part of the hobby.
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Why should you collect world coins?
There are many reasons collectors might choose to specialize in world coins or expand their current collection to include some foreign ones:
- Bored with collecting U.S. coins
- Feel the U.S. coin market is too expensive
- Chance to learn more history
- Opportunity to travel
- Wider variety of coins available (age, type, etc.)
- Ability to meet different types of collectors
Whatever your reasons, if you have an interest in world coins, it’s certainly an aspect of the hobby to explore.
How do you know which country’s coins to collect?
If you want to give world coin collecting a try, figuring out a direction for your collection could be intimidating, especially at the beginning…
… Some collectors might know right away where they want to focus, whereas others may be overwhelmed by all the options.
Take some time to consider how you might want to focus your collection. Some common ways to build a foreign coin collection include:
- Countries of your ancestors or relatives
- Countries with histories or cultures that interest you
- Countries you have visited or intend to visit
- Countries with growing coin markets
- Countries of a specific region (e.g., Europe, Asia)
- Countries with a common language or written characters
Don’t worry, you can always shift focus over time or follow what interests you. Have fun exploring and feel free to follow your passions.
What Countries you should consider?
Though I can’t cover all of the countries of potential interest in this article, I’ll touch on a few of the more common ones that may interest you.
With its proximity to the United States, Canadian coins are a natural extension for U.S. collectors thinking about trying the world market. They started minting their own coins a few decades after U.S. coin production began.
Canada produced 80% silver circulating coins into the late 1960s. Canadian coins are known for their beauty, with many popular coins portraying natural wildlife scenes.
Another U.S. neighbor, Mexico provides easy access to a longer coin history, dating back to Spanish rule. Its first mints existed before America was colonized, and the Mexican Peso pre-dated the Japanese Yen and Chinese Yuan.
There are large Mexican bronze and silver coins available with beautiful designs. Collectors who are picky about grade have seen payoffs from top-quality Mexican coins over time.
While some Mexican coins can be found for quite a bargain, others are some of the rarest in the world.
3. South America
OK, I realize South America is not a country! It was just too hard to choose from this interesting area.
Indeed, Between Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and more, there are some great options for coin collecting. Some of these markets have been growing wildly in recent years.
From the earliest days of colonization, Brazil followed the currency of Portugal while the rest of South America followed that of Spain. Coinage was created specifically for the new world and even circulated internationally.
As the countries gained independence, each have experienced their own triumphs and growing pains, which can be traced in their coinage.
4. United Kingdom
Britain has a long history of coinage with the earliest coins used in the British Isles dating back to the 2nd century BCE. Some of the rarest and most valuable coins in existence are those of the British empire.
The UK has a thriving coin collecting culture similar to the U.S. so prices can be intimidating.
France has a rich connection to the history of Western civilization, starting with ancient Greek colonies. There was also the Renaissance, Napoleon, and World Wars, to name a few historical events that you can follow through French coins.
Over 2,000 years of history, iconic markings, and a large variety make French coin collecting a great option for the world collector.
From ancient Rome to Vatican coins and modern lira, there are plenty of options for collecting Italian coins. Some rare lira, particularly those minted in the 1950s, are quite valuable. Each Italian coin will tell a story connected to the area’s rich history.
Ancient Greek coins offer so much history. You might not believe some of the prices are so low, and add to that you can actually handle these coins. Greek coins have interesting symbology, and they were hand struck thousands of years ago!
It’s hard not to be attracted to the rich history and artistry of metalwork available in Greek coinage. There are plenty of reference sources out there to help get you started.
Russian coin collecting had a major surge in recent years and remains popular internationally. You can get some pretty eye-appealing coins (dragons, anyone?) at a reasonable budget. Many Russian coins are metal detector finds.
Kangaroos on a coin? Yes please. Not to mention the echidna, platypus, and other fauna. The Royal Australian Mint began producing coins in 1965 so they are quite young in terms of coin collecting.
It might feel like getting in on the ground floor in this newer market. The great thing is you can start with coins in circulation and enjoy all the special designs.
China has a thriving coin collector’s market. The history of Chinese coins goes back over 2,500 years. Ancient Chinese coins are typically divided by the type of rule. Chinese bronze coins are recognizable by their square holes in the center. Be careful about counterfeit Chinese coins, which are in abundance.
Modern Chinese coin collecting is mostly tied to precious metal content. And we can’t forget to mention, coins with pandas—who can resist these contemporary cuties?
The dragon yen, minted periodically from 1870 to 1914 is one of the most sought after by collectors for its large silver content and intriguing designs. Due to its popularity, you must be wary of fakes.
There are also rectangular coins, World War II coins, clay coins (due to metal shortages), Olympic coins, and other interesting specimens to be found in the world of Japanese coin collecting.
Most famous world coins
Canada produced the first million dollar coin in 2007. A stunning specimen, it is made of 99.99% pure gold, is 20 inches wide, over 1 inch thick, and weighs 220 pounds (1 kg). The last one sold for over $4 million.
The Lydian lion is considered to be the oldest coin in the world, predating ancient Greece. The coins are believed to be from around 600 BCE.
The English double leopard or double florin, created by King Edward III, is a gold coin over 675 years old. There are only three known specimens in existence, making it incredibly rare and valuable.
The Umayyad gold dinar is a solid gold coin nearly 1300 years old. Only about a dozen specimens are known to exist. One sold in 2011 for over $6 million.
Can you make money from world coins?
In a word, absolutely! It can be hard to predict what will happen in the coin market, but history tells us there will be fluctuations. Countries experiencing economic booms will see more people willing to spend disposable cash on pricey coins.
Holding onto rare and valuable coins in particular can pay off. Complete mint sets and other high-quality coins can also become more valuable in time. Though it’s never a guarantee, there are countless examples of prices rising over the years.
As with any collection, make sure you are buying legitimate coins and maintaining their condition over time to protect your investment.
How metal detecting can help with world coin collecting?
Each year, there are new stories of metal detecting hobbyists finding ancient and world coins. These armchair archaeologists are making exciting discoveries on land all over the world.
Hordes of Roman coins dating to around 200 BCE have been found in Britain. One of the few known specimens of arguably the rarest coin in the world was found by a person metal detecting.
Many coin collectors find metal detecting enjoyable and vice versa. The fun thing about metal detecting is you never know what you might find!
Have a look on this Metal Detection for Coins Guide! You will learn a lot …
Final Thoughts: How to get started
To get started in coin collecting from different countries, do some research to see which area of foreign coinage interests you. Do you want to focus on a specific type of metal, a specific historical period, or countries of your choice?
Start looking at coins and see what speaks to you. You might try purchasing a lot of mixed coins to practice identification or see what catches your eye.
Once you’ve got a focus in mind, find a trusted dealer of foreign coins, if you haven’t already, and start collecting. With world coin collecting, the options are limitless. The hardest part may be deciding where to focus your collecting efforts and budget.
Finally, I highly invite you to have a deep look at this list of tips to help you collect more valuable coins!