What is the difference between a numismatist and a coin collector?

Wyatt McDonald

Mar 17th, 2024 · 3 min read

It may come as a surprise to those who have inherited a coin collection, but the world is full of all kinds of rare coin fans.

Some people collect coins, and others appreciate the stories and history behind them. Several collectors are in it for the money, seeking valuable coins to make a profit. Whether an expert or a novice, most coin collectors broadly enjoy every aspect of the hobby.

The term “numismatist” is often used interchangeably for coin collectors as a label for serious collectors with expert knowledge. In reality, numismatists are a much more unique type of coin enthusiast.

What is a numismatist?

Numismatists are specifically interested in the historical, social, and artistic aspects of why a coin was made.

The word “numismatic” originates from the late 16th-century French numismatique, pertaining to the study of “historical coins and coinage”. This further stems from the Latin word numismatis and Greek nomisma, meaning “current coin, piece of money”.

Many numismatists decide to focus on specific areas, such as 20th-century coins, Lincoln Cents, or even Canadian coins. Several numismatists also have an eye for coin errors or different coin varieties, all indicators of higher rarity.

In addition to their use and function within an economy, many numismatists focus their study on the physical attributes and metallurgy of coins. This might seem trivial, but when it comes to coins like the 1943 Copper Penny, knowledge of the materials that make up a coin is worth a fortune in its own right.

99.9% of 1943 cents were struck using zinc-coated steel, but a small number that made it into circulation were made using pre-1943 bronze planchet. In the right condition, a coin like this could fetch between $200,000 and $800,000 dollars.

Numismatists are generally seen to have a deeper knowledge, expertise, and appreciation of the many different aspects of coins rather than just wanting to collect their favorites. Some find that the minting process is an art in itself worth studying.

It takes a special kind of coin enthusiast or dealer to be considered a numismatist, which is why anyone qualified to carry out accurate coin gradings is one.

What is a coin collector?

As simple as it sounds, a coin collector is someone who collects coins or other forms of currency, usually with their own goals to complete varying sets. This may be a hobby to some, but others collect coins for sentimental value.

Most coin collectors tend to base their collections on coins with specific dates, mintmarks, denominations, or even where they were produced. Profit isn’t usually the primary goal of the average coin collector, freeing them up to collect whichever sets and individual coins they fancy.

This can result in some unusual collections made up of all kinds of coins. Anniversary coins, ones with animals or vehicles, and even coins with specific events printed on them can make up inventive, if not always valuable, collections. Others favour the familiar sought-after collections filling albums with wheat pennies or Morgan dollar sets.

Can a coin collector also be a numismatist?

In essence, while a coin collector focuses on acquiring coins, a numismatist expands their interest to the intellectual pursuit of understanding the historical, cultural, and artistic context surrounding the coins they collect. The two roles often overlap, and many enthusiasts find joy in both aspects of collecting and studying coins.

Being part of the numismatic community by attending coin shows, conventions, and lectures is common for both coin collectors and numismatists. This provides an opportunity to meet other enthusiasts and coin dealers, learn more about coins, and stay updated on the whereabouts of rare coins.

I’ve inherited a coin collection, how can I find out more about it?

Discovering that you’ve inherited a coin collection can be an exciting and valuable experience. To unlock the mysteries and potential treasures within the collection, consider seeking professional assistance.

Coinfully offers expert coin appraisal services. Our expert team of professional numismatists can evaluate your collection, providing insights into the rarity, condition, and value of each coin. We’ve had decades of experience working with coin dealers, so we can also assist in selling the coins on your behalf if you decide to part with some or all of your collection.

Whether you choose to preserve the collection as a family heirloom or explore opportunities for selling, Coinfully is here to help you understand the true value of your collection.

Call our team today, and we’ll offer you an online appraisal of any coins you have to show us. The journey into the world of numismatics and coin collecting can be both fascinating and rewarding – happy collecting!




Wyatt McDonald President & Co-Founder of Coinfully. A student of numismatics and trained in the ANA Seminar in Denver, Wyatt is the face of Coinfully and a true expert. After spending a decade buying coins over the counter at a coin shop, he knew there had to be a better way, for everyone involved.

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