Coin Collecting Merit Badge Tips for Teachers and Scouts

By CoinWeek …..

The Coin Collecting Merit Badge should be a fun, rewarding, and educational experience for scouts. And it not only teaches them about art, history, and money but also about how collectors organize, classify, and preserve these small yet hugely important objects.

The requirements for earning the Merit Badge are simple and can be completed with little investment for either the scout or the teacher.

So to help make this experience even more memorable and enriching, CoinWeek has broken out each of the requirements and provided some expert commentary.

1. Understand how coins are made and where the active U.S. Mint facilities
are located.

To make a coin, the Mint must first have a design. Today’s coins are made in a collaborative process that often teams up outside artists with the United States Mint’s team of talented artists and engravers. Once a design is settled on by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, the engravers at the Mint get to work adapting the two-dimensional design to a three-dimensional model in relief. This model can be created using computer software or modeled by hand using clay. Once the model is finished, a plaster cast of the design is made. At this stage, the engraver finishes the fine detail by hand.

Next, a high-resolution scan of the plaster cast is made by a sophisticated imaging device and fed into a computer where the data is sent to a machine that uses lasers to cut the devices into medal cylinders called hubs. Hubs display the coin design in relief that is exactly as you would see the design on the finished coin.

Once the hub is finished, it is used to stamp the design into coin dies. A coin die will contain the exact same image but in the negative, or incuse. These dies are then used to strike coins.

Coins are struck on planchets. A planchet is a metal disc that has been specially prepared for striking coins. A planchet starts as a flat metal disc, called a blank. To turn blanks into planchets, the mint first heats the blanks to soften the metal. Then the Mint cools the metal and submerges the discs into a soapy solution. Once cleaned, the Mint dries the blanks, which are now very shiny. The shiny discs are then fed into what is called an upsetting mill, which simply adds a raised rim to the disc. Once the blanks have finished this process, they become planchets and are ready to be fed into a coin press and stamped into coins using the coin dies we discussed earlier.

The whole process generally takes place at a tremendously high rate of speed – so fast that the human eye cannot keep up.

All coins are struck at money factories called mints.

Currently, the United States operates four mint facilities. The primary mint (sometimes referred to as the “Mother Mint”) is located in Philadelphia, where it has operated continuously since 1793. The Mint’s other three branches are located in Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, New York. The Philadelphia and Denver Mints strike coins primarily for circulation. The San Francisco and West Point Mints are primarily used for striking bullion coins and commemorative issues.

2. Explain these collecting terms:

Coin collectors employ a rich vocabulary of terms to describe different features of coins. These are important to know and relate to the designs of the coins that we use every day.

Six basic terms that a scout must understand are as follows:

(a) Obverse

The obverse of a coin is the “heads” side.

On a U.S. coin, the images and inscriptions depicted on the obverse will vary by series and denomination.

Congress mandates which designs and inscriptions the Mint must use when making coins.

Traditionally, the obverse of our coins has depicted either an allegorical representation of Liberty or an important political figure.

Many designs also feature the inscription LIBERTY and our national motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, on the obverse along with the date.

On some newer coin designs, like the Native American dollar struck from 2009 to the present, the date has been placed on the edge of the coin.

On other types, such as the 50 State Quarters (1999-2008) and the America the Beautiful Quarters (2010-2021), the date was moved to the reverse.

When a question about which side of the coin is heads is difficult to decide by looking at the coin, one can always look at the authorizing legislation for this information.

(b) Reverse

As the obverse of a coin is “heads”, the reverse side is “tails”. One might think “heads and tails” refers to the fact that coins usually feature a figure of a person on the obverse and a bird or some other animal on the reverse. This may work sometimes, but it is not always true.

The reverse of a United States coin will carry designs as outlined by Congress. For the one-cent coin, the current reverse is a federal shield that displays the coin’s denomination. The reverse of the nickel five-cent coin features Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. The reverse designs on U.S. coins are imbued with symbolism and typically relate to the person or theme on the obverse.

(c) Reeding

A coin has three sides. The obverse and reverse (heads and tails) and the side, also known as the edge. U.S. coins are struck with plain edges, reeded edges, and lettered edges. Lettered and plain edges are similar, the key difference being that lettered edges contain text that is stamped on the edge. An example of a lettered edge coin is the golden dollar. Plain edges are found on the cent and nickel.

Reeded edges are used on higher-value coins. The mathematician and scientist Sir Isaac Newton introduced the practice when he was the Master of the English Royal Mint. Newton used reeds to combat counterfeits and coin clippers. As many coins of the period were struck in gold and silver, dishonest people would often trim the sides of the coin to keep some of the valuable metal. Clipping and counterfeiting coins was a serious crime, punishable by death.

Today’s reeded coins trace back to a time when the United States struck coins in gold and silver. There is little reason to clip a modern quarter or half dollar, so the practice is no longer an issue.

(d) Clad

A clad coin has a core and an outer layer each made of different metals. Starting in 1965, the United States Mint began to strike coins using copper-nickel clad instead of an alloy of 90% silver and 10% copper. The formerly silver coins in production up until 1965 were the silver dime, quarter, and half dollar. From 1965 to 1970, the half dollar was struck in a 40% silver-clad composition before switching to the same 75% copper and 25% nickel over a pure copper center composition used on post-1964 dimes and quarters.

(e) Type set

A type set is popular with collectors who are seeking out just one example of each design. Type set collecting is cheaper than collecting a complete set by date or by date and mint mark as it allows collectors to focus on the most affordable examples of each type. Collectors can build a type set of a particular denomination or try to build a type set of all denominations.

The image to the left shows an example of a complete type set of the nickel five-cent coin, starting with the Shield nickel (with Rays) issued in 1867 and finishing with the current nickel design. A youngster with the help of a parent or family member can attempt to complete the entire set, or focus on the more affordable coins, like the many different types of Jefferson nickel.

(f) Date set

A date set requires more coins than a type set. Collectors assembling a date set try to get one example of each date. The Lincoln cent, America’s longest running coin series, was first issued in 1909 and continues to be produced to this day. A young collector can attempt to get one from each date starting in 1909, attempt to get one of each date starting in 1959 when the Memorial Reverse was adopted, or attempt to get one example of each date since their date of birth.

3. Explain the grading terms Uncirculated, Extremely Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good, and Poor. Show five different grade examples of the same coin type. Explain the term Proof and why it is not a grade. Tell what encapsulated coins are.

Coin grading is an essential facet of numismatics that takes into account the state of preservation of a coin. The design on a coin wears down with use and older coins tend to be more worn than newer ones. As collectors sought ways to accurately describe coins in sales listings, they developed terms such as Uncirculated, Extremely Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good, and Poor.

A coin in the condition it was struck in that does not exhibit wear from circulation is considered to be Uncirculated or Mint State. Mint State is actually the more common usage. A coin in Extremely Fine condition retains most of the design’s original details but shows wear in the highest points of the relief.

When a coin loses approximately one-quarter of the design due to wear, it is downgraded to the condition of Very Fine. In Fine, roughly half of the coin’s detail is lost or is only faintly visible. As the coin wears more, its condition falls to Very Good. A Lincoln cent in Very Good condition will only have faint detail.  The outline of the design is still clearly visible along with the date. But the features on Lincoln’s portrait are worn off and the coin’s reverse lacks detail. Typically, Lincoln cents in circulation that are of this low grade were struck with the Wheat Reverse of 1909-1958.

In Poor, the design can only be made out by the outline of the design or the type of coin. Coin collectors only bother with Poor coins if they are exceptionally rare. The typical coin that a collector will find in change will fall between the grades of Extra Fine and Uncirculated. Older coins may grade lower.

The term Proof is used to describe a special striking of a coin. Proof is not a grade. A Proof coin is struck using a special process where coins are struck at a low speed, with multiple impressions from the specially-prepared dies on highly polished planchets.

Left: 1975 dime struck for circulation. Right: 1975 dime struck as a Proof. Notice the “S” mintmark denoting the coin was struck at San Francisco and the mirrored fields and frosty devices. Also notice the finer details evident on the Proof coin.
Proof coins are typically sold by the United States Mint to collectors at a premium price and come in special packaging to protect the coins. This image shows a 1975 Proof set that contains three 1776-1976 Bicentennial commemorative coins.

4. Know three different ways to store a collection, and describe the benefits,
drawbacks, and expense of each method. Pick one to use when
completing requirements.

Coins can be safely stored using a number of methods. The most popular are storing coins in coin boards or albums; storing coins in small cloth, paper, or plastic flips; or storing coins in sonically-sealed holders.

Coin boards and albums are perfect for low-value coins as they allow the collector easy access to the collection, provide a good organizational foundation to the collection, and keep the coins relatively safe. The downside is that some coins are struck using metals that are reactive to chemicals and environmental factors. Flips, whether paper, plastic, or cloth, provide a safe storage medium for coins. Collectors at all skill levels use these products. It is important to consider the life expectancy of these products.

Plastic holders serve as a short-term storage solution, while mylar holders are inert. Paper holders and cloth holders have long been popular storage media. Be sure that the paper and cloth holders that you use are archival quality if you intend to store valuable coins for a long period of time.

Sonically sealed hard plastic coin holders, like those used by professional grading companies, are the best long-term storage solution for coin collectors. Typically, these holders feature gaskets that secure the coin in a fixed position. The grading services also provide accurate information concerning the coin’s date of manufacture, country of origin, and grade of the coin.

No matter how you store your coins, it is important to know that coins should be handled only by touching the rim, that they should not be cleaned with chemicals or any other tool that moves or damages the metal, and should be stored in a dry location, preferably at room temperature.

5. Do ONE of the following:

(a) Demonstrate to your counselor that you know how to use two U.S. or
world coin reference catalogs.

The most popular reference catalog for U.S. coins is the Official Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman, also known as the Red Book. This book contains pricing data, grading standards, and background information for every coin struck in the United States and the American colonies.

There are many world coin reference catalogs, but the most used one is the Standard Catalog of World Coins, which is published in multiple volumes and covers hundreds of years of coin production by the U.S. and World Mints.

(b) Read a numismatic magazine, newspaper, or website and tell your counselor
about what you learned.

There are a number of great resources for coin collectors. CoinWeek, the site you are visiting right now, contains nearly 20,000 articles about coin collecting. There are also a number of great magazines that you can buy to learn about coins. The American Numismatic Association (ANA) is a national organization devoted to furthering the public’s understanding and enjoyment of coins and the coin collecting hobby. It publishes a monthly magazine titled The Numismatist. Learn more about the ANA by visiting their website

6. Describe the 1999–2008 50 State Quarters program or the America the
Beautiful Quarters® program. Collect and show your counselor five different
quarters from circulation you have acquired from one of these programs.

The 50 State Quarters program celebrated the 50 states of the United States, starting with Delaware, the first state, and continuing with a quarter for each state, released in the order of admittance into the Union.

The Denver Mint and the Philadelphia Mint struck hundreds of millions of examples of each design, which were released into circulation to great fanfare. It is possible to assemble a complete set of circulation strike 50 State Quarters from coins found in change.

The same can be said about the America the Beautiful Quarters program. The America the Beautiful Quarters program followed the 50 State Quarters program in 2010 and comprised of 56 quarter designs honoring America’s national parks and national historic sites. Highlights of the series include the Wyoming Yellowstone National Park quarter released in 2010, the Pennsylvania Gettysburg National Military Park quarter released in 2011, the Florida Everglades National Park quarter released in 2014, and the Iowa Effigy Mounds National Monument quarter released in 2017. Like the 50 State Quarters program, each oft the America the Beautiful quarters can also be found in change.

7. Collect from circulation a set of current U.S. coins. Include one coin of each
denomination (cent, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar). For each coin,
locate the mint marks, if any, and the designer’s initials, if any.

Sacagawea dollar – P Mintmark for Philadelphia
Kennedy half dollar – P Mintmark for Philadelphia
2022 Washington quarter new design – P Mintmark for Philadelphia
America the Beautiful quarter dollar – D Mintmark for Denver
50 States Quarters quarter – P Mintmark for Philadelphia
Roosevelt Dime – D Mintmark for Denver
Jefferson Nickel current design – D mintmark for Denver
Lincoln cent current design – D Mintmark for Denver

8. Do the following:
(a) Identify the people depicted on the following denominations of current
U.S. paper money: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100.

(b) Explain “legal tender.”

The term legal tender is used to describe a form of payment that is satisfactory to use to pay a public or private debt. Public debt is a debt that an individual owes to the government. Private debt is a debt that an individual owes to a person or a business. Paying for groceries, buying a car or a house, or simply paying back a loan from a friend of family member is a private debt. A tax assessment is a public debt.

In the United States, only U.S. coins and currency are considered legal tender. This does not mean that a business has to accept a truck load of one-cent coins to pay off a large debt, however. Individuals have the right to refuse payment if the method of payment is inconvenient.

(c) Describe the role the Federal Reserve System plays in the distribution
of currency.

The Federal Reserve issues Federal Reserve notes (paper currency) and U.S. coins to more than 8,400 banks across the country. The Federal Reserve Board determines the number of new Federal Reserve notes that are needed to supply the economy. Notes are printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The United States Mint decides on the number of coins needed to satisfy commercial demand. Once struck and packaged, the Mint ships its coins to the Federal Reserve Banks’ coin distribution facilities.

9. Do ONE of the following:

(a) Collect and identify 50 foreign coins from at least 10 different countries.
(b) Collect and identify 20 bank notes from at least five different countries.
(c) Collect and identify 15 different tokens or medals.
(d) For each year since the year of your birth, collect a date set of a single type
of coin.

10. Do ONE of the following:

(a) Tour a U.S. Mint facility, a Bureau of Engraving and Printing facility, a
Federal Reserve bank, or a numismatic museum or exhibit, and describe
what you learned to your counselor.

The United States Mint offers tours at its Philadelphia and Denver Mint locations. The tours attract thousands of visitors each year and are certainly worth making a trip if you are interested in learning how coins are made. If you can’t make the trip, there are a number of videos online that show the production floor. Here is an example produced by the United States Mint that shows 2012 cents being struck.

(b) With your parent’s permission, attend a coin show or coin club meeting,
or view the website of the U.S. Mint or a coin dealer, and report what
you learned.

(c) Give a talk about coin collecting to a group such as your troop, a Cub
Scout pack, or your class at school.

Giving a talk about coin collecting is not as daunting as it might seem at first. To accomplish this task, choose a topic to discuss. Remember, you do not need to include every fact or detail relating to the topic. It might even be better to choose a small topic with a limited scope.

For instance, instead of doing a presentation on every denomination of coin produced by the United States Mint, select one denomination and design and discuss when the design was produced, who designed the coin, and describe the elements of the design. You could also select a year, perhaps a birth year, and describe the different coins that were struck that year and focus on one or two interesting facts about each. Be sure to use trustworthy research materials and cite your sources.

(d) Do drawings of five Colonial-era U.S. coins.

Five Colonial Coins: 1. 1786 Connecticut Copper, 2. 1773 Virginia Halfpenny, 3. 1652 Massachusetts Bay Colony Pine Tree Shilling, 4. Undated (1652) New England Shilling, 5. 1786 New Jersey Copper. Images: Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

These five colonials represent a taste of the diversity of coins that were struck for circulation in the English-speaking American colonies. Some of these are affordable, while others are quite rare.

The first coin is the finest known of the “Scholar’s Head” variety. It features a right-facing mailed bust portrait and carries an inscription that reads: AUCTORI CONNEC (“Authority of Connecticut”).

The second coin is a Mint State example of the 1773 Virginia halfpenny. This coin was struck in London under the authority of the Virginia Assembly and circulated throughout the colony. The obverse features a right-facing portrait of King George III. The inscription denotes the identity of the king in Latin. A large hoard of these coins was dispersed to collectors in the late 19th century.

Coin number three is the famous Pine Tree Shilling. The tree is the centerpiece of the design and is encircled by beads. The inscription reads: IN MASATHVSETS. This famous coin is prized by collectors of early American coinage.

The fourth coin is an extremely rare colonial New England shilling. Only four are known of this variety. Although this coin features a crude and simple design, numismatists continue to be fascinated by it and have written extensively about the way this coin and similar coins of its issue were struck and the extent to which these coins circulated. Note the 1652 date is significant as it pertains to the British Civil War.

Coin number 5 is a 1786 New Jersey copper. Struck after the Revolutionary War’s conclusion, this beautiful piece features a horse head and a plow. The inscription reads: NOVA CAESAREA (“Nova Caesarea” is New Jersey’s Latin name).

Coin designs of this period vary greatly and are defined by the skill of the engraver. As important as the figures on the coin are, collectors are also inspired by the inscriptions. In your illustration of the coins think about the meaning behind the words and how they are relevant today.


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