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Ten Attractive and Inexpensive World Coins to Get Your Collection Started

Attractive and Affordable world coins.
Image: CoinWeek
  • Collectors on a budget will find world coins an interesting area to pursue
  • Al Doyle lists 10 world coin areas that should excite coin collectors
  • Several silver coins make Al Doyle’s list

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By Al Doyle for CoinWeek …..
 

Not every collector has the means to buy everything they want. Even with their allure, coins can’t compete with buying groceries and paying the mortgage or rent. So what can the cash-strapped numismatist do to stay involved in their favorite pastime?

Perhaps it’s time for a little creative, “out of the box” thinking. In this case, the “box” may be date sets of U.S. coin series or single certified U.S. issues. Get into key dates or high-grade examples, and it often means the person with the blue-collar budget finds themselves priced out of the game. Perhaps it’s time for a different game.

Compared to many U.S coins, world coinage of comparable age, metallic composition, condition, and rarity can often be had for much less than the cost of “buying American”. How did this happen?

Local buyers are almost always going to be the biggest outlet for the scarce and not-so-rare coins of any nation. Since the United States has the globe’s largest number of affluent and middle-class collectors, those factors naturally drive prices for U.S. material higher than what the market would sustain elsewhere. Overseas hobbyists match their American counterparts in knowledge and enthusiasm, but their pockets usually aren’t as deep.

For those who have an interest in other nations or a natural sense of curiosity, the world coin scene can provide a satisfying way to stay involved with numismatics on a thrifty budget. The variety of designs and artwork is truly impressive, and here are 10 low-cost masterpieces.

1913-40 Netherlands 5 Cent Pieces

The diamond shape of these coins makes them intriguing, but the artistic flourishes and intricate design takes this series to the upper levels of inexpensive “cool”.

1936 Netherlands 5 Cents. Image: Adobe Stock.
1936 Netherlands 5 Cents. Image: Adobe Stock.

Take a look at the scallop shells on the left and right sides of the reverse. The shell on the left contains the “19” portion of the date, while the other two digits are placed in the shell on the right. Those small circles between the shells are pearls. This miniature artistry in copper-nickel example is also quite affordable, as circulated common dates can be obtained for $5 or less. Diamond-shaped 5 cent pieces have also been issued by Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles.

1964 Japan 100 Yen Olympics Commemorative Coin

1964 Japan 1000 Yen Tokyo Olympics Commemorative coin. Image: Adobe Stock.
1964 Japan 1000 Yen Tokyo Olympics Commemorative coin. Image: Adobe Stock.

Many nations have issued circulating commemoratives, which is a different approach from what the United States Mint has taken for more than a century. Japan’s .600 fine 100 yen of 1964 was created to honor of the Summer Olympics held in Tokyo. This will never be a rarity, as 80 million were struck, but numerous examples have been lost or melted over the decades.

Even considering the price of silver, the Tokyo Olympics 100 yen (which contains .0926 ounce of the metal) can be found for $10 or less in all grades. The short-lived silver 100 yen of 1957 and 1958 are also worth purchasing. These coins have the same metallic composition and dimensions as the 1964 commemorative, and the stylized crane on the obverse is an eye-catcher.

1922-36 Canada 5 Cent Nickels

1931 Canada 5 Cents. Image: Adobe Stock.
1931 Canada 5 Cents. Image: Adobe Stock.

If there was a contest for the most attractive reverse design on a coin, this would be among the contenders – and the obverse is also a fine piece of work.

Among world coins, a pair of maple leaves just screams “Canada!”, and these are placed just below a large number 5 on the flip side. The date appears at the 6:00 position, with the words “FIVE” and “CENTS” flanking the digit. The obverse portrait of George V is a dignified and nicely detailed profile of the king. All of the elements combine to make this pure nickel piece a prize for those who appreciate eye-appealing coins that sell for blue-collar prices in circulated grades. The 1922 and 1936 are the most common dates in the series.

1898-1921 French 5 and 10 Centimes

Except for the denomination and size, this pair of coppers are identical – but getting a second helping of this design is a bonus.

1913 France 10 Centimes copper coin. Image: NGC.
1913 France 10 Centimes copper coin. Image: NGC.

Collectors who prefer the classic styles of old over the more modernistic approach of the 21st century will rejoice when they see the “Republic Protecting Her Child” reverse. This could have been the kind of numismatic art that Teddy Roosevelt had in mind with he expressed his displeasure at the banality of U.S. coinage in the early 1900s.

Although the 10 centime tends to cost more than the 5 centime version, “expensive” is a relative term here, as both series are loaded with dates that cost well under $10 apiece in the higher circulated grades. In some instances, Mint State examples are also available for a sawbuck or less.

It’s a happy coincidence, but the 5 centime, the Dutch 5 cent, the George V 5-cent nickel, and the Buffalo nickel in the United States were all in circulation at approximately the same time. It was something of a golden age for low-denomination coinage.

Fish Coins from the Bahamas

The .800 fine and copper-nickel 50 cent pieces of 1966 to 1980 feature a leaping blue marlin on the reverse. Issues dated 1971 through 1980 were struck by the Franklin Mint for inclusion in Proof and Mint sets, and the silver version contains .2667 ounces of the metal. The soaring billfish is a stunning – and inexpensive – sight in silver or base metal.

1992 Bahamas 50 Cents. Image: Adobe Stock.
The 1992 Bahamas 50 Cents coin also carries the familiar Marlin reverse. Image: Adobe Stock.

Collectors who are attracted to odd and unusual coins often have to pay dearly for such items, but the Bahamas 10 cent piece is a delightful exception to that line of thinking. Check the scalloped edges on this copper-nickel coin. An obverse portrait of Queen Elizabeth II occupies the obverse, with a pair of bonefish on the reverse. It would be hard to spend more than $2 for a type specimen. A number of Franklin Mint products from the ’70s were struck in quantities of 1,000 or less, and the cost for these low-mintage dates is almost negligible.

Although it deviates from the fish theme, the Bahamian 15 cent piece of the same era also deserves a mention. Combine a very unusual face value with a diamond-shaped planchet and a low price, and this becomes an impulse buy at the least and possibly a world coin date set to pursue.

Peruvian Seated Coinage from the Late 19th Century

1893 Peru 1/2 Dineru coin. This example was sold by Stack's Bowers in September 2023 for $384.
1893 Peru 1/2 Dineru coin. This example was sold by Stack’s Bowers in September 2023 for $384.

American numismatists may get a sense of déjà vu when they see the 1/2 dinero and 1 dinero of the late 1800s and early 1900s for the first time. The reverse is a South American take on the Seated Liberty issues of the same era, and the fineness and weight are identical to the U.S. half dime and dime.

Is your budget closer to Ralph Kramden than Ralph Lauren? No problem, as the Peruvian pieces sell for rock-bottom prices. The 1/2 dinero series offers a lifetime of research for world coin variety specialists, as overdates and other quirks abound.

British Pennies and Halfpennies

1939 British half penny. Image: Adobe Stock.
1939 British half penny. Image: Adobe Stock.

Older British coinage conveys a certain understated elegance, and that feel carries through even to the lowest denominations. The seated figure of Britannia appeared on halfpennies and pennies until 1936, as well as the large copper pennies through the demise of that series in 1967.

Cost-conscious buyers can choose more than 100 different coppers in circulated and Mint State grades and never spend more than $10 on a single coin. In exchange for a few dollars at a time, a person can build a pre-decimal British coin collection dating back to the 1800s and Queen Victoria.

The Silver Swiss 1/2 Franc

1921 Swiss 1/2 Franc. Image: Adobe Stock.
1921 Swiss 1/2 Franc. Image: Adobe Stock.

This coin comes to mind when the saying “Some things never change” is mentioned. That’s because the design and diameter have remained unchanged since 1974. Aside from the very similar Swiss 1 and 2 franc pieces, how many other circulating world coins can boast such a long record of service?

Struck in .835 fine silver until 1967, the 1/2 franc contained .0671 ounces of precious metal, placing it between Canadian and U.S. dimes in silver content. The copper-nickel version of 1968 to date is very inexpensive, as are many of the silver versions.

South African Wildlife Coinage

1976 South Africa 2 Rand. Image: Adobe Stock.
1976 South Africa 2 Rand. Image: Adobe Stock.

The nation’s early (beginning in 1961) decimal coinage displays a number of native species, and current prices are downright cheap. Check out the Cape sparrows> on the 1/2 cent and 1 cent pieces and the wildebeest on the 2 cent, which is the largest of this trio of bronze coins.

A standing blue crane is featured on the pure nickel 5 cent of 1965 to 1989. Is a gold Krugerrand out of reach? Check out the .500 fine silver 50 cent piece of 1961 to 1965, as the reverse portrait and layout of a springbok is very similar to what was placed on the “K-rand” reverse beginning in 1967. Although it doesn’t display an animal, the .500 fine silver 2 1/2 cent is a short-lived (1961 to 1964) series with an odd face value that appeals to some collectors. With just .0226 ounces of silver, the 2 1/2 cent is identical in size and weight to the 3 pence series it replaced.

The 20th-Century Coinage of Luxembourg

At 1,103 square miles, Luxembourg is almost identical in size to Rhode Island. The duchy has issued relatively few coins during the past century, and one design conveys a pleasantly nostalgic image.

This 1962 Luxembourg 5 Francs is an affordable coin from the small European country. Image: Adobe Stock.
This 1962 Luxembourg 5 Francs is an affordable coin from the small European country. Image: Adobe Stock.

The 1930-dated 50 centimes is a one-year type coin that shows a small farmer hoeing a field by hand. The same theme appears on the 1 franc of 1924, 1930, and 1935. These pure nickel pieces are somewhat more expensive than the copper-nickel 1 franc coinage that was struck from 1952 to 1964. If the old-time farmer appeals to you, the ’50s and ’60s version is something that is within the reach of even the most meager collecting budgets.

Don’t feel defeated if your current coin-buying funds are a skimpy roll of $1 and $5 bills. Consider the situation to be a challenge instead and go search out these and many other eye-appealing world coins that sell for blue-collar prices.

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Al Doyle
Al Doyle
Al Doyle has written about coins for several different publishers, including the columns "$100 and Under" (2013- ) and "Budget Minded" (2022- ) for The Numismatist. Al has also written for the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

2 COMMENTS

  1. you never mention the Gibraltar british coins . they are a limited amount . the 1991 first 50 ecus of which only 1000 were mintedand the 140 was the first holagramed coin in the world.all solid gold

  2. Coins from individual African and Asian nations should also be considered.

    The challenge is assembling complete circulating coin sets of a particular date (if struck) or circulated at a particular time.

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