I don’t know much about coin collecting. I can identify many thousands of different action figures on sight and I can tell you whether or not a Nintendo game is worth picking up, but I wouldn’t know a mercury dime from a mercury thermometer. Despite my abject ignorance, I love the study and collection of coins… or as the smarties call it, numismatics. Once in a while, I hear an unfamiliar jingle in my pocket and I dive into the world of online research before getting hopelessly lost, and just end up spending that quarter on a gumball at the supermarket. Of course, that was before I found CoinHELP!, an incredible resource of imagery and information, founded and run by a powerhouse of numismatic knowledge, Daniel Malone.
Malone seems to have been born into a world of coins, being raised by two generations of coin collectors and dealers. “I learned how to handle my first Morgan Dollar at age 4. Dad showed me how to hold it by the outside rims so I wouldn’t get fingerprints on the coin,” says Malone. “This was my first memory of coins in general. My late grandpa was dealing in coins and antiques before WWII and continued after he served during the war. In 1954, my dad started Ohio Coin Exchange in Portsmouth, Ohio and is still in business.”
After the silver market bottomed out in the 1980s, Daniel’s dad took a break from the business to become a prison guard, and years later, Daniel followed suit. Within a few years, the Internet began to exist in earnest, and coin collecting became a worldwide, networked enterprise like never before, revealing many of the hobby’s more wonderful, as well as unseemly, tendencies.
“I soon realized the scams and frauds at eBay and all the counterfeits being sold., so I decided to do something about it. I started writing eBay guides and this eventually developed into my website CoinHELP! that I launched in May 2007. In 2009, I resigned from the prison to work full time on my website and haven’t looked back since.”
I admire and respect anyone who can turn their passions into a sustainable lifestyle, so I wanted to know more about Daniel Malone’s motivations and revelations during this enterprise. He was gracious enough to answer some questions asked by myself, a complete numismatic neophyte.
Collectors Quest: You’re a coin expert who sought to help other people become coin experts, or at least avoid being scammed online. Do you think that the Internet has enhanced or damaged coin collecting in any particular ways?
Daniel Malone: It’s enhanced collecting in that collectors can more readily find and buy coins for their collections. Before, collectors had to travel to a coin dealer’s shop or coin show; now they can buy from their home. It’s also resulted in a worldwide numismatic community and brought coin collectors together from all over the world. I have met coin collectors from near every country, people I would have never known existed if it wasn’t for the Internet.
It’s damaged some areas of collecting since it allows for more people to sell coins online, to a worldwide audience, and some of these “sellers” either don’t know much about what they’re selling or they’re dishonest and use methods to cheat unsuspecting collectors.
CQ: What are some of the more common misconceptions you’ve been confronted with about collecting coins?
DM: People think a coin is valuable just because it’s old. A coin is valuable because of how rare it is and not by the date. Low mintage and grade determine the value of a coin. I mean, “grade” as in its condition of preservation and lack of poor handling marks.
Another problem is mint errors and varieties, people think because they found a mint error or variety that it’s valuable. Some are valuable but most are not worth much more than face value.
CQ: What’s your favorite thing in your own personal collection? Is there a coin you’d love to add to your collection?
DM: I own a Pontious Pilate Coin dated either 30 or 31 C.E. It was a gift from a coin collector I met on another forum. This person even sent the history behind the coin and it’s almost 2,000 years old. She knew that I am Christian by faith and thought it would be a good gift to send me a coin from Jesus’ time.
I am not sure what coin I would like to add. I am not a huge collector but enjoy the buying and selling. If I had to answer, then I would say a 1895 Proof Morgan Dollar. It’s rare and commands a premium of $50,000 and up.
CQ: What’s the best way to get started with collecting coins? It’s a very daunting enterprise!
DM: First, you should buy The Official Red Book, A Guide Book Of United States Coins, by R.S. Yeoman. You should look through the images and read the guides so you can better choose a coin type and denomination you like. Of course, there are online guides like my website CoinHELP! that can help collectors get started.
Second, you should consider your budget. It seems most people start collecting by hoarding their pocket change, and this leads to collecting all the State Quarters, Lincoln Cents, etcetera. Of course, you should always look through your pocket change for errors or varieties. Next thing you know, you’re hooked!
DM: I am more of a dealer than a collector. However, I love hobo nickels, and some of them can be valuable, if created by certain artist, or with great craftsmanship. Pressed pennies have never interested me, but if that’s a personal interest, or a way to get a child involved in collecting then there’s nothing wrong with any coin “art”. Besides, we have an abundance of cents anyway. People just need to understand that damaging a coin hurts the value, unless it’s pleasing to other collectors. I would never recommend damaging or cleaning a low mintage or rare coin.
CQ: What should an amateur collector be watching for in their pocket change?
DM: Hm, now this isn’t an easy answer, there’s so many things to look for that it fills volumes of books and is the bulk of many websites. My recommendation is to look for anything out of the ordinary and seek help from a numismatic forum. I spend a lot of time helping forum members, and answering emails, to identify errors, varieties or damaged coins.
I will say this: the U.S. Mint changed the planchet metal of Lincoln Cents from 90% copper to copper plated zinc planchets in 1982. There’s some, 90% copper, 1982 issues but most people can’t tell the difference, so you should put back all Lincoln Cents 1981 and before.
Copper might be the next “silver” and 90% copper coins already worth more than face value.
CQ: There seems to be confusion, at least as far as common perceptions go, between actual coin currency and coins released from places like The Franklin Mint. People often seem to express disappointment and confusion about the difference between these two types of items. Do you have any words of wisdom or caution for the masses?
DM: One fact people need to understand is that coins minted by the Franklin Mint or any other private mint is that these coins don’t have a denomination. So there’s a huge difference between U.S. Mint issues and private mint issues.
Private mint issues can contain gold or silver (90% or 80%) but they charge a lofty premium that usually depreciates soon after you pay for the coins. I have witnessed many people trying to sell their privately minted coins and they bring their receipt thinking they should be worth more after all these years. I don’t recommend buying coins, no matter how pleasing the coin or subject matter, from any private mint.
This brings another problem I see with people buying overpriced coins. HSN and CoinVault are two shopping shows that prey on people’s ignorance about coins. These salesmen are good at their craft and make you think the coins they sell are rare, difficult to find, worth much more than they actually are, or are a special deal you can’t find anywhere else. It’s all smoke and mirrors. I can find the exact items at eBay for much less. It might take a little more time to put together an entire set they’re pushing, but you can save hundreds of dollars.
I cringed when they tell people to act now or miss out, or “limited quantity,” etcetera. It’s all marketing and they’re hoping you don’t know much if anything about coin values. You will pay too much for these coins no matter what they claim. [For more reading on this, check out Daniel's guide on the subject!]
I admit: that last question was for me. I was recently cleaning up a neglected area of my living space and found a coin I’d won during my school trip to Washington DC, for answering a trivia question during the bus trip between two monuments. Did Daniel have what it took to ID my presumably worthless coin?
Of course, Malone comes through with far more information than I was able to come up with by myself. “It’s a Washington D.C. souvenir medal and is solid bronze. There’s different issues, and they are worth $4-$10 each.” Which is, of course, an excellent launching point towards popping this into a casual auction. I need to fund my Batman addiction somehow.
It’s clear that coin collecting expands in even more directions than I’d previously assumed, including things like “sample slabs”, which are complex enough to warrant entire, dedicated websites. Because numismatics have so many varied roads to travel, a collector can also check out Coinancials, a quick, current reference guide to the top ten most valuable coins in multiple denominations. And heck, there’s even a very keen mobile app (which I recently downloaded) which is an awesome reference to keep by your side while you’re casually poking through your pockets, or even if you intend to make a more serious exploration into currency values and history.
Daniel Malone has you covered with every aspect of coin collecting you can imagine. Don’t be afraid to stop by CoinHELP! and inquire about that mysterious piece you’ve had floating around. There are hundreds of questions, but we think that Mr. Malone has the answers.