Blind Coin Collector

It's another kind of fun to collect coins if you can't see them.

Identifying New Coins

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Since we moved, I’m happy to observe that the mailman usually arrives before 9 AM. Often with new coins. And then the fun begins. I get to figure out what’s in the envelop. For other collectors, probably it is relatively easy. They look at it, and chances are they exactly know what it is. To me, it takes a little longer.

Today I got two envelops, one had one coin in it, the other had 14. This time I will tell you what it takes to figure out what the coins exactly are.

Kyrgyzstan series

I will give you a hint, 7 of the coins are on the picture, probably you can tell much faster what these are than what it took me.

Of course, there would be a very quick way around it: I could just ask my wife to describe the coins, read what’s on them, and I would place them into the catalog one by one, and I would write down the descriptions. I take the easy way sometimes. But other times, I don’t need to, or just like to challenge myself if I can identify all of them.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume which envelops hold coins. The bills can wait. Today, for example, it wasn’t obvious. So, once I hold the coin envelop in my hand, I throw it on the scanner and run my character recognition program. If the sender’s address is printed, my computer can read it. I will tell you much more about this in a later post, just believe me for now. If the address is hand-written, then we go to step 2. Today, I got an envelop from New Jersey, I knew a 5 Sucre from Ecuador was coming from there. Easy, let’s set that aside. The other came from Nevada. I was supposed to get 7 coins from Kyrgyzstan, and 7 from Swaziland. That’s it, now time to sort 14 coins.

I tell you another trick: when I get coins, I try to make sure that different people send me different amounts of coins if I swap at the same time. This way I don’t need to worry about what’s on the envelop, I just count the coins and have a pretty good idea of where it is coming from and what it is. Remember, while I know what I’m getting, I have never seen the coins, I have probably checked all of them in a catalog by now, I have an idea about weights and sizes, but I have no idea what they will feel like.

And here comes my lucky day: the sender made two packages, with seven coins in each. Let’s just assume that he separated them by country. It’s a good assumption, and I make much of it, but all assumptions have to be followed by proof. I love to believe that my catalog is full of facts and not assumptions.

I knew some more things about the coins, the ones from Swaziland are dated between 1999 and 2009. You can’t go wrong with the dates of circulation coins from Kyrgyzstan, all of them are 2008, except the 10 Som coin which was only minted in 2009. This will make it easy when it comes to entering the dates. I just learned today that Kyrgyzstan among the former Soviet republics the one before the last to issue circulation coins. The last one is Belarus, which only has commemorative coins.

In case the coins were in one package, it would also be relatively easy to tell them apart, at least most of them. The 1 Lilangeni from Swaziland is a relatively small, 22 MM, and very thick, 3 MM coin. It is so thick that on its own it is enough to identify it between the two countries. One more coin from Swaziland is 12 sided, and there are three scalloped ones in the series. So, this would bring it down to two round ones to identify, but the ones from Swaziland are thicker than the ones from Kyrgyzstan. This is information I can get from catalogs even before the coins arrive. But it was my lucky day, they were separated. Another way to tell them apart would be that 6 of the 7 Kyrgyzstani coins contain steel. I have a magnet in a plastic holder that I use almost all the time when I get new coins. I like to have as much evidence as possible that I am holding the coin I think I’m holding, and steel content also makes it easier to eliminate errors.

Also, from the catalog, I have learned that coins get larger as they get higher in value. So, I just had to put them in size order and I knew that the smallest one was the 1 Tiyin and the largest was the 10 Som.

However, it is possible to feel the number on all of the coins, which I cannot take for granted. The 3 Som was a little difficult to figure out, but the other Soms were easy to feel. It was a bit harder with the Tiyins, on the 10 and 50 I had to trace the numbers with my nail. Yes, I know, not a good collector habit, but I learned much more about the coins this way than if I was trying to preserve them for the centuries to come. The 1 Tiyin is a very tiny, reeded coin. It is one of the smallest one I have, this is partly why I wanted to get this series. I wasn’t able to feel much on it. I found a small line, and based on similarities among the other coins, I believe this was the number, but I can’t tell for sure. On some coins, it is extremely easy to feel the number, think about the Hong Kong Dollars for example. On others it can be difficult, or impossible. Especially if I don’t even know what I’m looking for. Fortunately most catalog entries tell you where you can find the number which is a useful hint. I cannot feel the dates at all, and personally I don’t know of anybody who can. This series was just very easy, I couldn’t go wrong with it. Partly this is why I chose this one to explain the process of identifying new coins.

There are times when I get more coins from many more countries. That gets much more complicated. In that case I try to narrow it down as much as I can. For example, if I can feel the number 20 on a coin, I check what other 20’s I have traded, and get some information from the catalogs such as coin size, edge type, etc. which will help me figure out that particular 20. Then I go to the next one, etc. etc. This way I can definitely figure out some of them on my own, but at the end I have to ask somebody to give me some information.

It gets much more difficult when I get a pile of coins that I don’t even have an idea where they are from, not even the country. There are still things to try, but chances are that I won’t get many of them right. I can measure each coin, or compare them to other coins which I know. Then I can narrow my search to an approximate size, and I can also tell if a coin is very new, so I will automatically exclude those which are several hundred years old. As I read the coin descriptions, I maybe able to tell what is on the coin, a head, a whole figure, animal, etc. I can then narrow it down if the head is looking left or right, as some descriptions contain this information too.

So why do I do this whole thing if there is so much effort for sometimes so little? This is exactly why. If I just asked somebody to list the Kyrgyzstani coins, I could still own them, it is a new country in my collection. But today I have learned so much about them, much more than what I described here. Next time if I came across them in a pile of coins, I would probably recognize some of them by touch. They may now have fingerprints, maybe even some visible scratches, and they probably don’t look as nice as they looked this morning in the envelop.

But be the judge of that, the picture you saw on the top is this exact Kyrgyzstani series that I scanned after cataloging them. By the way, you will find that they are not organized. Sometimes I don’t even know if the obverse or the reverse of a coin is facing up. Normally I just drop it into the holder. When I want to do anything with it next time, it will be rotated by the time I take it out, anyway. Most coins are also not in any particular order on the pages. I’m happy as long as they are sorted by country. It is much more important to have the exact location in the catalog so that I can easily find them. I don’t have enough coins to make this an issue, the most unique ones I have from a country is 8 pages, but most countries are much less.

If you got to read this far, just one more thing. Please look at the picture at the top again. Maybe you will look at it differently.

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