What are the best coins or bank notes to collect?
Last Updated: 02/06/2013
The easy answer to this question is “whatever you like”, but there are many reasons to choose a particular area of collecting or way to collect.  The best coins or bank notes to collect will ultimately depend on what a collector’s objectives are.  Most collectors have multiple objectives, and a balance will have to be found to best achieve these objectives.

One major objective most collectors consider is “what items are most likely to appreciate in value”?  Historically, these have almost always been the highest grade rare items.  With an unlimited budget, it is relatively easy to buy only the highest quality rare coins, but this is not realistic for most collectors. For example, with a $5,000 budget, buying one high quality rare coin or bank note would likely prove to be the best long term investment, but this will not bring most collectors very much satisfaction.  The objective of buying the best investment items is almost always balanced against other ojectives.

There is a tremendous satisfaction in building a complete or near complete collection of a particular series.  For most collectors in Canada, the ultimate collection may be to acquire one example of every Canadian coin or government bank note ever issued.  In average condition, a large part of this objective can be achieved on a relatively modest budget, allowing the rare items to be added one at a time.  With a larger budget, higher grades can be collected and more rare dates can be added as they become available in the market.  This will result in a more attractive collection with better investment potential, but the lower grade collection will equally serve as a link to history and a way to see and acquire the money of an era gone by.

Many collectors like to choose one particular series or type of coins to collect, such as Canadian dimes or quarters.  These collections provide an excellent balance of many coins that are easy and affordable to acquire with a number of scarce and even extremely rare coins. It is also easier to balance quality with quantity with this type of collection, allowing for better investment potential.  For many collectors, there is a greater objective of seeing the history of the country or the history of the world.  This can be achieved by building a “type set”, with one example of each different style of coins produced.

For collectors who love history, it is possible to build a collection of coins of the world spanning from 600 BCE through the ancient Greek empire, the Roman Empire, Byzantine, Medieval and early modern eras.  Many new collectors are surprised to find that high quality coins from ancient times are often available at relatively modest prices.  Especially in the world of ancient coins, collectors should only purchase these items from a well-known reputable dealer, as there are many high quality fakes being offered through on-line auctions.  

Collecting coins from around the world can also be fascinating.  Collectors can concentrate on a country or region of interest, an historical period, or even themes on coins.  Bulk groups of inexpensive world coins can provide a spark to start a young person learning about the history of the world.  From an investment perspective, it is interesting to consider which countries may be next to appreciate rapidly in value.  In recent years, values of high quality coins and bank notes from countries such as Portugal, Russia and China have skyrocketed, with rare Chinese coins sometimes selling for 50 times their value from only five years ago.

Collecting bank notes has been the fastest growing area of the hobby, with values of good quality notes typically appreciating from 5% to 15% per year almost every year for the past two decades.  If a collector’s objective is to acquire beautiful works of art, most of Canada’s bank notes from 1937 and older feature spectacular allegorical designs or historic views of Canada. Building a collection of modern notes in high grade can also be challenging, especially when building a collection with every signature and major variety.  Replacement notes which were printed to replace notes damaged in the printing process are also highly sought after, and have appreciated more quickly than most other types of bank notes.
Modern coins produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and other mints provide another vast selection for collectors and gift givers.  These coins usually feature popular themes and beautiful designs, and sometimes use colour, holographic or lenticular effects to add interest and appeal.  While these coins can always be enjoyed for their visual appeal, most items produced from 1970 to 2005 have not appreciated in the market (other than for precious metal value), and many can now be purchased for less than the original issue price, or at least less than the current issue price of comparable items.  Of course, this may present a great opportunity for collectors to acquire older items at attractive prices.  In recent years, the Royal Canadian Mint has started to produce a broader selection of products, with much lower mintages.  Many of these items have appreciated significantly in the secondary market, and have proven to be both attractive coins to display and a good investment.

For new collectors trying to decide what to collect, the best approach is always to collect what you like.  But if future value is a major consideration, this should be balanced by acquiring the best quality you can afford, even if this means buying fewer coins or notes.

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