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The Buyer's Guide to Numismatic Coins

A beginner's guide to collectible coins

Are you thinking of buying a collectible coin or starting a coin collection?

This guide provides tips and tricks of the trade to help you get started.

Every coin can be seen as precious for a host of reasons: not just for its gold, silver or platinum composition, but for encapsulating a piece of history, an expression of culture, or a work of art.

Beyond the surface—that's what gives collectible coins real value.

Whether you are buying a coin for yourself or for a loved one, doing so can fill a lifetime with interest and inspiration.

Indeed, what begins as a pastime can easily become an absorbing pursuit—even a passion.

Terminology: know your coin language

What the coin is made from. Three of the most coveted compositions include:

  • 99999 (or 99.999%): Gold of extremely high purity.
  • 9999 (or 99.99%): 24-karat gold of high purity.
  • 99.99% pure silver
  • 99.95% platinum


The appearance or surface texture of the coin's relief. Popular finishes include:

  • Proof: A frosted relief over a brilliant field.
  • Reverse proof: Brilliant, reflective or mirror-like details on a frosted or slightly matte field.
  • Specimen: A brilliant image relief against a matte or lined background.


Other definitions

Brilliant uncirculated 
An uncirculated coin that retains its original mint lustre.

Bars, ingots, plates, wafers and coins made from precious metals, usually gold or silver.

An artist's design adapted and transferred to a medium, ensuring the best relief for minting.

The process of manufacturing coins.

The quantity of a particular coin that a mint produces.

The study or collection of coins.



Types of coins


  • Most types of gold coins are minted in small numbers—making them an even larger draw to collectors.
  • Gold is very nearly impossible to destroy. It cannot rust, tarnish or decay.
  • 99.999% pure gold is the highest standard of gold available in the world.

Did you know?

The Royal Canadian Mint was the world's first refinery to produce 9999 gold (99.99% pure) bullion coins in 1982. In 1999, the Mint excelled again by being the first to achieve 99999 (99.999%) fine gold purity.


  • Silver has been used for over four millennia to store wealth and pay debts.
  • Some silver coins can still be used as legal tender.
  • Silver will not readily decay, and requires little to no maintenance.
  • Strong, pliable and reflective of light, silver can endure extreme temperatures.

Did you know?

For both its gold and silver refinery, the Royal Canadian Mint guarantees 99.99% purity levels, ensuring world-standard security protocols are implemented at every stage of the minting process.


  • Platinum is a precious silvery-white metal.
  • A natural element, platinum shares many of the same properties as gold.
  • While it resembles silver, platinum will not tarnish over time.

Did you know?

The Canadian Platinum Maple Leaf bullion coin is one of the world's most famous platinum coins. Since its first release in 1988, the coin has been minted at a purity of 9995 (99.95%) platinum.

Innovative coins

The minting industry continues to raise the bar on the art and science of coin manufacturing. Today, collectors can find groundbreaking designs and effects including:

  • Multiple colours, holograms, unique shapes, crystal elements, and gem inserts.
  • High relief—with the raised design high above the background of a coin.
  • Plasma effect—a jewel-like finish on a coin.

Did you know?

The Royal Canadian Mint's Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai was the world's first-ever photo-luminescent coin. The dinosaur image turned into a skeleton once the coin was placed in darkness. Subsequent releases in this "glow-in-the-dark" series have rapidly sold out. 

Anatomy of a coin

  • Obverse: The "heads" or face/front side of a coin, which normally depicts the national emblem or the head of a prominent person.
  • Reverse: The "tails" side of a coin, usually depicting the chosen design.
  • Relief: The raised or three-dimensional image found on a coin's field.
  • Field: The flat part of the coin (the background) on which the relief is struck.
  • Rim: The raised portion that runs around the perimeter of a coin.
  • Edge: The outer border of a coin, considered the "third side." May be plain or serrated (also known as "reeding").
  • The issuing country
  • The year of issue
  • Face value: The nominal value of the coin (not what you paid for it).
  • Mint mark: Where the coin was minted (may be different than the issuing country).


The artist's original drawing.


The artist's design is adapted to ensure the best relief for minting.


Cast bars are rolled into "strips" according to the required coin size and thickness.


Strips are heated and cooled in an oxygen-deprived furnace.


Coin "blanks" are punched from the strips.


Edge of each blank is raised to protect the coin's surface.

Washing & Degreasing

Rimmed blanks are tumble-washed in a drum and dried by hand. Any remaining oil residue is removed.


The image is struck onto the blanks using dies.

Quality Control

Coins are individually inspected at various stages of production.


After a final inspection, each coin is carefully packaged for delivery to our customers.


Uncirculated Set

These coins are just like the coins in your pocket but have never been touched by human hands; they truly are “mint” condition. This is our starter set.

Specimen Set

These coins are higher quality than uncirculated coins – the finish combines brilliant and frosted relief (raised foreground) over a lined field (background). We are the ONLY mint in the world that offers this finish. This is a great set for those interested in collecting on a budget.

A note about proof finish – our highest quality finish

For PROOF finshed coins, the field (flat background) has a highly hand polished mirror-like finish and the relief (raised foreground) incorporates the use of different finishes which beautifully accentuate the design. The machine dies used to strike these coins have been polished with a mixture containing diamond powder to ensure that the exquisite details are maintained during striking. To maintain a quality set only 1000-3000 coins have been struck per die. Each coin has been individually and delicately hand fed into and out of the coining press. All of these coins are double struck at lower striking speeds, giving higher definition and contrast between the field and the relief.

Special Edition Silver Dollar Proof Set

Our mid-range set includes a special edition commemorative proof dollar struck in 99.99% pure silver that is only available in this set. For the first time the Special Edition Silver Dollar Proof set also features selective colour over engraving on the coin – this adds an extra layer of dimensionality and depth which recreates the appearance of this great iron steamer, whose impressive size easily dwarfs the local gaff-rigged fishing boat that sits off her port bow. The proof dollar features our PROOF finish - our highest quality finish, while the other coins are uncirculated finish.

Pure Silver Proof Set with Selective Gold plating

This is our most prestigious, long running and best selling set. A low mintage (total coins produced) increases the rarity and desirability of this coin set for gift givers and collectors alike. Also adding to the prestige of this set, the selective gold plating has been added to the proof dollar. All seven coins are struck in 99.99% pure silver and unlike the Silver Dollar set above, ALL seven coins in this set feature premium PROOF finish. This set comes in a luxurious genuine leather book-style packaging that showcase your coins with elegance.

Caring for your coins

Caring for coins is not just a question of esthetics: your collection requires proper handling and storage.

Use cotton gloves

  • Skin oils and dirt damage your coin's finish and value. Never handle coins with bare hands; instead, use cotton gloves.
  • Avoid latex or plastic gloves, as their powder or lubricants can damage coins.


Holding your coin

  • Always pick up coins by the edges, between the thumb and forefinger.
  • Never hold a coin by touching the obverse or reverse surface.
  • To avoid damage should it be dropped, hold your coin over a thick, soft towel.
  • Limit talking over the coin: tiny, almost invisible drops of saliva can create impossible-to-remove spots.


Cleaning your coin

  • As a general rule: unless you are an experienced specialist, avoid cleaning your coins.
  • Even wiping coins with a soft cloth may damage their finish and drastically reduce their value.


Displaying your coin

  • Use small, PVC-free plastic bags or slabs (sealed, hard plastic cases) for valuable collector coins.
  • For coins of lower value, keep them in acid-free paper sleeves or envelopes, tubes, or folders or albums.
  • Arrange an appropriate level of insurance in case of theft or fire/water damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I buy a collectible coin?
People preserve coins as keepsakes, memorials, and even talismans. Struck meticulously and innovatively designed, a collectible coin represents a work of great art, not unlike a limited-edition painting.

Why do some coins cost more than the value they display?
The price one pays for a collectible coin will almost always cost more than the face value (the value displayed on the coin). This is because collectible coins are the product of several components including the finish, type of metal used, and mintage. In fact, when a minted coin becomes sold out, the coin can increase in value over time, because those searching for those coins will pay more than the original issue price.

How do I find a seller/dealer I can trust?
The collectible coin industry is well established and has many trustworthy organizations and individual dealers. However, rogue traders do exist. You may wish to consult your country's mint for a list of trusted local, national and international sellers.

How can I determine a coin's authenticity if I buy it online?
Ensure the seller offers a magnified, high-resolution, detailed viewing experience. You should be able to view all parts (including the obverse, reverse and edge) of the coin close-up—as if you were seeing it in person.

The seller should also be able to provide all specifications including the coin's place of origin, its condition, specifications and mintage. Generally speaking, if you have any doubt about the coin you are considering buying, the best advice is to find another seller.

About the Royal Canadian Mint

The Royal Canadian Mint offers several services to businesses and foreign governments. We pride ourselves on the high standards of our outsourced coin production, storage, assay, reference and analysis tools, as well as our world-class refinery.

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