Numismatics doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. Coin collecting, even coin research, really only requires three things: Access to a computer (for research), Less than $200 (spread over time) to start, and Imagination.
What follows are 5 reasons why collecting modern coins, the kind we see every day, is a good gateway into the hobby.
They are affordable
Coins have been made in such abundance in the past forty years that they are inexpensive to buy in mint state. Also, the US Mint has hit their stride in creating proofs. Proof sets are incredibly popular. They are ordered by collectors directly from the mint and coin dealers order them in large quantities. Due to the demand,
the US Mint creates ten of millions of sets each year, thereby flooding the market with nice cameo proofs.
Collecting proof sets is an easy way to get one example of every standard issue coin from a given year. Or, if you are filling a folder or album, proofs sets are a convenient way to fill those often elusive S-date slots. If you only collect Jefferson Nickels, for example, and do not want to purchase an entire proof set, I'm sure you could pick up just proof Jeffersons, or any other denomination, from the next coin show in your area.
Easy to find
To collect many modern issues you need look no further than your own pockets. Although, it may be necessary to travel as far as your local bank to fill the more elusive slots. This is especially true of modern issues with many different pieces produced over a short period of time, like the State Quarters and Presidential Dollar programs.
The best part of collecting directly from circulation is that you pay face value for every piece you find.
For instance, if you were to purchase a $25.00 box of pennies from your bank, assuming it is not straight from the mint (more on that in a minute), I'm confident you could fill one third of a Lincoln cent (with Memorial reverse) folder with nicely struck and lustrous pieces. And, once you've gone through every roll, you can return the excess pennies to the bank.
Searching bank rolls is a common practice among those who collect modern coins. There is a chance your bank will give you a roll, or rolls, of brand new coins minted for circulation that have not touched another person's hands. Because they have never been searched, they are a good way to find nice mint-state coins for your collection.
Good for beginners
While jumping into completely unknown numismatic waters can be an interesting challenge for someone who has been in the hobby for a while, it is often confusing, even intimidating, to a beginner. I began collecting from circulation with my mother when I was about ten years old. I plan to start my son with collecting from circulation, assuming he continues to show interest in coins.
What better place to start than with the coins we see every day? It is a good way to learn about date and mint marks, the varying designs of the late twentieth century, and the 1964/65 conversion from silver to clad coinage. Not to mention, there are stories connected to the presidents on the obverse of the coins, and the memorial/symbolic designs of the reverses.
A lot of variety in design
Gone are the days of uniformity when the dime, quarter, and half dollar all sported the same design. That tradition ended with the Charles Barber coinage. Today's pocket full of change will yield traditional Washington quarters, State quarters, Territory quarters, America the Beautiful quarters, Roosevelt dimes, traditional Jefferson nickels, Westward Journey nickels, Lincoln Memorial pennies, perhaps a Wheat penny or two, Lincoln Bicentennial pennies, and Shield pennies - this list is not comprehensive, it doesn't dig into varieties among the different coin issues. My point is, US Mint issued coinage is more diverse now than it has ever been.
Good way to own precious metal coins without paying a premium for rarity or age
If precious metals are your thing, they can be found in modern coin issues, as well. Until 1964 the dime, quarter, and half dollar were made of 90% silver. From 1965 to 1970 the half dollar was made of 40% silver. If you're simply looking to invest in silver, most online coin retailers sell pre-1964 silver bags in varying face values. If you want to purchase one (or some) of these bags, an easy way to calculate what it will cost is to take the spot price of silver and multiply it by the face value of the bag. For example, if the price of silver is $15/oz, and you want to buy a $100 face value bag, it should cost around $1500.
But if you're looking to score some silver for face value, ask your bank if they have any half dollar rolls. I have had unbelievable luck finding silver in half dollar rolls. Usually, it is 40% silver halves; but one time I purchased three rolls from my bank and found a wonderful surprise. Each roll contained a couple Walking Liberty, Franklin, and 1964 Kennedy halves in addition to the 40%ers. None of them were in uncirculated condition, but still, it was a good day.
Obviously this quick list of suggestions is far from comprehensive. These are methods I have employed, and will employ again, in pursuit of nice modern coins and precious metals (specifically, silver). If my advice doesn't sound like something you want to do, come up with your own way. Perhaps you work in retail and have access to a cash till. Unless your employer forbids it, there's no reason you can't "buy" interesting coins out of there. Swap a silver quarter for a clad quarter, if you find one. The only limit on how to collect is your own imagination.