Coins combine history, art and precious metal -- a tantalizing combination that satisfies the collecting urge in many people, young and old alike. Over the years coin collecting has naturally divided into broad areas of interest, including United States Coins, World Coins, Ancient & Medieval Coins, Modern Coins, Varieties & Errors, and Exonumia.
US Coins have dominated collecting for a long time. There are numerous books and periodicals dedicated to the subject, tens of thousands of coin dealers worldwide, a large base of hobbyists and investors, and an active, well-tracked, open market. World Coins, that is, collectible coins from every country except the United States, are growing in value and popularity as modern transportation and communication shrink the planet. World Coins fill the next big area of collecting, with sure growth potential expected for years to come.
Lesser areas of coin collecting include Varieties & Errors and Exonumia. Variety & Error collectors specialize in subtle and not-so-subtle minting variations in normal coins. Exonumia concentrates on tokens and medals that look like coins, but are not legal tender used in commerce. Post-World War II (1948) Modern Coins are collected by many enthusiasts who enjoy their intrinsic beauty and value. Today's minting technology can create breathtaking artistry on coins, and many moderns come in gold, silver, palladium, and platinum bullion, making them precious collectibles and investment vehicles.
There is a superb discussion of the historical origins of coinage at ForumAncientCoins.com. From the earliest known coins, dating around 600 BC, and proceeding through Roman, Byzantine, English, Islamic, European, Indian, and Chinese civilizations, this dissertation traces Ancient & Medieval Coins through the Fall of Rome, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to about 1600 AD, the point where most collectors draw the line between Medieval Coins and World Coins. We have separated collectible World Coins along civilization lines, taking guidance from Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, because the 'look and feel' of coins is noticably different along these lines. The World Coin genres and their geographic regions, including colonization of the New World and beyond, are shown in the map below.