What Is a Coin?


Coin is a small piece of metal or, rarely, other material that bears a special mark or marks that certifies it as being of a certain intrinsic or exchange value. It is the medium of exchange in a society, and may be used to buy things from stores, pay bills, or even as the basis for a currency system. The value of a coin is derived from its size, shape, and, in many cases, the mark or marks on it that determine its worth to buyers and sellers. The words and illustrations stamped on coins often provide unique sources of information about the civilizations that produced them.

A person who collects coins is called a collector. He or she may concentrate on a particular series, such as Indian- and Lincoln-head pennies, Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, and Liberty dollars. These collectors strive to obtain coins from every issuing mint for each year of issue in order to complete their collections. This is a time-consuming and expensive pursuit, but one that is highly enjoyable for those who take the hobby seriously.

Some coins are referred to as a “barter,” meaning that they can be traded for goods or services. This practice was once common in many societies, and some countries still have barter systems. For such a transaction to take place, both parties must accept the coin as a valid form of payment.

Generally, the coin must be in good condition to be useful. This is why wise collectors take care to keep their coins in protective holders, and to prevent them from being exposed to moisture or dirt. They also do not touch the surfaces of their coins, as oils from the skin can damage them. A good way to preserve the value of a coin is to store it in a plastic capsule that is made specifically for this purpose.

The term coin is derived from the Latin cuneus, which means wedge. Early coins were flat and round, and they often had different sized edges that indicated their relative values. As gold and silver gained acceptance as the standard for a particular amount of metal, people realized that it would be easier to handle smaller expressions of these metals with a visible mark of guarantee than it was to weigh heavy bars of metal.

In modern times, coins are usually made of precious metals that are valued for their rarity and beauty, as well as for their usefulness as money. Some cryptocurrencies are also designed to function as coins, but they are typically protected by encryption that makes counterfeiting and double-spending impossible.

A coin is “in circulation” when it passes from one bank to another over and over again in the course of making purchases. When a coin becomes too worn to use, it is taken out of circulation and melted down for new ones. This process is called “minting.”