How can a currency become worthless?

Most currencies are Fiat Money, not backed by a commodity (like Gold and Silver) but backed by the government that printed it.
Fiat money is a currency without intrinsic value established as money, often by government regulation. It has an assigned value only because the government uses its power to enforce the value of a fiat currency or because the exchanging parties agree to its value.
It was introduced as an alternative to commodity money and representative money. Commodity money is created from a good, often a precious metal such as gold or silver, which has uses other than as a medium of exchange (such a good is called a commodity). Representative money is similar to fiat money, but it represents a claim on a commodity (which can be redeemed to a greater or lesser extent). From Wikipedia

If the government behind the Fiat currency becomes insolvent, or acquires extensive debt, their currency may be devalued (relative to other Fiat currencies), their ability to borrow money will be affected (lenders will demand higher interest rates because of the risk), and prices will climb as the currency loses value. At present, Venezuela, Argentina, Zimbabwe, and other countries are suffering due to the inflation they are experiencing. Venezuela is even considering making their own cryptocurrency, the “Petro”, as a solution to their problems.

Some related websites:
What would you do if your money became worthless? – Prosperous Way Down website
A worthless currency – The Economist (Article on Zimbabwe)
11 Times Currency Was Rendered Almost Worthless (and Why) – Ranker
What Happens When Your Money Is Suddenly Worthless? – Cracked (article on India)

The Greek Crisis Explained – (Infographic) – from Gainesville coins

Many people invest in Gold and Silver as a “Hedge” against devaluation. This can be done with collectable coins and jewelry, or bullion.  Gold and Silver bullion – on eBay.

Here’s hoping your value is strong!
Thank you for reading this heavily referenced piece!  Please enjoy your money and share this with friends!

How is the value of bullion coins determined?

Bullion coins have, at their base, the smelt value of their base metal (e.g. Gold, silver, etc.).  Even though we consider Bullion to be Silver or Gold, Copper, Platinum, and Palladium are all used in coins.  You also have to consider the purity of the product – 24 karat gold? .999 Silver?  Alloys are often hard to spot, unless you use a test kit . (link to Amazon)


Smelt values for US coins can be found here: U.S. Silver Coin Melt Value Calculator – Coinflation

Bullion prices are based on weight (usually ounces or Troy ounces) and  subject to are supply and demand, based on market forces.

Bullion Values – Bullion Values website

 

Many coins are considered “Culls” or rejects because of circulation marks and wear. These can usually be bought at near melt value because they have diminished value as a collectible coin.

Coin Speak: 10 Coin Terms You Need To Know (And They’ll Help You Sound Like A Real Numismatist!) | The U.S. Coin Guide

How To Invest In Gold And Silver: Buy Gold And Silver Bullion The Easy And Safe Way

The Gold Book: What’s It Worth? A Guide to Commonly Traded Gold Bullion Coins, Bars and Karat Gold Jewelry

One of my favorite places to buy Bullion coins is eBay, especially if you like Bullion coins with Elvis or Koalas.

US Money, Even Bills, were backed by gold (on the gold Standard), until 1933:

You can purchase Gold certificates on eBay. They are popular collectors items.

Good luck with your bullion – know your values!

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What is the proper way to clean coins?

By Alan Chenkin, Novice coin collector.
The general rule of thumb is to never clean coins. Ever.
This is particularly important with valuable coins, because a speculator might clean the coin to improve it’s worth – but most cleaning actually is visible to coin graders, and such attempts actually reduce the coins value. But there are times to clean a coin, and consider the best way to handle them – look at this from the internet:
How to Clean Coins – Wikihow
If you are considering selling the coins, definitely do not clean them; store them separately and bring them to a dealer for appraisal. If your coins have sentimental value, souvenirs of a trip, or a gift from a friend, preserve them in a holder or frame, and clean them if necessary – the sentiment is worth far more than the coin.
There is nothing wrong with wiping your coins with an athletic sock or polishing cloth, as these do minimal invasive damage to the coin. You may also want to polish a coin that is deteriorating due to corrosion or oxidation – consider it’s value before attempting this, cleaning can actually diminish the collectible value of the coin if done harshly or with strong chemicals.
After you polish your coins, reduce any further damage by keeping them in plastic holders or traditional coin flips.
A fun thing to do with some coins is to use them as jewelry. In that case, having a clean finish will be necessary, and the finished piece may be worth more than the coin itself.
Here is how you can put an amazing shine on a coin:

He uses Mothers Metal Polish and a Dremel tool with a buffing wheel. (Links to Amazon)

If you are unsure as to clean your coins or not, bring them to a coin dealer and ask! Most are helpful professionals, and have a wealth of knowledge. You can also get an idea from these sites on coin grading, especially when dealing with a coin you suspect has value:
How To Grade Coins Using the Coin Grading Scale – Coin collecting guide for beginners
The Westin St. Francis Hotel washes it’s coins.  Read about it on  NBC news  and cointalk. Hotel ruins millions of coins for collectors
Remember to have fun with your collection! Clean or not, sort your pocket change, and see where your coins have traveled from in the world!
Of course, if you don’t want to mess with those nasty, dirty, coins, just send them to me and I will “take care of them for you”.  Honest.
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Where can I get my coin collection converted into cash?

By Alan Chenkin, Novice coin collector and hobbyist
Converting coin collections into cash is a sometimes necessary event that requires some caution, to get more than the face value of the coins.
Collectible coins have a smelt value, a face value, and a collectible value.
You have several options. I would recommend calling in a coin dealer to estimate the value of your coins. some may be valuable, some common, and some just worth their “Smelt”[1] value.
Where to Sell Your Coins – Cointrackers

Several caveats;  Don’t clean the coins, Keep them together in some boxes and handle them with white gloves or a sweat sock to keep finger oils off the coins.  Take pictures of them to send to a remote appraiser and to establish that you had them (proof of ownership).  If you are going to keep them, organize them into coin flips and tubes, and make notations on the contents, condition, and dates.  Consider getting a safe, to keep them together and secure.  (coins can weigh a lot, too – keep that in mind).

Selling to a reputable dealer, collector, (or pawn shop) is the fasted route to liquidating your collection for cash. Keep in mind that these buyers are looking for values below market, to reduce their risk and make a profit on the eventual sale; you may be offered between 10 and 70% of the retail value of your coins.

 

If you have the time and ambition, you can use the internet for valuing your coins, and sell them on your own. Craigslist, EBay, and some of the popular coin sites (forums and for sale sections) are your best options.

 

There are even books on this topic:
Many public libraries have books on coins and periodicals on prices, that you can access for free.
I buy and sell coins on EBay and from individuals, at estate and yard sales. It’s a fun hobby for me, especially when both parties feel they got a good price!
You will need to understand coin grading, as there are many valuations for coins based on condition (grade).  Circulated coins (pocket change) are not worth as much as graded and certified “Mint-State” coins.
If you have the time, and enjoy coins, sort through them and get the valuation of each coin – so you can have a good idea of what the collection is worth.
I use eBay for that a lot, especially with older coins.
Best of luck – Please post a response and let me know how you fared!
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Footnotes

 

Why do coins smell so bad?

By Alan Chenkin, Novice coin collector (numismatist) and hobbyist
The bane of any coin collector is the smell that can haunt some of your coins.  No one wants smelly coins, but there must be a way to manage it.  Not wanting to suggest you Fabreeze your coins (Don’t do it), I did some digging on the web:
Coins Don’t Smell, You Do – Live Science
There also may be a reaction between the coins and your hands that creates an odor, related to the conductivity of the coins and their PH[1] .
Best suggestions here are to wear gloves, keep the room well ventilated, and wash your hands before and after. In the “Old days” of coin operated slot machines, your hands would be black from the dirt on the coins, and every casino would have a cup of moist hand towelettes for cleaning it off your hands.
Don’t use this with rare of collectible coins! –  EZEST Coin Cleaner Although it is ok to clean dirty pocket change or novelty (not highly collectible) coins.  Cleaning collectible or rare coins will actually diminish their value.  If you want to clean coins without harsh chemicals, consider an ultrasonic coin cleaning kit, under $75 at Amazon, Or from eBay.
I use these when handling coins in my collection:
If you can’t wait for the gloves to arrive, use a special coin cleaning tool, like this:
old sock for coin cleaning
Also known as an old sweatsock.  usually there are a few near the dryer, that you can recommission as coin wipers.
And if the smell is persistent, try a little aromatic spray:
The old method of using a clothespin on your nose may work for you too….
Thanks for reading my blog! – Feel free to share!
Footnotes

Where are some places to buy coins for collecting?

by Alan Chenkin, Novice coin collector and hobbyist
Coin dealers, EBay, Craigslist, and from friends and acquaintances are great sources. Let people know you are looking for coins, and you may be surprised.
If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. consider buying a test kit if you are buying gold and silver; GOLD TEST KIT
When you acquire and store collectible coins, just wipe any dirt off them with  special coin cleaning cloth (an old sock), and put them in a “flip”, coin book or folder.  If you want to get a child or teenager into collecting, you can get them a whole kit from Amazon or eBay.
Coin collections start to grow quickly, so you need to keep them in an orderly fashion.
Best of luck!
Oh, and you might need one of these:
Keep in mind that coins can get heavy, make sure the safe is on a floor that can support the weight !
Thanks for reading my blog, and feel free to share!