By Carolyn Rice
Business reporter, BBC News
A rich variety of coins and notes were on show at the Midland Coin Fair
Coins have always been popular among collectors but as purse strings are tightening and people worry about their financial future, investing in the right kind of coin could make all the difference.
In a bustling exhibition hall on a cold February morning Andrea and Mark Leigh, from Reading, are hoping to find something that will improve their financial standing.
Poring over the thousands of coins on display, ranging from hundreds of years BC to to the most recent Royal Mint editions, Andrea explains what she is looking for.
"We are collecting gold and silver coins at the moment, for investment purposes because of the current economic problems," she says.
It may not be a foolish search. One collector at the fair describes how an investment he made has paid off.
"Just over four years ago I put £30,000 into gold sovereigns, it is now worth £250,000."
The Midland Coin Fair is a monthly exhibition at Birmingham's National Motorcycle Museum. Coin dealers and exhibitors from around the country display their wares hoping to entice a collector to buy that all-important penny, sovereign or stater.
Intense concentration can be seen on the faces of the collectors, mostly men, as they move from stand to stand, many of them equipped with reference manuals and magnifying glasses.
This is a serious hobby for some. But its appeal goes further than just the older generations.
Dylan Adams, 10, from Birmingham, is hoping to add a Roman artefact to his collection that was started by his father.
"I'm looking for a Julius Caesar coin, it has got an elephant on the back. My best coin so far is a George III gold sovereign. It is very good quality," says the enthusiastic youngster.
With traditional savings accounts currently offering low interest rates some parents are encouraging a hobby that could offer a good return in the future.
But Mike Veissid, who has been in the coin business for 35 years and runs this coin fair, urges caution for those looking to make money during the recession.
"Collectables are generally seen as a pretty safe haven - but the value tends to get too high and then it starts to fall as things get back to normal."
'Beauty before age'
One of the oldest coins on display is an Ancient Greek coin dating from 385 BC. It is on a stand belonging to Paul Revell, a dealer from Suffolk.
This Celtic Stater is thought to date back to 385 BC
His guide price for this piece of history is £200, but age does not always equal best value.
"Rarity and condition make coins collectable. The better the condition the more it will be worth. An uncirculated coin would be worth the most," says Mr Revell.
"There are probably hundreds of these about so they are not that expensive to buy."
It is not just collectors who can cash in. The most popular coin to collect, according to Alvin House, a dealer from Yeovil, is the sovereign - a gold coin dating from the time of Henry VII onwards.
Mr House cites an example - a coin from the turn of the 21st Century, being sold for £150, that marked 500 years of the sovereign.
"Just over 10,000 were issued and I think you could get £600 to £700 for one now," says Mr House.
While profit may be desirable, it is rarely the reason that the dealers at the Midland Coin Fair became enthusiasts.
"I was 13 and my school were collecting Victorian bun pennies for charity. Each night I'd look through my brothers' change to see if I could find one and that is how it started," recalls Paul Revell.
For Alvin House it was a distant relative that really sparked his interest.
"My great, great grandfather worked on the tea clippers and brought back coins from abroad. My gran then gave them to me," he says.
Rich Clamp, 25, is fairly new to the coin collecting game. He started his collection at the turn of the millennium when he saw a commemorative set of coins for sale at the Post Office.
"I wanted to celebrate the millennium and I saw these two coins. One had 1999 on and the other had 2000. It is a bit of an heirloom, an investment," he says.
Future of cash
Everyone trawling through the trays of gold, silver and copper coins has a reverence for the history of cash. But its demise has been predicted for some time. What difference would it make to fairs like this one?
Dylan Adams was one of the youngest enthusiasts at the show
"Coins will become more of a novelty and more collectable but I can't see cash dying out completely. Can you imagine going to a car boot sale and paying with a card?" says exhibitor Royston Norbury.
Few of the dealers at this fair still collect, but occasionally they find the odd item that is hard to resist.
Paul Revell has a keen eye for exhibits that are not all that they seem.
"I have my own collection of fakes. Today I've found a 2000-year-old Celtic Stater to add to it," he says.
"Even in those days they were forging."
As collectors at the fair continue to search for that special piece to complete their collection, or investors look to get in on the act, it is a timely reminder that all that glitters may not be gold.