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Coin Collecting: What Makes A Coin Collector?
( Published 1963 )
Answer to the question “What makes a coin collector?” is by no means simple. Almost without exception, the real collector became interested in coins quite by accident. He didn't just sit down one day and say to himself, “I shall become a numismatist.” Chances are he couldn't even spell the word, much less define it.
Probably most were earlier collectors of something or other: match covers, cigar bands, hotel towels. Many are graduates of (or refugees from) philately-the collecting of stamps. One such former philatelist, who doesn't care whose toes he tramps on, explains why he left stamps:
“The modem stamp is about as exciting as a picture postcard. It doesn't really represent any value-merely the promise of some government to deliver a letter or postcard someplace or other.
“Sure, they're colorful, sometimes even well designed. But too many are put out by foreign governments for the sucker trade-the U.S. stamp collector who must have the latest issue of this or that newly-formed nation.
“More than one small principality derives most if not all its expenses of government from the sale of such stamps to U.S. collectors. I don't mind being played for a sucker occasionally, but, as a steady diet, I revolt.
“Then, stamps are such fragile things. An insect may chew one into a lacy network of nothing. Damaged perforations can ruin the value of a stamp. An unfortunate cancellation may obscure the design and make that particular example almost worthless.
“But when I really lost interest in stamp collecting was the day I discovered that, on a brand new stamp, the lack of OG (that translates to 'original gum') could cut the value in half. Anything so ephemeral a determinant of value as the glue on a stamp's backside was just too much. I gave up my stamp collection, started seriously on coins, and have never regretted the switch.
“For, while an excess of humidity in the air may cause a silver coin to take on a certain amount of discoloration, it has never yet caused it to lose half its value. And I've never lost a coin to any insect, no matter how hungry it may have been:”
One man became a serious collector of Chinese coins quite by accident. A number of years ago, while digging in China, he unearthed some early Chinese cash. The coins, while they meant little to him at first glance, soon fascinated him. He decided to learn more about them and, as his knowledge of them and their history increased, he soon found himself a serious collector and before much longer something of an authority.
Another, before he became a serious collector, was stranded in a small southern town over a long Fourth of July week end. On the Saturday before that long week end started, he wandered through the somewhat limited business district.
He glanced idly in the window of a stamp and coin shop. Displayed were a few examples of the early bust-type half dollar-the ones which have lettering around the edge reading “Fifty Cents or Half a Dollar.” For some years he had had a mild interest in this particular type of coin, but had never before had the time or opportunity to learn much about them.
He went into the store, bought 10 or 12 of those early halves at modest prices, and asked to buy or borrow some books on the subject of United States coins. In the ensuing long week end, his mild interest developed into a serious hobby. His specialty today is still the early halves-from 1794 through 1836-although his collection has become somewhat diversified over the years.
An Army sergeant, who had collected stamps in his youth, was stationed in North Africa during World War II. Somewhere he got possession of a coin of the Roman Empire. As he recalls it, it was one issued by Constantine the Great-not a particularly valuable coin, by any means-but it was sufficient to interest him in ancient coins.
Later he was stationed in Italy and spent some time in Greece. He located and bought more and more coins of the ancient world. When he was returned to the United States on rotation, the coins he brought back were found to weigh some 43 pounds. Fortunately, the return trip was made by ocean vessel.
On return to civilian life, he checked over his accumulation and decided to dispose of duplicates and those in poorer condition. The remainder formed the nucleus of what today is a fine collection of coins of the Emperor Hadrian, who ruled Rome from A.D. 117 to 138. The different coins of this particular Roman Emperor number in the thousands, and the sergeant admits his collection may never be entirely complete.
More than one person has become a collector because a relative gave him a few unfamiliar American coins. After all, the youngster of today may know a lot about rockets and outer space, but does he know that his forefathers spent half cents and 3-cent pieces and half dimes, and that the large cent of more than a hundred years ago always contained a full cent's worth of copper? Curiosity and desire to know more about such early American coins have led many a youngster into the serious business of coin collecting.
One thing which did much to encourage the collecting of United States coins by series and dates was the development of coin folders. Here was a book-like set of cardboard pages with holes cut, into which could be fitted the proper Lincoln cents or Buffalo nickels or Standing Liberty quarters.
Parents saw in such coin folders an opportunity to give junior a hobby and possibly develop in him an interest in saving money instead of spending every cent. Most of the holes could be filled from pocket change.
But, as most fathers later found out, in every set of
But, as most fathers found out, in every set of United States coins there are stumbling blocks-the “key dates.” These are coins which, because they were minted in small quantities and not put aside in bulk, today command considerable premiums. When junior wants that missing Lincoln cent to complete his collection, Pop goes to a coin dealer. He's in a generous mood, willing to pay as much as a dollar-maybe even $2 - to get that coin and make junior happy.
Then he learns that he'll have to lay Out $50 or more to buy a passable example of that particular key date.
And at this paint, Pop can be excused for wondering if he was so wise in buying junior that inexpensive little coin folder.
It has been estimated that probably 95 per cent of all Americans have a cache of coins. It often is not more than a few coins which, because they're bright and shiny, or because they “look different,” or because they are old, are put aside. Some are tossed in a corner of a drawer, others are kept in an old cigar box, still others are carefully put into some sort of a bag.
Now, these persons are not coin collectors in any sense of the word. Depending on the size of the cache, they might be called coin accumulators or simply coin savers.
Nearly all collectors started out as accumulators. It was only as their knowledge of coins increased, and certain likes and dislikes developed, that they left the accumulator group and joined the ranks of collectors.
Will every accumulator become a collector? By no means! To some, a coin represents simply a unit of purchasing power and nothing more. It may be a beautiful dime, well struck and almost uncirculated. So what? It's good to buy the evening newspaper.
Which accumulators will become collectors? Only time or an accident will tell.