From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue – Bill Tuttle • Cleveland, Ohio
In the thrilling days of yesteryear, there roamed a young picker/collector named “Willy T.,” as he liked to be called, who was 10 years old. Only about four years earlier, his father, a philatelist, started young Willy in the collecting world with a gift of an old stamp album of worldwide stamps and several hundred stamps.
As a young boy, Willy T. thought the stamps were “neat,” showing various places and people in languages that were often hard to understand, let alone read. As young Willy’s world expanded with growing older and being able to go farther away from home, the interest in stamps declined but his curiosity of other interesting things and collecting them grew.
The day Willy started becoming a numismatist was a warm, sunny late spring day. It was also one of the favorite days of young Willy’s life. It was trash day in the ’hood, and show-and-tell day in class at school. He had something mediocre to show for his class, but about halfway to school, something curious caught his eye. Even though the trash men had collected the trash from his part of the neighborhood, they hadn’t reached the part close to school. The thing catching Willy’s eyes was a decorated cigar box sitting atop a metal bin filled with miscellaneous dry objects.
“Too bad it’s a school day,” he thought. “I would really like to see what all is in that can.”
Plucking the box from the top of the can, Willy made the box rattle. He opened the lid, wide-eyed with surprise.
“Money!” he exclaimed, viewing over a box full of foreign coins and a couple foreign bills.
At first glance, Willy thought the bills were play money as they didn’t look anything like “our money.” But then he saw BANCO NACIONAL DE CUBA on one of the notes. He knew it wasn’t play money, but foreign money in coins and currency. It was the beginning of young Willy’s adventures in numismatics. An adult’s trash was Willy’s treasure.
The other foreign coins and currency were mainly from Central and South America, with a sprinkling of Canadian – a couple large cents – thrown in. Stamps were interesting, but coins quickly became even more interesting. A short time after Willy found the box of coins and currency, his grandfather, who had traveled in Europe prior to the first World War, gave him his small collection of Austro-Hungarian, German Empire, French and English coins, as well as early 20th century American coins, mainly early “wheaties.” The collecting bug had bitten and Willy, like all good collectors, made purchases of the Whitman coin albums from cents to Mercury and Roosevelt dimes, all still plentiful in the mid-to-late 1950s.
One of my favorite coins was an 1844 Canadian 1/4 Penny Bank of Montreal token, which I purchased in my first “auction” at high school. I mentioned to one of my friends that I collected coins from all over the world. The next day during lunch period, the friend approached me with the token and asked, “How much would you give me for this?”
I looked the token over and said, “Five cents, I guess.” Another boy with the friend asked to see the coin and told my friend he’d give 7 cents for it. I counter-offered, “Ten cents.”
The bidding rose up to my highest bid of a quarter. The boy told me, “I’ll let you have it, sucker!” I paid my “friend” and took the coin home.
I had a Charlton Blue Book and looked up the token in it. The next day, I went to the “friend” and his buddy and said, “You know that 1/4 Penny Bank Token I bought from you for 25 cents?”
My “friend” smiled and looked to his buddy, who was also grinning and said, “Yeah, I know,” pausing and saying proudly, “We sure took you for a ride on that one!”
I answered, “Not really, I looked it up in my coin book and it’s worth $2.50!”
I walked away, leaving the two dumbfounded. Needless to say, they never approached me again with any more coins.
The impact of the Internet on both the hobbies of coin and stamp collecting has been tremendous. In my early days of collecting, the only way to get supplies and/or coins was to go to a dealer (for supplies and coins) or a bank (coins), or cull them from the change in my pocket. Even though there were counterfeit coins out and about back then, they seemed to be less prevalent than today with the Internet. Back then, a person could actually see and hold the item he/she was buying before making the purchase.
Today’s coin collecting world is vastly different and very much more in a “buyer beware” atmosphere. Even though websites like eBay and Craigslist are trying to stop the selling of counterfeit items on the website, some coins still get by. Also, there is risk to the buyer that some “independent” seller may be hocking bad coins and/or tokens. This author doesn’t like to purchase items from the ’net because he can’t hold the item in the physical world.
The precious metals market will continue on its circular motion of up, down, up again and down again until the need for it as physical money becomes obsolete. Eventually, all transactions will be virtual and gold, silver, copper and other “minor” metals will be worth only industrial and technological value. Since metal can be recycled, there won’t be a need to mine for more since there are plenty of coins for the melting pot.
The future of numismatics depends on the youth of today and tomorrow. I, like many of today’s collectors, started out as a young, innocent boy looking around for interesting and unique stuff. During a certain period in life, the interest waned, and the collection was either put away or sold. With some, the collector never returns and his/her collection if still put away, will linger in the attic, on a closet shelf or someplace else until it is rediscovered by a new collector or heir to the old collector’s estate. Others, like this author, return to the collection later in life, passing it to heirs.
As long as there is money in some form (metal, paper or mylar), there will be someone or some people who will want to collect it. As money goes into the “virtual world,” or becomes “unimportant” as in Star Trek, numismatics will just become a thing of interest to historians.