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Collecting trends cyclical in nature

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Coin collecting seems to run in cycles, with different specialties being active and then fading away. Has this always been the case?

“Always” is a long time, but fads in coin collecting, like other hobbies, have run in cycles. One of the earliest in U.S. coin collecting was the search for half cent varieties from the last decade of the 1700s, when quite a number of mules and other oddities were struck specifically for collectors. During the era of 1859-1867, Washingtonian items were popular. During the Civil War era, the fad was collecting store cards and political items. World War I saw patterns and pioneer gold. There were large cents in several periods, medals up to the mid 1950s, foreign series and silver bars in the 1970s. A good case could be made for “follow the leader” collecting.

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Recently I’ve had several phone calls from people offering coins for sale. How can I determine whether the offers are worthwhile?

There are three general rules that apply here. First, demand the offer in writing. The slightest amount of hedging is your signal to hang up. This also works with solicitors working for charities. Second, never buy coins – or anything else of value – over the phone. Bargains simply don’t come looking for you. Third, never buy coins from firms that don’t advertise in the specialized hobby publications.

My coin isn’t listed in any catalog. How do I find out about it?

In nearly every case, items that you can’t find in a catalog are not coins; they are tokens or medals. Some coins, such as minting varieties, are listed only in specialty catalogs.

Is there any truth to the story that the 1902 Canadian 5-cent pieces were struck with the “wrong,” or queen’s, crown?

The tale took on credence because it was quoted in several old numismatic reference works, but the facts are at odds with the myth. The crown used was the same one used on English coins from George III onward, so the assumption by the uninformed that it was an accidental use of the Victoria crown caused the rumors.

Do Canadians call their coins pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters?

These are all U.S. names, so they are incorrect. A lawsuit over parking meters that used this “American” language resulted in an ordinance at Halifax, N.S., that says: “penny shall mean cent, nickel five cents. etc.” It was my experience that they did not use the terms and even got a bit hostile if you referred to them that way. However, in the last decades this has changed, and they are now generally accepted. I did field one comment from a Canadian who blames the Americans for intruding the terms into the Canadian “language.”

I have a French coin with a large “S” punched in horizontally across the bust. Who put it on the coin?

The countermark on your coin is something that could have been added at any time since the coin was minted right up until now, so there is no way of tracing it or attributing it to anyone, other than through wishful thinking. Consequently, such markings usually lower the value of the host coin. These comments apply to letters and digits that may be found randomly stamped into coins. Specific countermarks and counterstamps that can be identified and traced to a certain person, business or government are a different matter, but since they were added after the coin was struck they are quite difficult to authenticate.

E-mail inquiries only. Send to AnswerMan2@aol.com. Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions.

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