I have just recently gotten back into full-time collecting. I have collected on and off since I was a child thanks to my grandfather, but only recently have I gotten back to it in a serious way.
In the last two years I have completed all of my modern coin sets, except for the Lincolns and the serious key dates (1909-S VDB, 1914-D, 1922 No D etc). All of the coins were purchased through mail order companies. This is not necessarily a bad thing since I understand Eliasberg did the same with his impressive collection of yesteryear.
I just finished reading a book by Q. David Bowers on coin collecting and in it David stressed the personal relationships formed within this hobby. I have wanted to go to shows or join a club but they seem non-existent here on Long Island, N.Y. There is one bi-monthly show, but it is on Sunday and I was told if I try to go after noon (when I get out of church) most dealers have already gone home. I found this curious. I can understand dealers going home early on the last day of a weekend show but to take the time and expense of setting up at a show to only be there for a couple of hours seemed strange to me.
There was a show sponsored by a coin club last March 7 and I thought this was perfect. I could attend a show and get information on a club at the same time. Well, upon entering (free admission) I was given a free older copy of the Red Book and a card to fill out with name, address and phone number. I expected this was done to pass on to the dealer members there to contact me afterward. And certainly the club sponsor would contact me to become a member.
Well, neither happened so I wonder why I had to fill out this card? Didn’t the dealers want new customers? Didn’t this club want new members? I guess not. I asked the two gentlemen at the door if they had anything they could give me concerning the club and they did not seem too interested but directed me to the back where a Young Numismatist table was set up. The men working the table were obviously members of the club, but when asked for information they sent me back to the men at the door. So I tried again asking them and was told “they thought” the club met the next Thursday at a lodge down the block, just come down. Great information guys.
I went to this show with $500 to spend and sadly went home with the same amount. It was not that there was nothing to buy. On the contrary there was plenty to buy. But there was also an apathy I have never seen at a place supposedly for the selling of coins. It seemed to me that those dealers there were friendly enough to old established customers but would not even look at anyone they did not recognize. I asked one dealer if he had a certain coin and was directed to a box filled with flips in no particular order. I asked another dealer who did not have one coin priced, the price of a certain coin? His response was “Are you serious or just looking”? My answer was obvious after that response. I needed some 2- by 2-inch holders for the President dollars and believe it or not had to go to three different dealers before I got the right size. They kept trying to give me Morgan size rather then the smaller size dollar holders.
After about an hour I left and went home to order from the mail order shops I usually deal with and was no closer to the collector relationships and fellowships Bowers had written about. I let this pass until just last week when I read in a numismatic paper in the letter section, a dealer from that show writing to say what a resounding success the show was. Well I guess it depends on which side of the aisle you were sitting on. I am sure this dealer did quite well since the show was well attended, but from my side I was not able to spend any money or get information about the sponsor club which I would think was the whole point of having a show. I am amazed that every week I read about major shows across the country and not one is held in one of the wealthiest regions on the country. I mean our North Shore is called the “Gold Coast” and our South Shore has the Hamptons.
Not to be defeated, I went to the American Numismatic Association’s Web site and then to its dealer directory. I e-mailed (at least those who listed an e-mail) the local dealers listed and asked if they were stores I could come to or just mail order companies. I said I was looking for a local shop I could actually come into and see coins before I buy. Well, of the seven I wrote, only one responded and she was mail order only, which I was not looking for. I must have contacted the sales prevention office by mistake. There was also a link on the ANA site for local clubs of which only the above club was listed. I fnd it amazing that in New York there is so little participation in this hobby. I am not trying to sound uppity but in areas smaller and less populated and far less wealthy there seems to be a hobby that is booming.
Let me close with this. I am a member of the ANA and enjoy its magazine and the information I get from being a member, but there are probably more nomads like me out there looking for a more local connect to this great hobby. They are looking for dealers and clubs they can be a part of and share with. They are looking for like-minded folks to talk coins with and feel like they are the only ones around.
I think dealers and clubs alike need to be more visible and more approachable and open. I am of the principle that we are always just one generation away from extinction. If dealers and clubs want to be a closed sect of good ol’ boys it won’t be long before there are no more good ol’ boys around. It’s nice to advertise colonial coinage and bullion and rare and exceptional products but the hobby is built and driven by those of us putting together Franklin, Walker, Lincoln and Jefferson sets and just having fun doing it. Not all that glitters is “gold.”
John Murphy is a hobbyist from Lindenhurst, N.Y.
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