From the August 24th Numismatic e-newsletter: Is numismatics a better hobby now than when you started?? Here are some answers sent from our e-newsletter readers to Editor Dave Harper.
I think the hobby was better when I started as a boy in the late 1960s. At that time, there was always the possibility of receiving a pure silver or silver clad coins in my change or in rolls from a bank. There were also a fair amount of wheat cents to harvest and collect. It was exciting and rewarding to find those coins. In addition, there was a sense of accomplishment in filling the empty spaces in a collection.
Now, in modern times, there really is nothing to be found in circulating coinage, other than error coins. Building a collection can be quite expensive. Also, the products from the mint are exceedingly abundant, overpriced and have become too commercialized. The mint has placed its focus on profits above the production of classical, appealing coinage and mostly ignored the interests of collectors.
Lastly, with the advent of slabbing coins, good or bad, the labels on the slabs and Early Release designations have taken on a life of their own, sometimes overshadowing what should be the real focus … the coin. However, with millions of grade 69 and 70 coins out there, I guess the marketing companies had to create something to differentiate their products. Since the coins are all the same, the only thing left to sell is the difference in packaging.
Crystal Lake, Ill.
There are many aspects of the hobby that are much better than when I started. Key amongst those are information availability via the Internet. It has been said that one should buy the book before buying the coin. The information about just which book that was and where to get it was only available to the lucky ones that lived near the American Numismatic Association or American Numismatic Society headquarters. Now, a quick search and a book can be found. Further, databases that cover collections, blog sites that discuss the various issues and electronic venues for obtaining examples – and even better, looking at numerous examples – all come into your grasp. No longer is knowledge the unique purview of a few select dealers – the unwashed masses now could get into the game, even if only at the entry level.
One thing that has made the hobby worse since I started is the level at which counterfeits have infiltrated the market. And as the search for quality material continues, coin doctors and paper pressers remove more and more original material from the market, all for the sake of the immediate enrichment. This alteration and falsification of material may destroy the hobby right at a time when the information available to the collector is at its greatest level.
When I started, my aunt and I would go through bags of change. She would dump the contents acquired from a local bank on the kitchen table, we would pick out the Barbers, Standing quarters, Indians (cents and nickels) and sometime rare finds such as Seated dimes, Shield nickels, etc.
Move ahead 50 years, I think that aspect is the same, just different. Today, going through the same process will yield silver and rare finds like extra leaf quarters and missing edge lettering.
I recently discovered a way to renew my collecting excitement (at the prompting of a dear numismatist who has now passed: Chris Johns) by focusing on one set, putting together something really outstanding and rare, and a long way from checking old Lincolns against the Red Book for key dates.
One thing has changed for the worse … it saddens me greatly, and that is the social part of collecting. Fewer clubs, fewer shows, people do not come together to share, more fear about security. That has changed the most. I know it is not just a condition numismatists suffer from, but all societies, associations and organizations from League of Women Voters to VFW. I feel like I am closing down a historical concept “social, self-reliant, self-help associations.” Once upon a time we came together to repair each other’s homes, to help neighbors with health issues. Now we email donations and say the government should do something. That is the saddest change.
David A. Kerr-Burke
Corpus Christi, Texas
I have been casually collecting coins (with some breaks) for 50 years now. I am 66. My dad introduced coin collecting to me when I was 9 or 10 years old. He was a casual collector.
However, it was my Uncle Jim who was an avid collector. I remember visiting him at his house and his magnifying glasses, bright lights and coin books.
I remember my old Whitman blue albums and collecting Lincoln pennies and Jefferson nickels. It was exciting, going to the bank and taking my allowance (or money from my paper route) to buy a roll of pennies or nickels and trying to fill the empty slots in my albums.
I also remember my uncle going to the bank and buying lots of silver dollars at face value. After about five years, I became disinterested in the hobby and stored my albums and loose coins.
I did try to collect Washington quarters – and almost finished the set, save for a few of the 1930s dates.
I was in high school, playing sports and chasing girls. The late 1950s and early 1960s were fun and such an innocent time.
Then it was off to college and a career.
I was able to complete the Lincoln set (from 1909), the Jefferson set (from 1938), the quarter set (from 1932), and the Franklin set (from 1948).
I also acquired some Indian Head pennies, Buffalo nickels, and 500 Morgan and Peace dollars from my uncle’s estate. An appraiser told me that I had some nice dates in the Morgan series and that I should send them off to a grading service.
My sister, Patty, also inherited the other part of my uncle’s estate (several Saint-Gaudens $20 pieces as well as some Walker halves. A few years later, she was fleeced by a dealer in northern Virginia. (I wish she had told me she was selling her coins.)
My, my things have changed.
I have a grandson who is 11 years old, and he could care less about coins. (Sigh.)
What is left of my collection sits in a safety deposit box as I dare not keep any coins of any value in my house. Maybe when he is older, my grandson will appreciate my coins. Maybe.
Then again, I am sure he will sell them if he needs the money. I don’t know if I will be around when he finishes college.
We have a glut of products from the many mints. We have lots of dealers, lots of coins shows, the Red Book, the Black Book, the Greysheet and so on. Then there is NGC, PCGS, ANACS, etc.
While coin collecting can be rewarding and a hobby to enjoy (and admire the artwork of the older coins,) “the thrill is gone” for me.
While I know that most dealers are honest, there are still some “shady” characters in this business.
We have the U.S. Mint (a good organization) that cranks out a glut of coins, most of which are worth only their metal content (gold, platinum, silver, etc.). Of course there are tales about the great rush and hysteria for special anniversary sets, and the speculation by dealers or some persons who want to turn a quick buck.
Then there are the “fake “ mints, private firms with the word “mint” in their names. They simply buy and mark up the U.S. Mint product prices and take advantage of their uninformed customers.
And there are the TV shows with all of their hype. Don’t forget the Internet, or the auctions where it can cost you up to 25 percent to consign and pay a buyer’s fee.
Then we have the hotel coin sales, cash for gold and those not-so-nice dealers who will exploit those folks who have coin collections and are not informed about the value or rarity of their coins. I have heard at least a dozen sad stories about elderly folks with a coin collection who have been taken advantage of.
In spite of all of this, I must admit, I do admire the beauty of some coins. And some of the big national or regional coin shows are wonderful, especially with their displays of great rarities or treasure coins.
No, the numismatic hobby was better when I was younger. I’m 27 now and 15 or so years ago when I started collecting, it was more enjoyable. Prices were lower and it was easier for kids to collect coins then. The Mint is making too many new issues today. Kids can’t afford all the issues, and they can’t even collect the new quarters out of change like I used to with the state quarters. I used to buy low-grade Morgan dollars for $6 or $7 each. You can’t do that anymore.
It was a magical time when the grade didn’t matter and you could find coins in your change since just filling the slot was an achievement. Now that I know the importance of grades and their values, the focus has shifted and something is lost.
As for the landscape, there is so much more focus on collectors, all the Mint releases, the Internet linking and enabling us to find coins. It’s a good time to be a collector, but I miss the innocence of the hobby when I was young.
No. Growing up it was great fun to look through change, get a roll of pennies from a bank and occasionally find a coin good enough to add to my collection. Can’t do that today. Most of the good coins are gone.
Silver is so rare, it really isn’t worth the effort. Errors are about the only collectibles still our there. The hobby has also changed in other ways. I remember going to a convention in NYC more than 50 years ago and having a man named Jules explain in great detail his collection of patterns. I decided right then and there that I was going to collect patterns. That view changed two weeks later when I saw one in auction. It went for $2,000. My coin allowance in those days was about $15 a month. I decided right then to collect something else.
I don’t think the hobby is the same, not in any way, but then I don’t think the world is the same either. So maybe its all relative.