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I dare you to try to explain why you collect

I collect coins. That has been true for 44 years. In that time I have never found an explanation for it that really explains why to others. Other coin collectors understand the problem of explanation immediately. Noncollectors can?t see the forest for the trees. Collectors don?t need an explanation.

Collectors can cite history. We learn a lot of history. We may even love history, but that is not why we collectors learn it. We learn it to explain the objects we already love.

Some collectors cite beauty. Many coins are of unsurpassed beauty. The artwork is amazing. We learn about coin designers and their work, both numismatic and otherwise. Beauty is not the initial appeal. The 1909 Lincoln cent that fired my imagination at the age of 8 may be many things, but I would not call it beautiful. Beauty is a concept we collectors use to explain something we already love. It is part of many of the objects we call coins, but not the root essence of them.

Education is a word bandied about by collectors. I did not begin collecting to become educated. It just happened as a consequence. It is a process that I deeply appreciate and recommend, but it is something that comes after obtaining at least some of the objects I already love. It is the objects themselves and my possession of them that motivates the acquisition of education. It is not education that persuades me to acquire the object.

This may also explain why so many people, nearly all in fact, don?t buy the book before the coin. It is because before the initial coin or coins come into one?s possession, there is not the least desire to learn about them.

I don?t believe I have ever heard from any active collector that it was a book that made him a collector. Books are wonderful aids. They make collecting worth doing, but that initial love of the object itself is that first electric shock of interest.

Profit. Look at all ads about making money in coins in nonhobby media. I don?t know of any collector who knowingly sets out to lose money or to buy a coin for more than it is worth. Profit is certainly a nice adjunct to collecting the objects we love, but it is not why we do it.

What about noncollectors ? They can appreciate profit, too. Some noncollectors buy coins. They pay too much. Some call me when they can?t immediately turn around and sell something at a profit. Some put them away for years. They never think about them, never buy books or periodicals to aid them, never learn history, never study designers and never seek to understand the object that will bring them the hoped for profit. Is it any wonder so many get burned?

Collecting is mysterious. It is rooted in personality and early experience. The reasons some people become collectors and others do not has never been reduced to a formula. If it were, Numismatic News would have a circulation to match the New York Times. The U.S. Mint would be able to introduce anything under the sun and be swamped with orders by newcomers. The many U.S. Olympic coins of the past 24 years would have similar mintages, instead of mintages that declined because collectors got tired of them and tired of being shaken down to repeatedly support the staging of the Games.

Reaching out to noncollectors is a wonderful thing. It can make a difference in someone?s life. What it won?t do is create some huge new population of collectors who were just waiting for us to come along. The Mint claims 140 million Americans collect state quarters. If that were true, the mintage totals for proof sets would not be basically the same for almost 50 years. Not all collectors buy proof sets, but I will bet the order of magnitude of buyers stays relatively constant over the years.
How do you explain the love of the object? Give it a try. E-mail me at david.harper@fwpubs.com.

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