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Popular. But did we do it our way?

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Many of us as collectors have roots in the circulation finds era. The coins that are the most popularly collected and have the highest prices tend to be those that we started collecting many years ago because we could find them in circulation.

I know I am not the only one who committed key mintage figures to memory and treated the 484,000 figure for the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent as some sort of yardstick against which all other rarities were measured.

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The 1916-D Mercury dime at 264,000 is roughly half that level and the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter at 52,000 is hardly more than a tenth.

These were the key dates that drove us all forward, relentless scanning large quantities of change. It was a challenge. I did not find any of them in change, but it was certainly not for lack of trying. It was interesting. I learned a lot. Most importantly, it left me with a lasting affection for certain series.

This affection is widely shared and it is directed primarily but not exclusively toward the Lincoln cent, Buffalo nickel, Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar.

Sure, I also collected Jefferson nickels, Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters and Franklin and Kennedy half dollars. Many others did, too, but these were considered much easier to find and less glamorous. Strangely, they still are, almost a half century later.

This generational focus has had its impact on the values of the most sought after series. The rarities in the popular series often are higher in price than coins of similar mintages that came before them. This is because demand tends to be higher. It’s natural. Just as we all were stunned when President John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963, or we all watched the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan in 1964, we all were chasing the same numismatic rainbows. We defined what was popular.

But things are now changing. We won’t be here forever. The next 25 years will see the circulation finds era pass from memory to numismatic history books.

Collector interest will become more diffuse. If you don’t collect much from circulation, you certainly have a wider array of hobby entry points. Where will the newcomers go?

They might bunch around a common event, such as when the General Services Administration sold off 3 million mainly Carson City silver dollars in the 1970s, setting the silver dollar market in the popular spotlight for years.

Where will collectors who were first attracted to numismatics by state quarters go for an encore? That is an issue still very much up in the air.

There will always be the classical path. Collectors of half cents and large cents have chosen it. Buyers of 1804 dollars understandably have taken it.

But where will the popular center of numismatics be in 2035? We can’t all be a Col. E.H.R. Green whose fortune allowed him to buy everything. The popular hobby needs to find an affordable challenge. What will that challenge be?

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