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Red Book a reminder of hobby surprises

HarperD_color.jpgI own the rarest Red Book edition. That?s not a brag. It is a surprise. I received an e-mail a few days ago from the guy who runs the American Numismatic Association Money Market. An ANA member, who collects Red Books, has all of them back to the 1947 edition, but doesn?t have the edition that was passed out as a souvenir at the 1986 banquet in Milwaukee.

I guess there were just 500 copies of that 1987 edition distributed with imprinted portraits of three prominent Wisconsin numismatists on the cover: Chet Krause, the founder of this newspaper; R.S. Yeoman, the man who created the Red Book; and H.O. Granberg, a prominent turn-of-the century numismatist. That makes it the rarest edition. Wow. Now I have to remember what I did with it.

I attended the banquet in 1986. Souvenir book editions were novel then. Nowadays they are more common. So, I remember receiving a copy. What I don?t remember is what happened afterwards. Did I keep it? I think so. Do I know where it is? That?s the hard part.

I am a typical collector. I have books on shelves. I have books in boxes. I have books in stacks. The most commonly used books I can find in 30 seconds. A copy of a book I got 20 years ago may have to wait until I retire to sort out. In the great scheme of things, it probably doesn?t matter, but it got me thinking. This hobby is full of surprises. If I had the foresight to keep that Red Book, I probably have something worth a few hundred dollars. I never would have thought such a thing possible in 1986 even though I know that some collectors do, in fact, collect Red Books and offer premium prices for certain editions.

I can tell you where my 1965 edition is. I am sentimentally attached to it. It was my first one. Unfortunately, in the shape it is in, it has no value. The knowledge that it imparted to me is where the value lies. You could say that it ultimately helped my career. So even though I cannot sell it on eBay, I have been rewarded many times over. In fact, every paycheck that comes is probably due in part to that first copy that I purchased. My first copy of Coins magazine and my first copy of Numismatic News also figure prominently in my choice of profession.

But the larger lesson is that this hobby is full of surprises. Some are good. Some are bad. I was buying coins in the 1960s, uncirculated Mercury dimes, for example, that have paid off in many multiples of their original purchase price. I never could have dreamed it then. I was buying for a buck or two what I could afford.

There were bad surprises. I bought a 1950-D nickel that I couldn?t obtain in circulation. Getting my money out of that coin might still happen in my lifetime, but I won?t hold my breath. Fortunately, I can write about it. One thing that doesn?t change: it is a key date in the set. That was true in 1969 when I bought it. That is still true today. I own the key. I got what I paid for, even if what I paid didn?t turn out to be a good investment.

Coins that I am buying this year might turn out to be good investments. I hope so. What I do know is that the outcome can be either good or bad. That?s the deal. That?s what collecting is all about. Every collector makes up his own mind.

I did not buy a proof Buffalo 24-karat gold coin. It strikes me as expensive. The first-year-of-issue curse of commonness is likely to affect it. That?s my guess. Let?s check back in five years and see where its price has gone. I know that I could be wrong.

On the other hand, I know someone who prizes highly his 2006 Buffalo bullion coin sold through the national bullion distribution network. Russ Rulau, retired former editor of a sister publication, World Coin News, got one for his 80th birthday in September. His wife said she had saved up for it by skimping on household expenses.  She hit a homerun with that gift. I took them to dinner a few days later and he couldn?t resist passing it to me to show it off. That is the best reason to buy coins. If you love them as I do, you know it.

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