They say that a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less. It is a statement that is both funny and true. It is also a statement that applies to much that we are doing in the hobby these days.
When I started collecting (admittedly, I was eight), most collectors were generalists. They liked to look at the big picture. They didn?t want to be confined to the popular Lincoln cents. They wanted to spread their wings and shoot up the denominational ladder as finances permitted.
I, like many other hobbyists, started with a Lincoln cent book. I ascended the denominational ladder in my own way. My first Whitman album was the 1941-to-date edition. Naturally, as a kid, I then went backwards to 1909. The inspiration for that was finding a 1909 cent in change. But by the time I started with Lincolns, circulation finds were pretty few and far between. The coins had been pretty well picked over by millions of collectors in 1963. Circulation finds collecting was popular then.
I heard one fellow in town had found a 1909-S VDB in his change, but I never saw it, so I can?t prove it. It could have been the equivalent of a small-town urban legend. I will never know.
As soon as I had an income, which was provided by my paper route when I was 11, I jumped into Roosevelt and then Mercury dimes in fairly short order. Then I went into Washington quarters. Standing Liberty quarters in change by 1966 were limited to a few slicks.
Half dollars I had both started late and started early. I started accumulating them (three types) when the Kennedy half dollar was released, but it took a while to think that I could seriously collect them. As Paul Green often points out, 50 cents at the time was a lot of money. It certainly was, but paper route income helped knock down that barrier.
For me, silver dollars were a pipe dream. They were neat. I got my first two Peace dollars in 1963 and a few more over time, but they were out of reach in more ways than one. When I realized that in 1968, I dove backwards and tried nickels. It seems odd, but you have to remember the times. Clad coins were driving silver coins out of circulation. Half dollars went first. Hoarding was as much inspired in 1964 by the new Kennedy as anything else.
Quarters followed. The silver versions were numerous through 1967 where I was, but then fell off drastically in 1968. By year?s end, they were gone completely. Dimes disappeared last.
With the tipping point for silver obviously reached, I dove into nickels. I was delighted to discover for a time that war nickels were quite plentiful. They were so plentiful, in fact, that I very foolishly put them back into circulation. Their silver value rather than rarity was why I should have kept them all. At the time, though, it would have tied up too much of my ?working capital.? The collector impulse still trumped the silver speculator in me. They also were ugly.
Jefferson nickels were not easy, but not hard either. The 1950-D didn?t show up in my change, but the 1939-D did. So I basically didn?t find the 1938-D and 1938-S, 1939-S and 1950-D in my change.
Buffalo nickels I had collected on and off. I had an album. With dates, they were few and far between. The dateless ones were fairly numerous and explains the appeal of the Nic-A-Date date restorer. Restored dates basically had no value, but finding out what the coins really were was great fun.
By collecting that way, it influenced my thinking. It influenced the thinking of my generation. A coin had a value higher than face value primarily because of its scarcity. Sure, condition mattered, but the premiums were not all that high over the values of lower grades.
Nowadays, specialist thinking rules the hobby. We need to know how many MS-67s, -68s or -69s there are. We need to know which die combination was used to create this or that variety. Specialists stake out their ground and mine it like archaeologists.
But like a mustang horse captured and corralled, I still remember the freedom afforded by my generalist days.