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Bowers appeal lies in the stories he tells

Numismatic News editor offers a salute to longtime numismatist and author Q. David Bowers.

I have just received the latest book written by Q. David Bowers and published by Whitman. It is called The Expert’s Guide to Collecting and Investing in Rare Coins.


Good topic! Great timing! Coin investment is the holy grail of many persons who stand on the edge of numismatics looking in but not quite figuring out what is going on. Some of these people will never be drawn into the hobby in a way that will allow them to enjoy it and eventually profit from it as coin collectors do. They simply want to know what the rate of return is and where to send a check.

Nowhere that I can see does Dave Bowers tell the reader where to send a check. What he does is tell stories. Interesting stories. He has over 50 years of personal experience to draw from. He uses it well to illustrate the points he tries to make.

That’s what gets me every time. That’s what attracts others. It’s those stories. I wish there were some way to measure how many newcomers have been drawn into numismatics, or who have had their initial hesitant steps into the hobby solidly reinforced by something that Bowers has written. It must be thousands. Perhaps tens of thousands. After all, he has been at it a very long time. My personal acquaintance with his writings came from his 1964 book, Coins and Collectors. This occurred in 1970. I was already a collector, as those of you who know the origins of the “Class of ’63” column name know.

I was already a subscriber to Coins Magazine and Numismatic News. I had even spent a year on the mailing list of his firm, Hathaway and Bowers, by then. I was taken off the list when my youthful budget did not allow me to make a minimum amount of purchases from his wonderful illustrated price lists, which were also filled with interesting stories.

I went searching for more of his stories and others at the public library. Fortunately for me, the library I frequented at the time had the Bowers book and a few other numismatic references.

While I would like to think that I would have stayed active in the coin hobby without him, there is no question that Bowers’ writings helped me learn things I had never thought of and helped me get through a patch of time that had been punctuated by a move from one town to another, the consequent loss of a paper route and its income and facing all the uncertainties of re-establishing a life’s framework in a new environment.

With Bowers help, I did it. I am sure he has done that for others. In my case, it didn’t stop there. I figured that I was capable of writing stories also. Why not try it? It didn’t occur to me to want to write for money. I had no idea how the professional market worked. But what I did know was that Coins Magazine was encouraging writers with a feature called “What’s the Story?” Every month a piece of a coin design was greatly enlarged and the rest of the design dropped away. If the reader could identify it and tell a 500-word story about the coin it came from, he or she was encouraged to write it. In early 1971 one winter night I wrote my story. I sent it in. By golly, the June 1971 issue had my byline in it. I was hooked. I have been writing ever since. I still have the framed copy of that story.

Now I cannot prove that it was Dave Bowers who made me what I am today. Every life has numerous influences. But he sure didn’t hurt. It was those incredible stories of American history, early coin collectors, information about newly purchased items and the like. I still kick myself for not buying the half dimes that I found so appealing. But that is part of numismatic life also. Most of us can appreciate far more than we can afford to collect. But it is that very aspiration to go on collecting that spurs us all. Those aspirations are fed by stories. And there is no one in numismatics today who can tell a better story than Q. David Bowers.

This latest book tackles investment. It is a worthy topic, but even in this Bowers is tugging the reader to collecting, because at root, the best investment results stem from going at it like a collector. Who better to act like a collector than real collectors? Thanks, Dave.