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Carrying on a Dad’s passion for collecting

My dad is my mentor. Dad and Mom had been collecting coins since the 1940s, after their high school years. My parents put together collections for me and my brother, in addition to their own set.
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From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue – Scott McGowan • Chicago, Ill.

For me, coin collecting started when I was in the Boy Scouts. On the trail to eagle, I worked on a coin collecting merit badge.
My dad is my mentor. Dad and Mom had been collecting coins since the 1940s, after their high school years. My parents put together collections for me and my brother, in addition to their own set.


While studying for a coin collection merit badge, we searched in circulation and Dad’s extras for the coins to make my merit badge collection; a set from my birth year 1962, a type set, some foreign coins and more.

After my Boy Scout years that binder of coins sat in the back of my bedroom closet at my parents’ home. As I grew older I became more aware of how Mom and Dad loved the hobby and continued collecting, exhibiting at shows and buying or selling at local club events. Dad always bought the current sets from the U.S. Mint while continuing to add to all of our collections. I remember Dad saying, “Only buy from the U.S. Mint.” This was before the days of the internet, eBay and other online auctions. My hometown had few dealers, so Dad turned to his network of collecting friends, local shows and the Mint to build his sets.

About three to four years ago, I came across the boxes of my coin collection that my parents had assembled for me. Dad had passed on in 2004 and with college and work life I never really thought about the Boy Scout coin binder or the collection. I felt it was time to take these home with me so I packed up the collection and drove off to the airport figuring if they wouldn’t let me on the plane with it then I’d end up missing my flight and figuring out a Plan B to get it home to Chicago from the family place in Upstate New York.

Fortunately it made it through the x-ray machines, but not without a hand inspection by security. Glad I allowed extra time.
Once home in Chicago, I put the collection aside and didn’t think of it for about six months. Then one evening I thought I really needed to look at that collection and see what’s in there. I like to think that Dad was watching me as I sorted through the boxes. I soon realized I needed to catalog what was in the collection and learn more about it. It took me four evenings to just log all the individual coins, rolls, mint and proof sets; type set books, series books and all.

Being a spreadsheet junkie at work, I chose to make separate tabs in a file and log everything. Then I read, read, read about the grading system and tried to evaluate the collection for coin quality and value. Off to the store I went for a new Red Book and other resources. I then went online to join the American Numismatic Association, the Illinois Numismatic Association and the Chicago Coin Club. It’s taken much longer to put the value on what my parents put together for me, but the memories and beauty of their hobby legacy is worth far more then the face value, Red Book value or bullion value it represents.

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I decided to jump into coin shows too. I remember going to my first show, the ILNA in Tinley Park, Ill. I forgot my Red Book, forgot my loupe and had no clue where to start. As I started walking through the bourse I started to get a bit emotional wishing that Dad was there to show me the ropes and teach me what to look for and how to go about adding to my collection.

Dealers would ask me “What do you collect?” or “What are you looking for?” and I couldn’t answer, partly because I was overwhelmed from the magnitude of the show and partly because I felt I missed such an opportunity to learn from my Dad by not taking interest sooner in life. I soon collected myself and started small adding a few mint sets and proof sets that Dad hadn’t acquired after retirement when his collecting slowed.

I then started reading many of the coin publications and discovered interesting coins that I wanted to look at collecting. 2011 was the opportunity to attend the ANA World’s Fair of Money and I also dug deep into my old bedroom closet to bring home that coin collecting merit badge set. I’ve discovered many different interests now, so I keep a list of “coin needs and wants” to take to shows with me. I’ve decided to go after full sets of dollars – Morgans, Ikes, Peace and silver Eagles – and have started looking at old copper pieces. There’s so much to learn and remember.

On my last trip home I met with an old Scouting adviser friend of my Dad’s who now owns a coin store. We spent a couple hours talking about Dad and the hobby they shared and my renewed interest in collecting.

I’ve also decided that one priority would be a set of Carson City Morgans. The romance of the Old West and the Comstock Lode, along with the beauty of this piece, has captured my interest. I love the U.S. history that coin collecting represents and teaches. I also decided to attend a coin release ceremony with the launch of the 2010 Lincoln Shield 1 cent piece in Springfield, Ill. It was an interesting and fun experience despite the 4-degree temperature while waiting for the doors to open.

Mom says that Dad would be so proud to know I was following in his footsteps. I’ve now tried to teach some elementary coin facts to my niece and nephew while home for holidays. They have found some of the coins interesting and have spent time searching through circulated change Mom has kept in jars. Mom has also given me some of the extra coins she and Dad used to use for sale at shows. In one of the boxes I found quite a few tubes with coins ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s, all labeled by year. If only Dad was around to tell me why he was keeping so may tubes of these older circulated coins, but I guess I have to keep searching for that answer.

After all, searching is what coin collecting is all about. Searching change, searching shows and filling coin folder holes is where coin collecting begins but it doesn’t stop there. It continues on to teach history, helps make new friends and provides endless hours of enjoyment. That’s what it’s about – that and learning from Dad.

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