When you read stories about wonderful circulation finds that turn out to be valuable, they are almost always about error coins.
My recent blog about the finds of doubled-die Homestead quarters is a case in point.
Searches by collectors for error coins are wonderful things, but as much as we can hope, there is no possible way to build a significant portion of the hobby base on error coin collecting.
It just can’t happen.
For most collectors, a book or a coin album are the road maps to putting a collection together.
Let’s start with albums. There is no such thing for errors.
I cannot open a folder and see that I have 48 holes to fill for a complete set of error cents and do likewise for other denominations.
If I wanted to collect error cents, I could grab a guide book and perhaps think that putting a set of doubled-die cents together would be a wonderful thing. After all, the famous 1955 doubled-die cent is what put errors on the collector map in the first place.
OK. Among the cent doubled dies, the 1955, 1972, 1983, 1984 and 1995 have made it into the popular mind to varying degrees. You can also add the very rare 1969-S doubled die and the even less well known 1970-S, 1971 and 1971-S doubled dies.
Even if you can afford the high priced ones, there are only nine coins in such a cent set.
There will never be an album for these.
You cannot base a lifetime of collecting on such a small set and if the prices put the coins beyond your reach, you would not even choose to collect them at all.
There are other errors, but even adding large and small dates and close and wide AM varieties, the set remains just too small.
It is better to choose to collect the entire Lincoln series and treat errors as an adjunct.
Another problem with errors is most collectors no longer actively collect all denominations.
They might buy proof and mint sets each year to keep their hand in, but if you do not actively collect Washington quarters, will the possibility of finding a Homestead error quarter make you do more than just dabble in the Washington series?
Without the discipline of a systematic way to collect errors, most collectors will continue to keep them at arm’s length.
Then there is the complication factor.
Doubled dies are easy to explain and often easy to see. One or the other of these factors is usually missing for other errors.
The North American Coins and Prices book has a 21-page section of the many possible kinds of errors.
I often refer to it.
These pages are handy, but they do not add up to any kind of road map to putting a set together.
Some errors are created in a manner that almost requires an engineering degree to understand.
Certainly there are people who do understand them. I rely on Ken Potter in Numismatic News.
However, most collectors will shy away from buying something they can’t wrap their minds around no matter how valiantly Ken tries to describe them.
Errors likely will always be adjuncts to other sets.
The VAM collectors in the Morgan dollar series are an example as are early copper collectors who have cataloged minting varieties and identified them with their own unique numbers.
Both areas have built errors into the heart of the possible sets you can collect, yet there are sets that can be logically put together without including a single error.
At root, collecting is what you want to do rather than what you have to do. For most collectors, error collecting even with some dazzling prices and opportunities is the numismatic equivalent of being made to eat your vegetables.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."