I am an optimist. Coin collecting will always exist. Something that we can trace to Renaissance princes 700 years ago who started with ancient Roman coins to celebrate their ancestors is not going to disappear.
What will happen is it will change. My generation and the one ahead of it had the luxury of creating a field that has been both familiar and comfortable. It has lasted for 60 or 70 years depending on whether you want to start it with the appearance of the Red Book after World War II or the explosion in participation that you can trace year by year with the rocketing mintages of each year’s proof sets in the 1950s. You might even put it back to when the Whitman album made collecting a mass hobby starting in 1934.
Whatever date you choose, the period 1934 to 1964 made the hobby what it is today. Most collectors alive today can remember at least a part of those formative years.
But that is changing. I just squeaked in. Mortality tables tell me I will have to start thinking of ways to begin scaling back not too many years down the road.
How will a hobby without a majority that remembers circulation finds look? Those individuals like D. Brent Pogue who assembled one of the finest collections to ever exist will always be with us. But they cannot be a majority. $100 million collectors are by definition few and far between.
The new majority will have acquired Pogue’s desire for quality. Why buy a circulated coin if one exists in proof or Mint State? For that matter, why buy a Proof-60 or Mint State-60 when there are 69 or 70s to be found?
A collector majority in the future will not own any circulated coins at all – unless they happen to be bullion investors who keep bags of circulated silver coins in the basement as an antidote to a potential economic apocalypse.
The existence of grading services has eliminated the need to learn how to grade. But lack of interest in circulated coins will also eliminate a necessity to learn how to distinguish an XF from a VF.
There will always be exceptions, but these individuals will not form a majority. Government mints will keep the new issue pipeline full. It is hard to believe that the gold and silver American Eagles passed their 30th birthday last year. Silver American Eagles already have more years in the complete set than the Morgans, 1878-1904 and 1921.
The Eagles and other coins made for collectors and investors will forever be available in top grades.
On our way to this future, there might be one last mighty blast of circulation finds. That will be when society gives up using coins for daily transactions. At that point, many of the coins in hand at the time will be kept as souvenirs. Some new collectors will be born at that point. Otherwise, it will be hard to discern a reason for keeping 100 or 1,000 circulated 1965 quarters. Collectors will treasure the top graded 1965 pieces and the rest will go back to the government to be melted.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today
More Collecting Resources
• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1601-1700 is your guide to images, prices and information on coins from so long ago.
• When it comes to specialized world paper money issues, nothing can top the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Specialized Issues .