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Letters to the Editor (December 20, 2016)

Guide books suggest elitism exists in hobby


The letter I wrote a few weeks ago was not intended to be an insult to anyone but were merely examples of my experience with both coin and stamp collecting. It was meant to be a general discussion about the hobby abroad, not simply about one denomination out of many. I do believe there is elitism in any pursuit, and philately and numismatics are no exceptions.

Has anyone a copy of the latest Red Book, Deluxe Edition? The “bible” of coin collecting for many, for the average collector. It has 1,503 numbered pages. Pages 249-516 cover large cents alone. Why? There are entire pages devoted to what many outside of this specialty might regard as potentially trivial varieties, with further detailed descriptions about intermediate die states. Why are they any more important than any of the other denominations?

Quote from page 253, after a long discourse from Dr. Sheldon: “This is, indeed, the quintessential part. It has no equivalent in the collecting of contemporary gold and silver coins.”

Quote from page 254: The EAC “...has attracted the ‘brightest and the best’ of the numismatic community. Many are the Ph.D. and M.D. degrees attached to members’ names.” How should that comment be taken? Are those statements welcoming? Is talent as exclusive to the other denominations?

The Red Book Deluxe has pages 916-930 devoted to Morgan dollars. Are they less important? Or is it simply implied that there are many other guides for reference not important enough to mention? Are the varieties such as “Hot Lips” or “Spitting Eagle” not deserving enough for the best and the brightest? Or does a coin need to be minted before 1878 to become interesting?

For the record, I have a copy of Penny Whimsy by Dr. Sheldon. I have a copy of A Guide Book of Half Cents and Large Cents. They are very thick and go into almost painful details on almost every die state imaginable. I honestly found the die varieties very interesting, but it seemed that the culture attached to the practice was not welcoming, not for the average Joe after all.

I truly believe the early coppers are fascinating beauties, but I honestly haven’t seen comments associated like those above applied to other denominations. Is that because early coppers are so very fascinating that, in addition to all of us regular Joes, the geniuses flock only to them in large numbers?

The Scott Specialized catalog in philately does the same thing. You have to specially order (German) zeppelin postal guides like Sieger to get at the truly good details. These references are not easy to come by. Perhaps this will be the true sign of the apocalypse. Cats and dogs, the early Copper and Morgan guys, the imperforate and the zepp stamp guys getting along. I worry about our hobbies.

Blaine Buckman
Address withheld

Buying best coin one can afford still sensible advice

When I began collecting in the ’50s it was strictly a “from circulation” endeavor. By the ’60s I was in high school, had a part time job and began to frequent the neighborhood coin shops that began to pop up. The advice I received from the dealers and more experienced collectors was, universally, “Buy the best coin you can afford.” I’ve followed that advice for 60 years now and have completed most of my sets. I determined quite early that to own a match set of Barbers I’d collect coins graded VG/F, and after many years I now own a complete set of Barbers.

However, I find now this advice is being given by whoever penned the Item of the Week article on Nov 8: “Pay up for quality or don’t buy anything at all.” Quite a change, don’t you think? It’s no wonder the hobby is dying. I wouldn’t own a complete set of Barbers had I taken it. But if your author could convince everyone to listen to him, maybe the price of circulated coins would bottom out and I could fill a bunch of Liberty Seated holes.

Gary Werner
St. Louis, Mo.

Editor’s note: Permit us to quote our own Item of the Week article about the key Indian Head $5 gold piece.

The last paragraph of the story reads: “The 1911-D is probably a case of pay up for quality, or don’t buy anything at all. Disappointing? Sure.”

That paragraph is intended as advice that applies only to 1911-D gold $5 coins.

Ordering gold coins from Mint has gone smoothly

Wanted to let you know it only took me three minutes to confirm my order for one of the new gold Walking Liberty halves. The gold dime took me nine minutes, and the Standing Liberty quarter took me 24 minutes when I acquired them. Good luck everyone!

Rick Valentine
Federal Way, Wash.

Mint coins with purchasing power to keep hobby alive

I recently read a Viewpoint by Joe Erthal (Nov. 1 issue) and, as we “old timers” say, “The ‘kid’ got it right.”

The demise of cash in favor of credit card usage is admittedly detrimental to coin collecting, but I believe that cash will survive fairly far into the future. Cash has the privacy advantage. I don’t mean privacy in terms of cheating on your taxes or doing drug deals, but privacy in terms of keeping your profile low.

When one uses a credit card, the merchant gets two pieces of information: a probably non-unique name and a unique number. In computer parlance, these two pieces of information comprise a hash table pair, and they put you one database away from the merchant having your address, e-mail address and phone number. This opens you to targeted marketing in the form of mail, e-mail and phone spam. I would not be surprised within 10 years to see a drone buzzing my house with advertising related to a product that I had purchased via credit card. The drone’s programmable LED display could then be changed to a different product as it buzzes my neighbor.

Thus, I believe that cash has a reason for continued existence. However, do our current coins have a reason for continued existence? As Mr. Erthal implied and as I concur, the answer is that we do not need our current complement of coins because their value is too low. As I pointed out in a Viewpoint maybe two years ago, the purchasing power of a cent in the 1790s is roughly equal to the purchasing power of a dollar today. Did our ancestors feel obliged to break the cent into monetary units a hundred times smaller than a cent? No. Although the concept of mills existed on paper, the only minted coin smaller than a cent was a half cent.

As kids, we collected coins for several reasons. The little money that we got was usually in the form of coins. As such, we got to handle lots of coins, and we could see that some were very shiny and some were very old; if the denominations were low enough, both types might be set aside. Besides handling lots of coins, we knew that coins had real value. Sometimes when I was lucky enough to serve as an altar boy at a wedding, I would get $2. Before commenting how cheap the grooms were, consider that I could buy a comic book for 12 cents (if a cent were valuable, wouldn’t its symbol still be on a standard keyboard?), a fountain soda cost 10 or 15 cents, and loose candy was a penny a piece. Coins had real purchasing power. Ask Woolworth’s whether nickels and dimes have purchasing power today. Oh, right, you can’t ask Woolworth’s because they don’t exist.

Today, I carry no coins, not because I never use cash, but because coins carry so little value for so much weight. Based on the inflation of our currency in the last 220 years, the smallest coin that we should even mint today would be worth about a half dollar. Before people jump on me about rounding errors and the bonanza going to merchants with such a “valuable” coin as our lowest denomination, consider the total insignificance of the amounts being rounded out of existence. Just as our ancestors needed to break a cent into no unit smaller than a half cent, we have no real reason to break our dollar into any unit smaller than a half dollar. That coin could be supplemented with $1, perhaps $2.50, $5, and perhaps $10 coins; obviously, the corresponding paper bills must be retired. With coins minted in the suggested ranges, kids likely would go back to handling more coins as parents would be more likely to hand a kid a $5 coin than a credit card. If kids handle more coins and see that they have real value, more of them might become interested in coin collecting.

For those concerned with the fact that they might get beat out of as much as a quarter during a transaction, I have two questions. What can you really buy with a quarter? And, would you be happy if the rounding always went in your favor? To spur cash purchases and save them the credit card fees, merchants could always round down for cash purchases. There is precedent for this. If anyone has bought gas in New Jersey, they know that virtually every station offers a significant discount (i.e. 10-12 cents per gallon) for cash purchases.

In summary, I agree with Mr. Erthal. Make coins that have real value with no paper alternatives and kids will handle more coins and potentially more of them will become collectors. Reforming our coinage to give coins purchasing power should be the real thrust of collectors, rather than trying to save obsolete coins like pennies and nickels. If we keep going down our current path of trying to protect obsolete coins for historical or sentimental reasons, then cash may survive while coins do not. Besides, if we reform our coinage to more reasonable values, all your existing collections will be of obsolete coins, and we all know how people like to collect obsolete stuff.

John Esposito
Marlboro, Mass.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.