The profit motive is powerful.
The challenge for numismatics is how to harness it.
In a way, it is playing with fire.
I have never met a collector who did not want to profit from his collection.
But I have met many newcomers who are shocked to discover that not every coin they buy will make them rich, or at least make them money.
This is why more than a year after publication of the Numismatic News story about the discovery of the only known copper small-date 1982-D cent, its online version continues to get more visits than anything we have published online since.
It is a great treasure hunt story.
It has inspired many people to look at their cents.
A finder of the copper small-date 1982-D cent in his change will cash in to the tune of about $15,000.
That is a powerful incentive. It is the profit motive in action.
I have looked at hundreds of images of large date 1982-D cents emailed to me where the sender hopes to have hit it big with a copper small date.
When I communicate the information that the coin is not the rare one, how many will give up on collecting?
A small percentage will stick to it and become full-blown collectors.
How do we push that small percentage up a little bit?
I had an email a few days ago that contained a report of National Coin Week activities.
One interesting observation in it was this:
“It seems, at least around here, that for those coming into local coin shows who are new or novice, primary motivation is simply ‘how to make money’ or investing. For example, one attendee at our simple National Coin Week had spent hours sorting/checking/arranging foreign coins only to learn dealers buy and sell by the pound! She laughed but questioned 'why are these (individual coins in dealer cases) worth more?'"
That’s what price guides are for.
However, even getting people to buy a book or a magazine with prices in it is a step too far for many individuals to take.
Can we push the numbers up a bit?
Even small gains in these small percentages over time would compound, like interest, into bigger numbers.
But nobody has yet found the magic formula.
Huge amounts of money have been spent on TV commercials in the past 15 years urging people to buy gold and silver coins as an investment.
When this trend started, those of us in the hobby thought that perhaps many bullion coin buyers would become collectors over time.
That never happened on any large scale.
I imagine that like all other entry points to numismatics, only a small percentage of bullion buyers have ever become true blue collectors.
Taming fire was the basis of human civilization.
Taming the numismatic version of fire (the profit motive) is the key to bringing more new collectors into the fold.
But we haven’t done it yet.
Too many still feel burned when they discover they haven’t gotten rich.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
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