Never in history has there been so much information and help at the fingertips of coin collectors. The question is why do so few take advantage of it?
When I got into the hobby 50 years ago, it was the tail end of the circulation finds era. Pulling coins from circulation to put into Whitman albums was collecting at its most basic. However, it was a good start.
For 35 cents for a Whitman album and $1.95 for a Red Book to tell you what you were finding and the rudiments of how to grade the coins, you were on your way.
That $2.30 was the best investment possible. However, just as you can’t retire on the proceeds of a corporate 401(k) retirement account with just one year’s worth of contributions, a collector needs to spend money each year investing in his knowledge.
This means buying books on grading and specialty books for deeper learning. It means joining a coin club. It means availing himself of the expertise offered by third-party grading services and their population reports.
This not only seems a far cry from spending $2.30 50 years ago, it is. But remember the $2.30 then was the price of making a start. Veteran collectors of that time had fewer references, but those that they did have they happily paid for.
There were fewer new issues then. Collectors bought an annual proof set. They bought an annual mint set. In the 1965-1967 period, we couldn’t even do that. Then it was back to searching change, which occupied a very large part of our early collecting years.
Learning to grade was a hands-on experience. I bought a Brown and Dunn with its line drawings and spread rolls of coins out on a table. Depending on denomination, there were 25-50 years of coins before me to try to match up with drawings and descriptions. Then as now, the earlier series were accessible only through coin dealers, shows or club meetings.
This process took time. If I had spent more time on grading, going to shows and club meetings would I have become a dealer instead of a hobby editor? Who knows? No matter what I did or you did, we can always figure out later how much better we might have done it.
The point is to move forward. It is easy to fall into buying new issues alone. After all, if a new collector buys directly from the Mint, he doesn’t have to worry about grading. He gets what he gets.
But as beautiful as new issues are and as appealing as their packaging is, it is imperative that newcomers pick an area of coinage they like in order to get down and dirty-fingered with circulated Indian cents, or Walking Liberty halves, or whatever. Then learn, learn, learn.
If they do not, they will find themselves entirely dependent upon what others tell them. Sooner or later collectors (or even bullion investors) in that position begin to resent it. There is a balance. No advancing collector can do it all himself, but then again, no advancing collector should depend entirely on others, either.