Editor’s Note: The State of the Industry special edition of NN will arrive shortly. It includes articles by collectors, clubs and industry leaders. Here is a contribution by a collector.
The tale of my beginnings in this grand hobby is actually not my own story, or at least not the important part. I think this is true of many others like me; that the awakening to the hobby is actually the story of someone else who lights the fire of collecting in each of us, one at a time!
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I began as a collector in 1959 when I received my first coin from my great aunt who was a true collector. I mention that I “didn’t know it at the time” because I was too young to have a real understanding of the hobby. She gave to me a nickel; a 1937-D three-legged buffalo. Yes, she new exactly what it was and that it was special and valuable. Her instructions to me were that I had to keep it; I could not sell it, trade it, give it away, deposit it in the bank or lose it. I simply had to keep it and keep it safe. And so I did.
As the years flew past I did keep it safe. My great aunt at one point in the 1960s asked my father to inventory her coins for her. Her eyes were failing her and she was preparing for the inevitable. Dad and I traveled to her home in another state and began our work. We started by piling all of her coins on the bed in her home; it was the only surface area large and strong enough to hold all of them. Then over the next few hours we began to inventory her material. As we did so she began to tell us where she had purchased this or that, what she had paid and why she purchased it. I began to realize that coin collecting was much more than just the accumulation of material; it was a chronicle of her life complete with numismatic signposts along the way that intertwined her own history to that of the coins.
I recall at one point her tale of acquiring a few Carson City Morgan silver dollars. She and her husband had traveled by covered-wagon train “out West” to Evanston, Wyo., where she became one of the first school teachers in the area. During her time there she acquired a few CC dollars as a memento of their western adventure.
As we inventoried those same dollars she told us stories of their life “out West.” The coins made her adventures come to life for my Dad, for me, and I think she also relived those times as she was describing them. I became hooked on the coins, the history and how they could create a “time machine” for the person who collected them, taking them back to relive events decades old. At the time I hadn’t even considered the value of the coins themselves. They seemed to be more of a path to the past instead of a store of value for the future. I think that is what she wanted to instill in me by giving me the “three-legger”; perhaps it was the school teacher in her wanting to teach me a lesson of life. It apparently worked.
Well, I did keep the “three-legger” safe without it ever leaving my possession, except for a short period of time in the 1990s when I sent it to be professionally graded. I think my great aunt may have considered it frivolous but I wanted to protect and authenticate it. Now when I come across it from time to time I am immediately transported back in time to the days of covered wagons and CC dollars and more.
My father inherited my great aunt’s coins not too many years after we performed the inventory for her. In the mid-1980s my father passed away, and her coins as well as those of my father came to me. I still have them all, and having been bitten by the bug of numismatics, I have many, many more numismatic items that have come my way over the years.
I have always kept in mind what my great aunt did for me so long ago. And I have always tried to plant the seeds of numismatic interest in others, either with outright gifts to them or by other more public means such as using my own coins that I donate to fundraisers of all sorts. Some of those recipients of my own numismatic “treasures” have continued on in the hobby having been seriously infected by my own enthusiasm. I have over the years tried to be a good steward of the bits of history that I have collected. And I have tried to create situations where others will want to learn about and become involved in what I have come to understand is much more than just a hobby. Better yet, it has been more fun than I would ever have imagined!
Over the years I have had the fun of discovering treasures such as a 1909-S VDB cent in an old tin box full of long forgotten “penny poker” change, an extremely rare 3½ legged Buffalo nickel and many, many other valuable numismatic items. But I have not found them by searching for treasure; I have found them by exhibiting the traits of simple interest and fascination of the field of numismatics. After one’s knowledge base is expanded enough through interest and learning those kinds of things just seem to happen on a regular basis.
There is only one main reason for anyone to learn about or collect anything. It should be for the satisfaction of stewardship, the enjoyment and challenge of learning. Should one decide to collect certain types of material t hat will appreciate over time then that is just more icing on an already frosted cake; that little extra that makes life interesting.
Not too many years ago I was offered a significant position and a more than significant salary to work for one of the leaders in the numismatic industry. I turned down the offer because of one thing; one of the principals of the organization told me “point blank” that they were “all about the money and the bottom line” and nothing else. I declined the job and left feeling very sorry for those who will never really understand what numismatics and most likely life are all about.
So how do we grow the hobby? We grow the hobby how anyone truly grows anything, by sharing; sharing the history, planting the seeds of interest, establishing the common bonds of friendship created by similar goals, encouraging others to learn and always celebrating the small and large victories that come their way and your own. This is not as difficult as it may seem.
The main thing is to just plain talk about it. For example, I almost always carry an old English “one penny” coin in my pocket. When you are asked if you have a “penny” or a couple of them for tax on something you can say “Yes, I do but you don’t.” This always causes them to say “What do you mean I don’t have a penny?” Then you are off and running with a numismatic discussion. I usually end up giving the “penny” to them. Then later I will dig out another for my pocket.
Typically during the ANA’s National Coin Month I will make a point to dig out some low grade Indians or Buffalos just to spend in day to day transactions. Some of the results are more fun for me then I would ever have by selling them. I once gave to a cashier, as partial payment for a cup of coffee, an Indian cent. She noticed it immediately, picked it up and returned it to me saying, “We don’t take Canadian.” After I stopped laughing I pointed out to her that it was indeed a U.S. cent. She looked more closely at it and replied “Oh, a 1904. It’s just a really old one.” Then she promptly dropped it in the register. I never said another word and just chuckled about how surprised someone else receiving it in change was going to be later in the day. Not everyone will be interested in “old coins.” Some people will just never have a clue.
Even on airlines it is easy to do. I tend to always read my latest copy of Numismatic News while traveling. Someone will almost always ask about what the publication is that I am reading. Then we are off and running with another numismatic conversation. Often they will tell me that they “used to have” some Indian cents or Buffalo nickels, but they were lost or spent by children or even sold. I always offer to send them one or two just for fun. It only takes one minute, one stamp and one coin to plant the seeds of renewed numismatic interest.
The opportunities abound everywhere. All you really have to do is see them and then act upon them. Best of all it is fun!
Now to answer some of the questions posed on the net.
What’s hot? It doesn’t really matter. What is hot should be what keeps your own interest. Those looking strictly for appreciation in value are missing the entire point. When you compare the value of watching with concern the monetary levels of your materials go up or down, with the value of collecting those things that give you satisfaction there is no real comparison; a life of satisfaction will win “hands down.” Okay, okay, if you can do both it is even better. Fortunately that can be done in numismatics, particularly if you do your homework and learn about what you are doing.
What should we be buying? The “we” part of that again doesn’t matter. What matters is what you learn, what it means and how you use the knowledge. For example, our local club, The Millennium Roundtable Coin Club, has always closely followed many investment related areas such as the Federal Reserve lending levels to fiduciaries, the staggering drop in required banking reserves, the obvious manipulations in the COMEX markets, particularly in silver since April 2008, and of course all of the typical news media and government talking heads. We have tried with some success to make some sense out of this current mess by looking at similar historically significant events. For example, for a real treat, do a bit of due diligence on the history of J.P. Morgan and how his company(s) did business. Follow the company history up to today with the J.P. Morgan/Chase purchase of Washington Mutual within the last month. It seems this is just business as usual; a little manipulation, followed by a big reward for the manipulators.
Will silver and gold go up? Of course they will. The long-term charts for both of them are clear, as are the results of current market manipulations. Once anyone understands how, why and what is really happening, and that it has happened before, it becomes fairly simple to predict the next step. And that is exactly what our club members have been doing since our inception in 2000. What fun!
What am I buying? I love it all so I buy it all. But, I particularly am fond of key dates of any series and they always move up more in value than generic material. Once those are acquired it is always easy to assemble the rest of whatever set it may happen to be, if that is your inkling. Always buy the hard ones, or keys, first. Old, but solid, advice. I would also add this buy multiples of key dates!
The current financial/economic market crisis is and will continue to impact the hobby. I believe this will have two opposite impacts for two different segments of the collecting community. Those of us who are the typical average wage earners and collectors will cut back on spending because we have no choice. Those who are above-average wage earners and investors will continue to purchase rare items due their appreciation or at least for the hedging of value during lean times. And I guess we should mention how the shortages in bullion have already impacted negatively all of the dealers in those bullion metals; you can’t sell what you don’t have. Those who have already manipulated the markets have already ensured their profits to the disservice of the rest of the country and the world.
I guess a word about market manipulation may be in order at this time simply to lend some degree of credibility to what I have implied above. So, let us take a snapshot of time to use for explanation. That snapshot is from April 2008 to present. We have experienced a verified global shortage of physical silver bullion, which translates to shortages of supply. We have, during the same period of time, experienced high demand for bullion. Typically this would mean higher prices. But folks, guess what? During the early to middle portions of this time period we experienced falling prices; particularly from about April 2008 to late August. That seems to break all the rules of supply/demand economic theory. If you review the futures/option trades on COMEX during that period of time you will easily see how and what happened. A small number of very large traders manipulated the market up with “longs,” then down with “shorts” and then ended up with double the number of contracts “long” they held before they even began the manipulation. My relatively educated guess is that as an end result they will probably make an amount in excess of $30 billion on their questionable trading. Oh, and guess what? It seems to me that shorting of market trades has been halted lately. Gee, I wonder why? Ha! The sad part is that no one will likely ever be held accountable for these manipulations. Sad!