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It always is all about the collector

This is the first column of mine to go to press since I passed my 31st anniversary employed here at Krause Publications. It is amazing how fast time passes when you work in a field you like and work with people you like to work with. That has been my good fortune.

There have been a lot of changes in those years, but fortunately for me, what hasn’t changed is the numismatic audience. Coin and paper money collectors are still the greatest group of people there is. It is their unending quest to put sets together in the best possible condition and their need for an ongoing stream of information and prices that has given me something to do all these years.

The very fundamental questions that every issue of Numismatic News tries to answer every week boils down to three:

“What is it? What’s it worth? How do I  buy one?”

The “What is it?” question is something that is asked even by seasoned veterans. There might be a new issue that they are unaware of, or they might be taking the plunge into a hobby niche where they are just as much in need of information as the newest of hobby newcomers.

“What’s it worth?” is perhaps the most critical question for what the staff does here. In every reader survey about the contents of Numismatic News, it is the price guide that is considered the most important part. So crucial have price guides become to collectors that for the last two generations and probably longer, collector behavior has been strongly influenced by them.

Even before there was such a thing as a weekly hobby newspaper, collectors acted according to what they believed the price guides would indicate. Art Christoph, former NN ad manager, told me a few stories about collecting in the 1940s and 1950s. When there was just the annual Red Book to look at, prices would start creeping higher a few weeks before publication. If a collector would ask a dealer about this phenomenon as it related to any specific coin, the reply would be that the new Red Book would have a new and higher price in it. That made it all right. Such is the power of  price guides.

Art’s best story was making his wife (then girlfriend) go back after work on a Friday night to check the drug store’s till because the coin she had described might have been an 1893-S Morgan dollar. It was. It is a good thing Doris knew what she was getting into because not too many young women would want to interrupt their Friday nights to check coins.

Over the years, the means of getting coins has changed. As Art’s silver dollar story suggests, circulation finds were once a major avenue of acquisition.

Nowadays, coins come mostly in prepackaged sets, or graded and encapsulated to make sure they are what they claim to be. Providing readers with information about how to buy these coins means directing them to auction houses, the U.S. Mint, to advertisers, online Web sites, shows and shops.

Collectors have always been tenacious. They will go wherever they need to in order to get what they want. That’s what makes it so interesting for me. I can provide a little help, get out of the way, watch it happen and report on that, too.

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