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Diversification not a bad thing

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Nearly a year ago now, I discovered what I’m sure many of you have already known for some time; namely that the collecting mentality that all numismatists possess doesn’t often remain contained in a single medium, such as coins, but often seeks expression through others. The advertisements for such collectibles as paper money, stock certificates, campaign buttons, newspapers and even military memorabilia that often appear in this newspaper and other industry publications are testament to this fact.

british coins

Personally, I made this discovery quite by accident last August at the World’s Fair of Money in Boston when I stumbled upon a bustling set of tables off in a corner of the floor. Curious as to what was attracting so much attention, I moved in for a closer look and to my

surprise saw people busily going through bins of foreign paper currency, which ranged in price from 50 cents up to a couple dollars. Seeing the low prices, and figuring that a couple bills would make a nice display items, I began leafing through one of the bins. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

It was impossible for me to read the text on the vast majority of the notes, but being an amateur student of history, I was able to come up with some rough identifications. I ended up purchasing a small handful of specimens, including a couple that I had determined to have been issued by Czarist Russia, several from Imperial Germany, and a few examples of Japanese occupation currency. Not having any previous knowledge of the world bank note market, I was stunned that pieces of such age could be so readily available, especially when compared with U.S. notes from the same time periods.

I went home, did a little Internet research, and not surprisingly found out that the notes I purchased had little collectible value – the photographs online of piles of them littering city streets really drove this point home.
Nonetheless, in the course of my research, I delved into the previously unexplored realm of foreign bank notes and learned of many new collecting opportunities that awaited me in this far less populated field. Notes from both currently existing nations and now defunct entities that now grace the pages of our history books, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire, and the Japanese Empire, are all more readily available and more affordable than I had previously imagined. Of course, not all examples are so affordably priced, which is a good thing, as it allows for both value and the opportunity for growth in a world bank note collection.

Since that day last summer, I’ve started a small paper money collection in addition to my holdings in coins, which themselves are by no means complete. One may question the wisdom of this choice, and I have often heard it said that a collector should complete one set before moving on to another. I can only assume that purveyors of this theory would maintain that it applies not only to starting a new set, but to starting in on a new collectible as well. While I believe that it is unwise to collect based on whims, I am also of the belief that collecting should be first and foremost an enjoyable activity and that you should not prevent yourself from broadening personal horizons by the fact that you have not yet completed a given goal.

I still intend to finish that set of Lincoln cents someday when my budget allows, but I’m not going to let my present inability to complete it prevent me from enjoying the hobby that I’ve grown to love over the past decade. So, in short, my message is this: go out and buy that bank note, stock certificate, newspaper, or medal that intrigues you – that partial set of Morgans isn’t going anywhere.

James Cucchi is a hobbyist from Boston, Mass. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to

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