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Viewpoint: Early copper stereotypes debunked

By Bill Eckberg

The Nov. 8 Viewpoint raises the old – and very wrong – stereotype that early copper collectors are “elitists.” Members of our Early American Coppers (EAC) club include people from all social-political-religious-ethnic-gender groups. Most of us, like most Americans, are middle-class. Where we differ from the average American is that we have a greater appreciation of American history. Do we have that appreciation because we collect old coins, or is it the other way around? Again, we are diverse in this as well. The only things we all have in common are that we love the old coppers and each other’s friendship.

What I’d like to address is why the stereotype exists and why it doesn’t fit. I’ve heard several claims over the years, but they boil down to these three:

1. You have to be rich to collect early copper. This is simply not true. Most of us are normal people with normal jobs. Yes, there are some among the nearly 1,200 of us who are wealthy, and the rest of us love to look at, hold and study their coins (which they are happy to let us do). But as Dave Bowers has written, “while a checkbook and a good bank account are nice to have, neither is at all essential to the enjoyment of EAC membership, and the possession of such is not even a consideration of camaraderie.”

2. Copper coins are too dangerous to collect, as they are likely to degrade. Again, not true. There are hundreds of thousands of early coppers that have maintained their condition for many decades. Sure, we give our coins some attention, but if you don’t care enough to pay attention to your coins, why are you collecting them? Full original red color is risky, but if that’s all you want to collect, there aren’t many dates and varieties available to you. If you have to have full red all the time, collect Lincoln cents, not large cents or half cents.

3. Early copper is too hard to grade. There seem to be a lot of people who have the impression that early copper grading is some mysterious dark art practiced by Druid priests around smoldering fires with bubbling cauldrons. It’s an interesting image, but it ain’t like that, and I’m really sorry to disappoint them. Because these were the coins of the people in the early American republic, most of them have suffered some level of circulation damage. To us, that often adds to their charm, but it does add a level of complexity to their grading. We published the Grading Guide for Early American Copper Coins, which was Book of the Year winner at the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2015, largely to dispel the myth that normal people can’t learn to grade early coppers. Profusely illustrated with high-quality, full-color photos, the guide fully explains and demystifies grading practices that work well for early coppers in terms we believe anyone can understand.


We also provide important service to numismatics as a whole. As part of our educational mission, several of our members are among the leaders in finding and rooting out counterfeits from the marketplace. Yes, you need to be something of an expert to do this, but that doesn’t in any way make you elitist.

EAC celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017. From a tiny initial group, we have grown to about 1,200 members and, unlike many other numismatic clubs, our membership numbers are quite stable. We must be doing something right. We’re having a special medal struck for our members for the occasion, and the edge lettering tells you what EAC is really about in three words: EDUCATION, HISTORY, FRIENDSHIP.

Our educational goals are not only for our members, but for numismatics as a whole. We love the history, especially the early history of our country and its coins. But the biggest thing about the club is friendship. We have members who no longer collect coins at all but still come to our conventions to hang out with great friends and learn about fascinating coins and history. We are a friendly and inviting group.

So, we invite anyone who thinks we’re elitist and anyone else who has even a passing curiosity about the first coins of the United States to come and meet us. Talk with us, make some friends and learn about the most fascinating coins in the American series. Perhaps if more clubs were like EAC, there wouldn’t be any need to “revive” the hobby.

This “Viewpoint” was written by Bill Eckberg, president of Early American Coppers. Visit the group online at:

Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. 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

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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