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Viewpoint: Media turns collectors into benchwarmers


Media coverage of items that salt-of-the-earth, average collectors can afford is needed in addition to articles and ads focusing primarily on high-end, rare material.

By Doug Thom

I enjoyed your recent comments in the Dec. 6 issue of Numismatic News. It seems to me that the issue is not, or should not be limited to, bringing in new people to the hobby. It appears to me that the “information community” is chasing away collectors right and left. What I call the information community is essentially all of the numismatic media and their selection of news to cover.

When the average coin collector is constantly bombarded with coverage, articles and ads that are focusing primarily on high-end, rare material that the salt-of-the-earth, average collector can never even dream of owning, it is moving the heart of the hobby closer to the permanent exit door. As the years have passed by I find myself becoming less and less interested in a hobby that is at a level that, for me and thousands of others, will always remain unobtainable.

I recall a time in high school when I first became a member of the football team. I was excited because I loved football and was chomping at the bit to play. Eventually I began to play and finally was able to reach the varsity level.

Others on the team really never got to play unless we were so far ahead that it didn’t matter. Eventually most of those players dropped off the team. Why? Because they knew they would never really get to be a “player.” I now understand how they felt. I have been an interested benchwarmer in numismatics for a long time. But the writing is on the wall. I will never become a numismatic player at the varsity level. Because of this I find myself reading less and less of the articles in NN, Bank Note Reporter or some of the other various and sundry numismatic publications. Getting hard to justify the subscription.

It doesn’t help that the United States Mint is cranking out so many offerings per year that very few of us can afford to collect (purchase) even a single example of each of their yearly offerings. So, I have stopped purchasing any materials from the Mint. I may be slow on the uptake, but I am not stupid.

I seem to be constantly bombarded by articles and ads informing me about materials that I could never collect. Is it impressive to read on the first page of NN that a Buffalo nickel sold for over $100,000? Absolutely. Am I impressed by the beauty of the two gold coins featured also on the front page? You bet! Wish I could afford to purchase such things. Oh, I don’t want to leave out the Lions dollar that I likely could afford if I was in the habit of contributing to the greediness of the U.S. Mint. So much for the first page keeping my attention. Maybe the back page might have something? Nope, more gold from your friend and mine, the United States Mint. Oh well.

Perhaps there will be something better between the covers? Here are auction highlights featuring the finest of this and that; materials only the über-wealthy can afford. And here is an ad featuring nine different things with three of them being things I could actually purchase; the others range from a low of $499 to a high of over $12,000. No sense in even reading that company’s ads in the future. Oh wow, here is a great one: this company is inviting me to stop by their table at the next convention, and they are enticing me with photos of coins and currency that only the true “numismatic varsity boys” can ever dream to collect. Guess I will write that company off as well, and I will never visit their table as I am sure a collector at my level would only waste their time and lead to them brushing me off for brighter prospects with pockets full of hundred dollar bills and a fat checkbook.

Is it any wonder that the hobby is losing people? How in the world can I do a presentation for a Scouting group when I can’t even show them a NN publication because the front page alone will scare them away before they even get started?

Now, in all fairness there are other articles and ads in NN and other publications that do have realistic material presented, and it is affordable. And of course if we purchase those materials, all of us who are “numismatic benchwarmers” are aware inexpensive material will always be just that. That does a nice job of reinforcing the fact that most of us will never be able to play varsity.

So let’s get honest about all of this. We cannot really lament the fact that the hobby seems like it is shrinking when the real news-makers and features are all about the “varsity.” How do you ever expect to get anyone’s interest in those things that are and will always be beyond their reach? If we begin to keep more of us in the hobby, instead of simply making us feel like second-class citizens, it may make a significant difference. Otherwise we are only going to be recruiting more varsity benchwarmers to replace those who gave up and quit.

By the way, the best thing that I read in this issue was J. Karpinski’s article in the Letters section. He or she is having a great time with raising dates on Buffalo “slicks.” Good for him. He’s having a ball on a budget. What a shame that in previous issues I have read about how worthless acid treated nickels are and how big a waste of time it is. That kind of comment really helps keep people interested ... not! Karpinski’s letter should have been on the front page. It is the kind of information that makes people think of what might be possible.

This “Viewpoint” was written by hobbyist Doug Thom.

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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