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New Collectors Need Direction, Not Criticism

By Daryl Conley

I bought my first computer around 1995. It had 512k of memory. Now, my coffee maker has more than that. I have upgraded many times since then, but that doesn’t make me a computer expert. I discarded my flip-phone a few years back and upgraded to a “smarter-than-me” phone where I can access the internet, send texts or pull up a map when I’m lost, a feature I have used many more times than I care to admit. I am still hesitant about some things; I don’t have my phone filled up with apps, I’m not on Twitter and I don’t submit videos of myself on TikTok.

I just joined Facebook about six or seven years ago. It has been a fun and rewarding experience, connecting with family members and friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen or heard from in decades. I also found some coin groups that I joined. They seem to be geared mostly toward the new collector, and I enjoy sharing what I have learned about coins during my 50 years of collecting. There are many photos posted with the question, “is this coin valuable?” Most of the time, it’s not.

Some of the replies can be rather harsh or downright insulting, criticizing the sender for posting photos of worthless coins or coins only worth face value. Shame on them. We all had to start somewhere, and we should be sharing our knowledge and experience with people who are just coming into the hobby, not criticizing them for their ignorance. These negative responders need to realize that just because they have been collecting for many years does not make them an expert, and just because they can afford slabbed and certified coins costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, does not give them the right to criticize others for thinking their ordinary coin found in their pocket change might have some value.

With today’s technology and this thing they call the internet, there are literally thousands of resources new collectors can use to value their treasures. Some are not very accurate, and there is a lot of false information out there, so I will recommend they go to one of the genuine coin sites that has accurate information and/or actual selling prices.

Some folks on these sites are a little over-enthusiastic. They will post coins that they are convinced is a doubled-die or has some other fantastic error, that I cannot see. One in particular made me chuckle. One of the group members posted a picture of his Kennedy half which he knew had a portrait of Marilyn Monroe stamped into the field. His photo of the so-called image was taken at a magnification of around 20 and showed what appeared to be a water spot or smudge, I’m not really sure. I couldn’t see Marilyn in the image, but I’m pretty sure I spotted Elvis!

Most people did not comment on his “finding,” and that’s probably a good thing. Enthusiasm for the hobby is a plus, but education is the key. There are also many posts of counterfeit coins. You can imagine their disappointment when it is pointed out that the coin is fake. When I see these, I will explain how to tell if it is genuine, firstly by weight and dimension. If the devil is in the details (pun intended), I will post a photo of one of my coins showing how it should look, or direct them to a coin site that has certified examples of the genuine article. Enthusiasm for the hobby can be quickly and permanently squashed when a new collector finds out his shiny, new-looking Morgan dollar turns out to be an iron-clad imitation from China.

Beginners need to educate themselves on how coins are produced, what they are made of and purchase a copy of the “Red Book” or similar coin value guide, subscribe to a magazine, join internet sites, etc. This will help them avoid the embarrassment or disappointment of being told their coin is fake or only worth face value. They also need to be informed that not every coin in their pocket is worth a million dollars just because they saw someone selling one like it. I have personally seen some ads for common Sacajawea “golden dollars” where the seller is asking a ridiculous price of hundreds of dollars. Does the seller really think it is made of gold?

To answer the question, “is this coin valuable,” as some responders on these sites have kindly done, is to answer that with another question: “Is it valuable to you?” If it was a gift or an inheritance from a deceased loved one, the value could be priceless to the recipient even if it has no significant numismatic value. My first actual coins were five silver dollars that were left to me by grandfather. Grandpa had a cloth sack with a couple-dozen Morgan and Peace dollars inside, and he would give five of them to each grandchild when they turned five years old. I still have them. Their value is around $30 each. My own personal first find was a 1910 Lincoln cent that my mother had given me in a handful of change to buy my school lunch. I kept that “penny” and skipped lunch. This is how my journey to coin collecting began. I still have that cent, too. Its value is a whopping 45 cents. Are these coins valuable? They are to me; to me they are priceless.

Daryl Conley is a coin collector from Truth or Consequences, N.M.

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