Q. David Bowers: Looking at Numismatics
We are well into the new year, and it seems to be a fine one. From all I see here at Stack’s, and observe and read in the coin circuit and publications, all is well with numismatics. Our recent New York City sale of foreign and ancient coins brought far over expectations in many instances, with a great floor attendance in our gallery, with bidders coming from all over the world.
In other countries, as in America, a lot of people are losing faith in paper money. History has shown that a carefully formed collection of rare coins can be a solid store of value and, more often than not, a holding with attractive investment potential.
That said, I continue to believe that the best reason to collection coins, tokens, medals, and paper money is to enjoy them. Do otherwise, and you are missing 90% of the appeal of our hobby. However, the coin market, as well as any market, is made up of different buyers, each contributing something. Diversity is good, and if everyone decided to collect the same thing, there would not be enough to go around, except for modern products. If even a dozen new buyers with well fortified checking accounts were to enter the market for encased postage stamps, or Proof half cents, weirdly re-punched date varieties of Shield nickels, or National Bank Notes of Maryland, prices would double or triple overnight! It is really a good thing that demand is spread across a very wide numismatic map.
Looking back 50 years ago, to 1960, by which time I had been a dealer for seven years, most of my customers were interested in United States coins-the federal issues from half cents to double eagles. Patterns were viewed as esoteric, and although I liked them, the number of active buyers was only a few dozen at best. Colonial coins attracted more people than did patterns, but still the community was small enough that most collectors knew each other. Civil War tokens, National Bank Notes, and private gold were other niche specialties, again with relatively low participation.
During the decade of the 1960s, a number of specialized groups were formed, including the Token and Medal Society, Numismatic Bibliomania Society, Society of Paper Money Collectors, The Colonial Newsletter (not a society, but with an active list of enthusiasts), and more. Today in 2010 there are clubs treating commemoratives, colonials, half cents and large cents, Indian cents, Liberty Seated coins, early Draped Bust and Capped Bust silver, and more. Although I haven’t counted, I imagine that there are close to two dozen such groups active.
Most of these issue several newsletters or magazines a year, and most also have Internet sites, although some are maintained better than others. Memberships tend to be modest, from a few hundred to somewhere short of 2,000, with very few having more than that. Considering that probably a quarter of a million Americans are serious buyers of numismatic items at auction and direct sale, and over a million buy new things from the Mint, the number of dedicated specialists belonging to these societies is quite small. Therein may lie an opportunity for you-fellowship, the sharing of knowledge, and the stimulation of interest.
On another subject, again I suggest that buying a few good numismatic books the very best expenditure you can make. Here on our website check out “The 100 Greatest” titles by Whitman-perhaps buy one of each. Curl up in an armchair, spend several evenings looking through them, and I guarantee, or almost, that you will become more excited about numismatics than ever before.
All good wishes from me and everyone at Stack’s.