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Why Do We Collect Coins - The Collector's Take

Originally published in September 2018

But fundamentally, the core of the numismatic hobby is that urge to collect. But why do we honor that urge and spend countless hours online searching out our favorite coins or traveling to coin shows? It is a simple question, but I'm sure there are countless stories to be told. Is it the thrill of the hunt, cherry-picking a variety or just working towards a goal? Please share your insights...

An immediate response arrived from the Tenafly Collection consignor....

Why do I collect coins? For me, it's an extension of my incessant desire to put together a collection of anything - it's probably in my DNA to collect and the bug started early in life. Among my collections were stamps, rocks, fossils, postcards, baseball cards, Beatles cards, puddles (yes, I used to "document" puddle size after each rain and had a strict route - guess it helped when I began Hydrology as an engineer), LP's, ad infinitum. For example, if I found a light bulb, it HAD to become a COLLECTION of light bulbs for a museum. 

Long story short, I still collect coins based on their design, history, worth, among many other reasons. The most important facets of my coin collecting are the discipline and patience necessary to reach predetermined goals which is usually difficult for the pure collector, who just wants to amass stuff. (no, I'm not ready for "Hoarders"). Also, the comradeship of coin collectors knows no bounds. And it gives me something to do every day.
A fairly new GFRC friend offered these personal insights...

My dad started me off collecting coins and I am now following in his footsteps.

I collect coins for their history and the thrill of "the hunt". I love history and I always contemplate the history of an old coin when in hand- where has it been, who could have held it in their hand and why/how did it survive all these years in such good condition? I like to understand the story behind a particular denomination as that greatly enhances satisfaction in collecting it. I like to imagine myself in that era and how things were then. Maybe I'm sentimental about it. The thought of someone having the coin in their pocket and actually using it at the general store to buy needed staples is compelling. How we view coins now is most likely totally different than they way they were perceived then.

I am on a "mission" when collecting a specific series or denomination. Once my collecting goal is established, I don't waver from it and try to achieve it as quickly as possible. I do get impatient. It's like the difference between me and my wife when shopping at the mall. When I need something I go in I use a "surgical strike" to get it and get out whereas she has to go to every store in the place to look for it.

There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a coin collecting goal and capturing the history associated with the coins.
Following is another well prepared response from my good friend, Tom Coulombe (Massachusetts Collection). It is my honor to be sharing Tom's numismatic journey with Blog readers.

As youngsters......we had time to burn. And for my generation, at first.....it was toy WWII soldiers and I had quite a few of them, but I always wanted and needed more........for my bigger army. 

When I eventually learned that the way to garner more soldiers was "funding", so, I eventually asked and learned to earn an allowance. After this warring phase was "won", I felt empowered to save the thing that acquired the soldiers......the funds.

And going to school I learned how to buy milk, savings bonds and eventually....... baseball cards on the way home. Eventually, I learned that I lived very close to a coin shop........it was easily within walking distance down my street. I also discovered that everyone seemed to be collecting something. My Dad collected repair car parts for our second hand Kaiser. There were lots of parts in the garage and in the cellar. He even bought and disassembled a few wrecks. My sister collected dolls......and pennies. My Mother had Hummels and a stash of two dollar bills. So, collecting seemed natural then.

The coin shop was very orderly. The lighting was great and with so many, many shiny and varied coins, I was intrigued.

The shop was run by Edna as part of her quiet home. Her husband was a Navy cook on a ship in a fleet usually on seas unknown. He was a very nice guy too. They had older children who were seldom seen around the shop.

Edna "was like" the best kind of school teacher I could have had. There were ....."no dumb questions.....". She told me about large cents, two cent pieces and three cent pieces. Her message was very simple: "always buy quality". and "buy a folder and try to collect them all". Edna was elected an officer of a numismatic organization in Providence, Rhode Island; and then her shop became very, very busy by the time I was in high school. She had a few big dogs for security and there was lots of smokers frequenting her shop. Even my mailman was a collector as I frequently saw him add to his collection. I was in the coin shop at least every month. Coin collecting seemed like an important and illuminating hobby. Eventually I learned that there were coin shops in the other surrounding cities, i.e., Attleboro and Brockton.......and a whole street of them in downtown Boston. So, numismatics was a business.

Eventually, I had several folders (but no penny folders). And later I had virtually "all" the non-penny folders. I had a blue book and a red book. I was "wired" to collect coins. I had an army of folders and I was seriously into saving and inspecting coins but that large magnifying glass did very little to help explain quality. It seemed more important to amass and fill folders, even Canadian coin folders. Then the hobby got a little weird.....double dates, full bands, full stairs, etc. Then there were proof sets to consider and commemorative coins.........lots of distractions. I found it hard not to generalize my collecting and I kept collecting. Then the distractions became silver certificates and vanishing silver......like silver was going to disappear forever........so amass lots of silver ...."in case it doubles." So, collecting became something called "an investment".

I guess that I was just a dumb kid who needed to learn about the world......with experiences I chose to delve into.

And I tried to find the best teacher(s) I could along the way to help me have some fun with my eventual hobby.

I was really just imitating several adult figures who were truly into this activity in different capacities.

And I have been very fortunate.

Eventually, ..... I learned how to focus on a series that intrigued me and that made me wonder again. Can I fill the folder?

Or how about seven blue boxes?

And I am still mostly enjoying the challenge.......as the steward of a very decent assortment of Liberty Seated Dimes.

I look at this hobby different now.......but it still seems to be a very worthwhile endeavor in and 'for' my mind.

But, for me, I do not look at it as a business or an investment or a distraction. It is "like" an honor to hold and sort of cherish relics that helped make this nation function peacefully, in part, because of this ancient metallic technology. They hold and somehow retain true value; and the neat, seldom used and maybe neglected, original ones may just be the best of the bunch. And by retaining them for a significant period of time I have developed a new feeling, a sense of accomplishment.

And that has become important to me more.....as I get old.......really old.......but slowly.

That is it......
First up is a lovely composition from the Silicon Valley Collection consignor. He has been quiet as of late but is sending in a consignment in time for the Whitman Baltimore show.

My personal collecting story began around Christmas of 1992, my father went to buy batteries for our trip to Reno and received a beat-up 1938-D cent in change, he gave it to me and being totally fascinated with the different design, I had it in my pocket the entire trip.

Coming back, I showed the coin to my cousin, who produced from his desk a 1937 cent in probably a problem-free fine. To a 10-year old, that one extra year of age on his coin might as well have been 100 years, and I vowed to beat him with an even older coin!

A couple months later, we went to the local flea market where my dad bought me 4 coins from one of the vendors: a 1935 buffalo nickel, a 1905 Indian cent, a 1912 Lincoln, all about VG -VF; and finally an XF-AU 1909 VDB for $4. Years later while looking through the black Breen encyclopedia I found out the VDB was a DDO which was really neat! Still have 4 of my 5 "starter coins," sold the Indian cent to a friend in junior high after using an eraser to brighten it. Doing so taught me early on that cleaning coins isn't really a good idea.

My father never realized what he got me started on and shakes his head at the prices on some of my more recent acquisitions, but he did provide that all-important first spark. My next mentor many years later after I returned to coin collecting in 2005 was a local dealer who taught me some of the finer points about the coin business and a few bits of trade secrets. His most important lesson to me was stressing quality over quantity. He passed away from lung cancer in 2012, and I often think of him when I look at my current collection. I think the in-progress 1865 mint set in particular would surely make him proud.
Another friend from California shared this short commentary.

Not sure who's idea it was, but when I was not much older than 10, my father started bringing home rolls of pennies every Friday. Throw in a Whitman album and I was off. Back then, I'd still occasionally find silver coins in change.

That was probably the best collecting time for me. It was all about the hunt and I was just happy to fill the spot in the album. I wasn't too concerned with condition at that age and acquisitions were essentially free.

Of course now I buy much better coins, both in rarity and condition, but I don't think my joy of finding a new coin is greater now. Of course the "hunting" is much different, as I'm not really the one finding them anymore, am I? They've already been found and I'm the latest buyer in a string of purchase transactions. Not quite the same experience, but still fun filling the holes in the virtual album.
Today's Why Do We Collect Coins offering is from the Running Boar Collection consignor. I first met this individual at the Central Ohio Numismatic Association (CONA) show back in 2016 and soon the relationship blossomed. Now this individual is yet another regular GFRC consignor and demonstrates the power of GFRC attempting smaller regional shows as part of an annual show schedule. The many relationships are priceless.

Few if any collectors contemplate their motivations. Maybe after sustained years of study do they begin to ask the questions "just what am I doing and why?" For me, it all began because I thought old coins were cool. When I received my 41 to Date Lincoln folder the worm turned. I discovered that you could buy coins when I purchased a PDS set of AU 1943 steel cents to plug into the holes.

When I returned to the hobby after a 15+ year hiatus, the game had changed. I enthusiastically plunged in learning many new things. Fortunately, I was mentored by several experienced collectors. There were fits and starts, pain and pleasure however I hung with it. I tried to use every mistake as a springboard to a new level. Never being athletically inclined, I had found a world where I could compete. This helped me through some difficult periods because coin collecting was my life preserver. I would work and scrimp for a show 6 months out, living for the chance of scoring some piece that other collectors might desire and be sad they missed out on.

Now as I come into the twilight of my collecting years, I find new ways to keep that fire burning. I have completed collections based on type, year and variety. A dealer friend and I performed a top to bottom assessment of my holdings. We identified ways to bring my collection up to a higher level of achievement. That process helped me really understand my skills and depth of knowledge. Now any acquisition strategies are well thought through from pursuit to liquidation. I'm aiming for a collection that, if the bottom fell out of the market tomorrow, I could sit on a long winter's night with a belly warmed by good whiskey, the company of long cherished friends and a deep sense of personal satisfaction.
Today's Why Do We Collect Coins offering is from a great friend, Michael Sandoval, in the Denver area. Michael was one of my students at the first LSCC sponsored ANA Summer Seminar class entitled Developing a Passion for Liberty Seated Coinage. Michael and I have shared ongoing dinners and enjoyable conversations surrounding the collecting attitudes and needs of the Millennial generation.

Was first introduced to coin collecting, like many others, as an 8-year-old fascinated with all things historical (ended up a history and art history major later on). My grandfather owned an old Italian grocery store in Denver, and through that I came across all the "interesting" coins that ended up in the till--junk silver was still seen frequently in the late 1980s, as well as lots of odds and ends like tokens, silver certificates, legal tender. Wheaties were in plentiful supply, but a buffalo nickel was a rare prize. Being a grandson I would spend time on Saturdays helping out, and once folks knew I collected coins, they started bringing in material to share. The most peculiar piece to me as a kid was the 1908-J 5 Heller coin from German East Africa. No idea how it made its way into my hands in Denver in 1988-89, but that must have been some adventure!

My Mother recognized my interest and we did the coins-for-good-grades deal. Started out collecting type, outside of the odds and ends via the family store, at a local B&M. Years later I found out that most of the pieces were details coins, but appreciation in the intervening quarter of a century, plus the sentimentality of being my original coins cancelled any feeling of disappointment. Consider it the earliest tuition paid.

Of course, in just a couple years I got distracted by sports as a young teen, first baseball (which I wasn't good at) and then basketball. Switched collecting focus to sports cards for a time. Then came high school, girls, jobs, and college, followed by teaching and writing. My old coins sat in a small briefcase my Mom gave to me. After my grandfather retired at the age of 83! in 1995, he told me he had some coins that he was leaving to me. When he passed in 2001, I discovered it was a hefty accumulation of junk to uncirculated silver from Morgans and Peace dollars to the usual mini-hoards of Mercury dimes, Walkers/Franklings, Washingtons, and sizable buffalo nickel and wheat penny stacks. There were also plenty of original rolls from the early 60s, and a decent chunk of currency, including high denomination small size notes. I didn't need the money at the time, nor did I have plans to sell, as I treasured anything my grandfather left me, so I packed it up into a couple boxes and left it at my parents' place, as I was in college and would be moving around for the next decade.

Fast forward to 2013. I had moved to DC for work but decided to go in a different direction and was job-hunting in June of that year. I flew back to Denver and pretty much on a whim asked myself, "I wonder what's in those boxes?" My grandmother had set aside her own stock of silver (easily picked up by owning a grocery store) but had cashed in most of it at lower prices in the early 2000s. But a few old wine jars remained and I decided to go through all the coins with a newly purchased loupe and a fresh Red Book.

Laying in the midst of everything was a 1942/1 D Mercury dime, now housed in a PCGS VF25 CAC holder. I couldn't believe it! Easily one of my prized coins and so glad my grandfather set aside these coins so many decades ago.

Those discoveries got me back in the numismatic groove. While I did experience the euphoria and BUY ALL THE THINGS mentality of a reignited collector, the damage was limited to small purchases. I quickly adopted the mantra of buy the book first and buy the coin not the holder, and became quickly familiar with forums and information, including your blog, and managed to steer away from the eBay pitfalls. Thankfully an inherent "that's too good to be true" attitude was in place.

Collecting coins is part of a broader collecting impulse, one that we have discussed while you were in town.Though coins are certainly central to my collection, they are part and parcel of a larger collecting/curating strategy. I wish to preserve as much as possible the things I think are cool; to study them and add to general knowledge of history, and for keeping them in good condition for the next round of collectors and historians. This includes paper ephemera, political items, books/magazines/newspapers/posters, militaria, and any other eclectic historical item I can find. There is a bit of a hoarder mentality that many collectors share as well, almost impulsive, but in our cases, balanced out by learned study and research, and the desire to share our knowledge and interests with others in the collecting community through our local coin clubs, local shows, interacting with dealers like you, and attending events like ANA Summer Seminar.

We crave knowledge and insight as much as we do the physical possession of the items. I happen to enjoy numismatic and other collectibles that are in their original packaging, unsearched or untouched for decades. Perhaps it was all those original bank rolls from my grandfather's hoard, but it's cool to see mint or even just original coins that are decades old fresh from a roll or box.

That is not my whole collection, of course, as quality TPG/CAC coins of various denominations and series, quality raw coins acquired after spending long hours studying AFTER instruction by mentors willing to share their experience and expertise. Gold and Seated materials immediately come to mind.

Not sure that anyone has mentioned this but different parts of our collections likely reflect different aspects of our collecting mentality, consciously or not. We are sometimes drawn to things we least expect or set out to follow, and financial as well as collecting discipline must be employed.

Anyway, thought I'd share these reflections.