Pursue the obscure

Investors avoid hobby's byways
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Published : 11/29/11
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I enjoy collecting! This you know if you’ve been a constant reader of my column, which dates back to 1961. I have to stop and think that this was 50 years ago.

Most of what I collect is apart from the series of federal coins. Prices are cheaper, but it takes a lot more hunting to find things. The thrill of the chase, or “Getting there is half the fun” (as United Airlines used to say when, perhaps, this was true). Often, before I buy something, or after I do, I try to learn as much as I can about its history.

Counterstamped large copper cents formed one of my first collections. I started it in 1955 at a time when the coins had little value. When as a beginning dealer (I started in 1953 at the age of 14) I would go to a show, more often than not a collector or dealer who knew of my interest would say, “Dave, here is one for you!” — and give me a cent with a name or design stamped on it. Today, counterstamped large cents are widely collected, and some are valued into the tens or even hundreds of dollars.

Along the way I have been busy as a dealer, of course, and have handled my share of “name” collections and great rarities. However, when it comes to my collecting, I continue on obscure byways.

Obsolete bank notes of Maine and New Hampshire from the 1790s to 1866 are another passion. I also like national bank notes of New Hampshire, and at the recent Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction in Baltimore, I competed for a $1 note of the First National Bank of Gonic. It is in Very Fine grade, except that the lower left corner is missing.

Needless to say I had no investors competing with me! Even so, estimated at $1,250 to $1,750, the note attracted enough notice that it cost me $4,600 to own it.

While those who discuss investments usually talk about gold and silver coins, a little secret is that obscure specialties have done as well or better!

Collectors of tokens and medals rarely consider them to be investments when they are buying. Instead, they enjoy the art, history, romance and other connections. Just about any example has a lot of each to offer.

In recent years I have discovered a great new way to enjoy what I have. I use an Epson Perfection V500 photo scanner (cost less than $150!) attached to my computer. I scan both sides of a token, medal or note in high resolution, then put the item in the bank. Then I can enjoy seeing each item enlarged and in color on my computer. Try it. Your collection is just the touch of a button away!

Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached at his private email, qdbarchive@metrocast.net, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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