Show a collector or dealer a rare coin, and the questions that 90
percent of people ask or think about are: What is its grade? What is
its price? This has been true for a long time. And, I must admit that
if at the forthcoming Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo in
Baltimore someone were to show me, say, a brilliant and lustrous
1901-S Barber quarter dollar in an old paper envelope, I would ponder
the same thing.
In 1979, I contemplated the price and value syndrome and decided
to write a book about the other aspects. Adventures with Rare Coins
was the result. I picked several dozen coins that had “stories” and
discussed their art, history and romance.
That said, price and grade were important considerations back in
1857 and 1858 when numismatics became a popular hobby almost
overnight, and that is still true today. It is endemic.
However, if you were to attend an art exhibit you would enjoy the
paintings and probably not wonder what they were worth. If you were
invited to take a ride in a Gar Wood classic inboard wooden boat, you
would not ask its value. A group of music box collectors can spend an
afternoon enjoying the old-time melodies played by these instruments
without ever thinking to ask about market
Returning to numismatics, a reasonable way to look at coins,
tokens, medals and paper money is to contemplate their grade and
value, and then go beyond that to enjoy other aspects — the art,
history and romance I mentioned.
These aspects seem to be doing nicely, if the number of new books
in print is any indication. A lot of these do not treat price, but
concentrate on the other features just mentioned. Examples that come
to mind as I write this are Fred Reed’s Abraham Lincoln: The Image of
His Greatness; John Kleeberg’s study of coin finds and treasures; and
David T. Alexander’s magnificent study of issues of the Circle of
Friends of the Medallion and the Society of Medalists. This is just a
short list. I could mention a dozen more published in recent years. In
Coin World I always read research articles. I sometimes
read articles about prices.
I suspect that noncommercial aspects are inherent with most
collectors. Take this test: Given a choice to see two coins at a
convention, which of these would you pick?
➤ The only 1921 Morgan dollar (the commonest date) to be certified
as Mint State 70?
➤ A worn 1652 Massachusetts Pine Tree shilling recently found
under the floor of an old mill?
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, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.