Is it an industry or hobby?
Published : 11/22/11
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“Though it’s occasionally disputed and often lamented, the coin-dealing mainstream in the United States has indeed become an ‘industry.’ ” So begins the latest editorial by Dr. Harry Salyards in Penny-Wise, the official publication of Early American Coppers, one of the most dynamic specialty groups in our hobby. Oops, our industry.

Dr. Salyards continues, “It qualifies on the grounds of both volume of business — tens of millions of dollars over a few days at an ANA show, for example — and the production of an identifiable commodity: in this case the slabbed generic coin.”

As I have written before, I prefer to view myself not as an industrialist, but professional dealer in the world’s greatest hobby. Problem is that hobby infers playfulness and having a good time. Of course, that is what I have done all of my life.

Like it or not, and as Dr. Salyards has written, one will find many aspects of industrialization in numismatics. To start with, mints are factories — at one time with smokestacks billowing black clouds. We also have ICTA — the Industry Council for Tangible Assets, not HCTA or Hobby Council for Tangible Assets.

I think that part of the “industry” stuff comes from dealers who feel that being part of an industry enhances their importance, but being part of a hobby is kids’ stuff. I consider numismatics to be an art and the collecting of coins, tokens, medals and paper money to be a hobby or pleasant pursuit. So, I might as well give up. Perhaps it is about as important as the old question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

In a recent letter, Cliff Mishler, immediate past president of the American Numismatic Association, commented: “Through most of the past two decades … I have been inclined to incorporate in the talks I deliver the reference to our hobby as being a ‘community, certainly not an ‘industry,’ not even a ‘business,’ except insofar as our individual pursuits of commercial interests over the years have been concerned.”

Call it by any other name, and to many of us numismatics is simply good old-fashioned collecting and enjoying the treasures we capture.

My advice: Consider yourself an industrialist or else a hobbyist, but have a good time!

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,, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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