The fraternity of Colonial coin collectors is as diverse as any
slice of American numismatists.
If you go to a Colonial Coin Collectors Club convention, or a
major auction of Colonial items, you’ll see blue-collar guys in
baseball caps who are looked up to by millionaire executives, young
people barely out of college holding court with men with canes, young
professionals ready to get back to their kids and One Percenters whose
chauffeurs are patiently waiting for them to take their leave.
It takes something special to unite people whose interests and
demographics are seemingly so disparate. While the same could be said
for coin collecting in general, there is something unique about the
Colonial coin hobby that makes such notable differences and social
distinctions completely disappear.
What Colonial coins have is a culture, a commonality of thought
that comes from tradition. After all, what could be more traditional
than the American coins that have been collected since before the
founding of the U.S. Mint?
It is a culture where men of a bygone era like Sylvester S.
Crosby, Sydney P. Noe and Edward Maris are spoken about as if they
were in the next room. “What does Crosby say?” is as present-tense and
matter-of-fact a question as an inquiry into the weather.
It is a culture that recognizes that the best research may have
been published in 1875 or last week, that values facts derived from
coins and historical sources the most, but in absence of new facts,
values tradition most of all.
The cultural tradition of Colonial coin collecting is passed on
personally from generation to generation. The respected authorities of
the modern era knew the experts of the 1950s, who knew the experts of
the 1920s, who remembered the Chapman brothers as young men.
The successive generations left behind three kinds of knowledge:
publications, reference collections and oral traditions.
Any new knowledge in the Colonial field that doesn’t build upon
that body of knowledge and the whole of Colonial American history is
Newcomers to the field pick up on the language and traditions of
Colonial coins quickly.
Auction catalogs of major collections are the most direct entry
point to that cultural base: every unfamiliar term, every pedigree,
every reference is a strand in a woven tradition that a newcomer must unravel.
Following exposure from afar, all that remains to join the
fraternity is to meet the collectors who preserve these traditions.
Once a collector has volleyed emails with another Colonial coin
enthusiast, or attended a Colonial Coin Collectors Club convention, or
written an article, or attended a major auction, they’ve become a part
of the traditions of Colonial coin collecting themselves.
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.