The Joys of Collecting: Read, and thrive in the hobby

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Published : 02/28/14
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Chances are good that you entered numismatics by picking up a gold bullion coin such as an American Eagle, or perhaps by looking through pocket change and gazing at State quarter dollars.

Then you bought a copy of A Guide Book of United States Coins and learned about the rare 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar, the historical 1652 Pine Tree shilling, and the 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent. Hopefully you read the front text too! You discovered Coin World (or else you wouldnt be reading this).

If you are typical, you spent your first year exploring — sending off orders by mail or email for coins at seemingly bargain prices, or that were offered "below wholesale" (whatever that means). 

The result was that at years end you had a lot of miscellany, some coins still treasured, others you wish you hadnt bought.

It has been suggested that many collectors are one- or two-year wonders. By that time they have run out of money, or are disappointed that their coins did not increase 50 percent in value, or they have not had much excitement other than when buying coins.

How to add longevity to this equation?

The answer is simple: buy some good books. Amos Hobby Publishing has a selection for sale, Whitman Publishing LLC has a long list on the Internet (I recommend my Experts Guide to Collecting and Investing in Rare Coins as being particularly useful), Krause Publications has many fine titles, and other offerings abound. If you have a local coin shop or are at a convention, look before buying. Price guides are excellent, indeed essential, but they do not have much "warm fuzzy" content to give back. Seek books with narrative. 

One of my top 10 favorites is Early Coins of America, by Sylvester S. Crosby, published in 1875 and still today a standard reference. Track down a reprint. Check the Numismatic Bibliomania Society website for names of dealers in out-of-print books. Another essential — and the best book ever written on combining coins with economics — is Fractional Money, by Neil Carothers, 1930, also available in reprint form. My History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, 1979, sold over 10,000 copies but is now out of print. It has been likened to an enjoyable university course in numismatics. Penny Whimsy, by Dr. William H. Sheldon, 1958, is indeed "warm and fuzzy." The "100 Greatest" series books by Whitman have sold like hotcakes and have lots of interesting stories. Ask around, as other collectors and dealers can give you more suggestions.

There is a secret that really isnt a secret to this: For less than $1,000, which wont even buy a 1-ounce gold bullion coin, you can build a really great starting library — one that will open doors to endless enjoyment. Also buy some books on American history. Do this, and youll still be reading my column 10 years from now!

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