Hobby needs more numismatic writers to pursue research: Colonial America

Translating data into sentences, paragraphs, and pages requires attention, patience,
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 08/07/15
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Colonial America column from Aug. 24, 2015, issue of Coin World:

When kids start returning to school this month, one of the first things their teacher will inevitably ask them is “what did you do this summer?”

I spent my summer researching and writing.

In the midst of the process, writing can be a frustrating, tedious endeavor. Looking through original sources like letters, newspapers, government documents, and books from the 18th century is like gold mining, casting aside tons of rubble for every useful nugget.

Translating data into sentences, paragraphs, and pages requires attention and patience, not to mention a dollop of creativity. Proofreading those pages, admitting your own errors, and rewriting sentences that sound like they were written by someone who wasn’t born speaking English are even harder steps than the initial writing.

Describing a concept in 10 words, knowing it would be easier to write a half page on it, is like playing verbal chess.

Despite the challenges and petty aggravations, when the writing is finished, it’s easy to see that the rewards far outweigh the stresses. Discovering a piece of information no one has seen in a century feels like the successful end of a treasure hunt. Finding a fact that answers a long-standing question is a rush like no other. Reading a final product and knowing its usefulness will outlive yours offers an incomparable sense of satisfaction. 

The good news for everyone is that research, and thus numismatic writing, is far easier than it ever has been. Online databases offer access to hundreds of years of newspapers, all searchable with a keystroke. Others let you see personal records for obscure historical figures that bring their biography to life. Secondary sources, like 19th century books and periodicals, that once could be studied only at a major university library can now be accessed from the sofa. Best of all, there are more numismatic publications than ever, all of which would gladly publish even the briefest article announcing a new discovery, an interesting historical document, or a rebuttal against a bit of long held but poorly documented wisdom.

For those reading this who wonder what they could do to make a contribution to the study of Colonial-era numismatics: write! Find a book from the 18th century and document its numismatic references. Read 18th century newspapers and publish something about an interesting article or advertisement in The C4 Newsletter or The Colonial Newsletter, the latter published by the American Numismatic Society. Comb the letters of the founding fathers and use their words to elucidate the coins we collect today.

There’s plenty left to research and discover. All the hobby needs is more people to write about it.

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