Last week I mentioned that in today’s era of the Internet,
cyberspace and instant access to information, a lot of numismatics is
faceless and computerized — prices, mintages and the like.
If as you read these words you decide you would like to build a
collection of Morgan silver dollars from 1878 to 1921 — one of my
all-time favorite series, by the way — you could spend two or three
hours on the Internet and find perhaps half of the nearly 100
different major dates, Mint marks, and varieties listed in my A Guide
Book of Morgan Silver Dollars.
Of course, you would get a mixed bag that would include “low-end”
coins or those with poor eye appeal. For 90 percent of today’s buyers,
a certified Mint State 65 dollar that is poorly struck and
unattractive is a better coin than an MS-63 coin that is sharp and
beautiful. Numbers are first and foremost. Numismatic knowledge? No
For the other 10 percent of buyers, a great appeal of numismatics
is the thrill of the search — seeking pieces of interest and then
tracking them down. Many opportunities along the way do indeed require
intellect, research and effort, and yield a reward in satisfaction.
The secret is to find paths that are not often taken.
Most who have done this have stayed with the hobby for many years
and also have profited greatly when, eventually, their collections
Take the field of collecting known as “Betts medals.” In 1894,
American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary
Medals was published, the work of C. Wyllys Betts.
The book described and often illustrated hundreds of different
medals struck in America and Europe that related to aspects of the
Americas in early times. Spanish galleons laden with gold and silver
are delineated as are early American settlements, scholars and
scoundrels, wars and treaties.
Included is the famous Libertas Americana medal by Augustin Dupré,
depicting on its obverse a woman with a Liberty cap on a pole, and on
the reverse an allegory relating to the former dominance of England
over the American colonies. Voters landed this in the No. 1 spot in
Whitman’s 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens book.
Benjamin Franklin sponsored its creation.
To read about this medal is to want to own one, if you can afford
it. While the Libertas Americana medal is valued into the thousands of
dollars, other Betts medals can be bought in the low three figures,
some for less than $100.
Each of the different Betts medals has its own story to tell.
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.