Kevin Goldberg

Old World, New Ideas

Kevin Goldberg

Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.   

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In a Voices article dated April 16, 2015, I offered five “excuses” why I collect coins. The post generated several email responses that prompted me to think more about what I like and what I don’t like about our hobby. Let’s face it, numismatics is fantastic, but it’s not perfect.

What follows are three things about coin collecting that I wish I could affect.

“Chinese” counterfeits: Read carefully. Counterfeits are the scourge of our hobby. There is no contesting that. But I do contest the way we (I mean “we” literally, as I include myself) lazily conflate all modern counterfeits into the abstract label, “Chinese.” At least two complications arise. First, honest Chinese dealers and collectors—there are a great many—are dually mistrusted within the hobby. The repercussions of this are tragic down to the most human level, and this has a direct effect on the overall health of numismatics. Second, modern counterfeiters in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere receive a free pass whenever we glibly scream “Chinese” without really knowing the financial and physical sources of fakes. Despite being so knowledgeable about historical injustices, we tend to overlook our own biases.

The lack of women in numismatics: Yes, there are some women, including some very high-profile women at Coin World, but women are grossly outnumbered by their male counterparts on the bourse floor. I understand that our hobby has historically been a male pursuit. We can’t change the past, but we can certainly address the future. The hobby must recognize and respond to shifting family dynamics. Fathers today spend more time with their daughters than previous generations, but few of these fathers bring their girls to coin shows. I don’t, because I fear that the lack of women collectors in the room would drive my daughters even further away. Many organizations, from local coin clubs all the way up to the ANA, have begun to address this gender imbalance, but we still have much work to do. Efforts to address the “greying” of the numismatic demographic should go hand-in-hand with efforts to promote the hobby among girls.

Points: I understand that third-party graders (TPGs) are an indispensable, if still somewhat controversial, reality in our hobby. Points are an enterprising part of what TPGs do, but they should be subordinate to the more imperative task of authentication. As has already occurred in wine collecting, where quality is determined by several (all subjective) 100-point scales, TPG point systems have begun to replace traditional connoisseurship in numismatics and have further tilted the hobby towards money, rather than passion. I suspect that many among us are actually collectors of plastic tombs and “top-pop” trophies, with only a former or tertiary interest in coins. The problem is not that people collect points—really, I don’t begrudge that at all—but rather that any attempt to objectivize and then monetize what is so recognizably subjective will continue to foment speculation, distrust, and malfeasance. My wish is not to remove TPGs from the hobby, but only that raw coin collectors still be able to find the coins they desire at prices they can afford.

Affecting these three things would, I think, improve our hobby considerably. The first two are more important than the third for the long-term health of numismatics. The third has already changed the way we talk about and actually collect coins, but it’s not a poison pill as long as we retain the choice not to play the points game.

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1 comment
What a well-written and thoughtful blog by Dr. Goldberg. I certainly enjoyed reading it. I am in thorough agreement with his first two observations on our hobby. I would like to add my opinions to his third observation, "Points". Grading is not as subjective as most collectors think. Grading standards don't change, interpretations of the standards change - over time, and between grading companies and individuals working at the various companies. As a dealer, I tell my customers to buy the coin, not the holder.
A second point I would like to make regarding his wish "that raw coin collectors still be able to find the coins they desire at prices they can afford." Rare coins are not cheap and have not been cheap since the 1970's. I see this desire on the part of coin collectors to buy "cheap" coins at every coin show I set up at. The market sets the prices for coins through the mechanism of supply and demand. Also, I cannot sell rare coins in a raw state because most dealers and collectors will not buy them unless they are slabbed. This is not my choice, it is just the way it is.