Arthur L. Friedberg's name is familiar to readers of our monthly
issue, as our paper money market analyst. He is also a major force in
the world coins field, as editor of two major references. In June
2001, he was elected President of the International Association of
Professional Numismatists, the first American in that post.
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Q: Was there ever a time in your youth when you considered not
joining your father’s business?
A: That’s a tough question to answer. My father died when I was 13,
and at that time I had, quite obviously, never given it a lot of
thought. Had he not passed away, I don’t know what I would have done,
but in high school I started working summers and part time, and I
enjoyed it then and still do.
Q: What are the challenges in editing and writing two standard
references in their respective fields — Gold Coins of the
World and Paper Money of the United States?
A: Keeping up on prices and balancing retail and auction prices
along with fluctuating exchange rates, and new discoveries. For the
latter it is important to determine the difference between a variety
or a type, and between a coin or a medal. For older European issues
this is often difficult when gold coins are made with silver coin dies.
Q: How has the business of selling world coins as a distributor
changed over the years?
A: Massively. The biggest change has been the commercialization of
mints from government entities to privatized corporations, sometimes
owned by the ministries of finance and sometimes not. But in either
case these self-standing enterprises are now required to return a
profit. They are paid a fee for making circulation coins, did not get
seigniorage taken into account and so had to resort to collectors for
the enhancement of their bottom line. The result has been an
overabundance of some nice coins and a lot of sketchy stuff to which
you expect people to say “no.” You need only to look at the coinage of
modern France. In the new edition of Gold Coins of the World,
France from 1226 to 1984 is 598 catalog numbers, and from 1984 to now,
471 and growing monthly.
Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen occur in the collecting
of paper money?
A: No doubt the advent of third-party grading services and the
acceptance of paper money collecting as equal to coins. Third-party
grading services have added a dimension that was perhaps
unanticipated, in that the grading can sometimes be of secondary
importance to the other information they provide. We now have more
accurate census numbers than ever before. Since they record each
serial number when the notes are graded, we have a better idea of
rarity. We also know more about rarity based on condition since we
have a fairly good idea of what notes are available based on their
grade. It is also somewhat interesting to see a note that was graded
Very Fine or Extremely Fine 10 years ago improve to a much higher
grade thanks to good restoration work. To the credit of the grading
services, this is usually noted. The other big change is the rise in
popularity of world paper money and obsolete currency to levels that
would never have been imagined as recently as even 10 to 15 years ago.