Paper Money

Editor's Q&A: Paper money expert Arthur Friedberg

Art entered the business founded by his father, Robert, at an early age. For the past 40 years Art has co-authored with brother Ira revisions of Gold Coins of the World and Paper Money of the United States, both considered the standard references in their categories, as well as A Catalog of Modern World Coins.

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.

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