“Buy the book before the coin.” This sage advice came from the late Aaron Feldman, who, for decades after World War II, was the proprietor of “The World’s Smallest Coin Shop” in New York City.
He wasn’t kidding about “smallest”: the shop measured 8 feet by 8 feet! The shop was small, but the idea was big. Feldman understood that educated coin collectors made fewer mistakes and bought better coins than uneducated collectors. Fair enough — studying beats winging it, every time.
This column will take a slightly different tack. It will advise you to “buy the book and the coin.” Numismatic books, you see, provide more than just information about collectible coins. They are prizes in their own right. If you collect both coins and the literature about them, you will double your hobby fun!
Collecting numismatic literature — books, catalogs, magazines and price lists — can more than double your fun, at less than half the price.
Suppose you want to gather a complete collection of United States coins by date and Mint mark. That requires buying hundreds of coins, at a cost of millions of dollars. Or, you could buy the three catalogs of the Louis Eliasberg collection produced by Bowers and Merena Galleries, and get a complete collection of U.S. coins (well, photos of them), at a total cost of about $100.
Suppose you want a collectible that was personally autographed by a great collector or dealer of yesteryear. If he signed a coin, it would be defaced, and its value would plummet, but if he inscribed a book, its value is enhanced.
Suppose you want to keep your coin collection at home, and proudly display the best pieces. That’s like begging a thief to steal them. Do the same for numismatic literature, and a thief would be oblivious to its existence.
Yes, reading numismatic literature makes you a smarter coin collector. Yes, the knowledge found within those pages is worth its proverbial weight in gold (even at today’s record bullion prices)! But numismatic literature is definitely worth collecting for its own sake. Not only is it cheaper to buy and safer to keep, but it allows you to own pieces once possessed by the immortals — Mickley, Garrett, Brand, Eliasberg or Ford — and thus add your name to an illustrious chain of ownership.
No worries about deceptive Chinese counterfeits of American numismatic literature, for such things simply don’t exist. No grading arguments, either, for differences in grade make little difference in literature value, and besides, no one is ever going to “slab” a book!
Numismatic literature offers something for every taste. If you like issues of the U.S. Mint or foreign mints, if you like familiar coins or if you like really obscure ones, if you like the ancient coins or those that just fell from the dies, there is a publication catering to you.
Books of every description await, from gigantic to bite-sized. Magazines and journals keep you up with the latest. If you like to collect series, the catalogs of numismatic dealers can keep you busy searching for years, as anyone who has ever tried to put together a complete set of Stack’s catalogs can attest. And if you like to have things no one else has, how about the ephemeral price lists and promotional items emitted by coin dealers?
Many numismatic publications, especially those created within the past decade, have sumptuous color photographs of coins that, in many cases, you could never afford to own physically. But what about young collectors, who want to consume everything electronically? Fear not, for the Numismatic Bibliomania Society publishes not only a print journal, called The Asylum, but also an electronic newsletter, called — naturally — The E-Sylum.
JOEL J. OROSZ is a charter member of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society and co-author of The Secret History of the First U.S. Mint. He can be reached at Joeljorosz@gmail.com.