We coin folk tend to be pretty by-the-book people. The very nature
of collecting is about creating order from chaos, whether you collect
quarter dollars by date from pocket change or early U.S. Mint medals
by die state. Why, then, is being unlisted sometimes good but
Pretty much every specialty has some kind of standard reference,
some book or listing that helps collectors corral the chaos. For
Connecticut coppers, it’s Henry Miller’s 1920 The State Coinage of
Connecticut. For early American medals, every collector clutches his
or her copy of the 1894 classic American Colonial History as
Illustrated by Contemporary Medals.
When a new variety of Connecticut copper pops up, it’s an instant
rarity coveted by hundreds of serious collectors. For instance, the
1787 Miller 49.2-Z.26 variety was discovered in 1986 by Steve
Tanenbaum. It was never listed by Miller. That piece, which would be
worth maybe $30 to $40 if struck by a listed set of dies, brought
$63,250 in the January 2012 Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ auction. The
fact that it was unlisted clearly didn’t hurt it at all.
When a variety of medal appears that wasn’t listed in Betts, but
should have been if C. Wyllys Betts knew about it, it typically sells
for a fraction of what a similar listed medal would bring. Throughout
the series are examples of some medals of a particular type being
listed, some not: medals commemorating peace treaties that had an
impact on early America, medals struck to mark Adm. George Rodney’s
capture of Sint Eustatius, merit medals given to British regiments and more.
The unlisted medals are typically rarer than those listed, and
their appeal and interest is the same. Since they’re not properly a
“Betts medal,” collectors ignore them.
Nearly any die variety of a state copper series fits the first
scenario, but many things meet the second: American reference Conder
or evasion tokens that aren’t listed in Walter Breen’s Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins or A Guide Book of United
States Coins, paper money or fiscal paper not listed in Eric
Newman’s The Early Paper Money of America, countermarks not
listed in Gregory Brunk’s American and Canadian Countermarked Coins.
If you collect an area that consigns rare and obscure pieces to
the sidelines because they’re unlisted, color outside the lines.
Specialties that put no premium on “unlisted” items share the
common thread of having a primary reference that presents the opinion
of one person, the author, as the standard for defining what the
particular field includes.
Do your own research and draw your own conclusions, and maybe
write your own reference, too.
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.