In the past, it usually took several years for a collector to
become proficient at grading, detecting counterfeit and altered coins,
and to learn about pricing. Now we have the “instant collector.”
Knowledge about price, grade, and rarity can be gained
lickety-split, mostly on the Internet. Certification services take
care of grading and authenticity. Numismatic knowledge is free and on
a silver platter. Little effort required. All you need to know is your
credit card number.
If I were to challenge an intelligent newcomer to spend no more
than one hour on the Internet and then tell me all you can about
low-mintage 1938 New Rochelle commemorative half dollar, he or she
could do this with excellent results and be all set to buy.
Some knowledge, about relative eye appeal of a coin or whether a
certified piece is “high end” or “low end” within a grade, may be
lacking — but most buyers aren’t concerned with such niceties anyway.
Ditto for a 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent, a key-date 1934-S Peace
dollar or a Proof 1886 Seated Liberty half dollar. In fact, one hour
might be too much time.
This is good and this is bad. The excitement of learning and the
thrill of the hunt are largely lost. You can be a numismatic “couch
potato” with a screen in front of you. No need to have a reference
library. No need to join a coin club. No need to subscribe to any
publications. No need to visit a coin show or a coin shop. Might as
well stay home.
Recently, a slide show made the rounds on the Internet — showing a
group of people sitting in a museum, the walls ringed with beautiful
paintings, oblivious to everything except the screens on their cell phones.
Another view showed people sitting in a restaurant doing the same
thing. No need to speak to anyone.
With ever-increasing automation and the elimination of humans in
many offices, factories, farms and other enterprises, it seems that
jobs will become rare to nonexistent for many educated people.
Actually, this is already happening.
If robotics, the Internet and virtual everything continues, what
will be the specific use of most human beings a few generations hence?
Perhaps we will see people living in little compartments with heat,
light, water and sanitary facilities to take care of physical
necessities, and a comfortable chair and a screen to take care of
entertainment, social activities, learning and other pleasures.
There is a numismatic antidote for the above, a way to immerse
yourself firsthand in a wonderful experience. Excitement is in the
offing! More next week!
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.