Protect yourself with good information

Although this issue has a January cover date, it is being prepared in early December.

So if I take a few minutes to wish you all a happy Christmas, you will understand, even if it appears a bit belated.

Confusion aside, this time of year also means I work on my annual review of the past year in numismatics, the first part of which appears in this issue.

While generalizations can be both risky and inaccurate, I would say this has been a good year in numismatics.

The bullion market has remained a driving factor, while that market has cooled down a bit, the bottom hasn’t fallen out, and trading remains brisk. The lower values means that the RCM probably won’t have the sort of year it had in 2013, but it will still post a profit that is quite large. In fact, the numbers we look at now make it hard to believe that in the 1990s the corporation’s goal was to manage a profit of $10 million. Much of the RCM’s vitality comes from a powerful market for collector and gift coins, which the RCM calls numismatic to distinguish them from circulating coins.

The total for 2014, comes in at more than 200 issues, and that isn’t counting some of the limited edition bullion products, the maple leaf family, or even some of those exclusive products being offered to U.S. bullion dealers.

Even so, that number includes such freaks as gold kilograms with tiny mintages, coins which most collectors will never even see, let alone own.

It would be easy to be critical, and say the the RCM is out of control, but the truth is, people are buying these things. It is obvious that very few, if any, collectors can expect to own one of everything. That may have been a laudable collecting goal back in the 1960s or even the 1970s. It was even still possible in the 1980s, but by the late 1990s most of us had given up on the idea.

So, since pretty much the entire numismatic community has learned to set limits on their collection, there will always be too many coins.

I have come to see this as a positive. If the Mint is selling thousands of coins to people who aren’t established collectors, this means that at least some of them may take up the hobby. They may not become traditional date set collectors, but if they choose to collect along a theme, at least they are collecting. Many collectors have developed thematic coin collections as a sideline. Over the years I have met many very serious collectors who also had side collecting of things they just liked. In some cases it was a fun way to keep active while they searched and waited for a few things they still needed for their main goal.

It has also been a year in which counterfeits continue to be a problem.

These days, most fakes are being produced by small industries in China, and are often sold over the Internet. While the original manufacturers are often open about what they are doing, these fakes inevitably get into the numismatic market, and the victims are often novice collectors.

These coins are actually counterfeits. I often call them fakes simply because the crooks who make them are usually attempting to pass them off as coins with a numismatic value, and expect to get more than face value.

The unfortunate reality is that fake coins have been around for as long as I can remember. Today it is the Chinese, but a generation ago fake coins were being made en masse in Lebanon, and before that it was Italy.

Even if nobody ever makes another counterfeit coin, those that were made already will continue to be a problem for future generations.

Ultimately, the collectors best, and only defence is knowledge. Back in 1990 one of the first pieces of numismatic advice I heard was about the importance of knowledge: “buy the book before you buy the coin.” Today, that rings as true now as it did then.

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