Living with collectors in times of crisis

By Jesse Robitaille

Non-collecting spouse sees strength in ‘numismatic family’

“In order to be understood, we have to try to understand.”

That concept is something Lisa Dare lives and breathes as both an accredited professional consultant and as the wife of a collector. In her day job, she teaches executives, managers and other business leaders the importance of building strong relationships through effective communication. At night, with her husband and long-time Calgary numismatist James Williston, she puts those lessons to the test firsthand.

“That’s why I really try to understand the psychology behind collecting,” said Dare at last summer’s Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA) Convention in Calgary.

The “phenomenon of endowment” (also known as the endowment effect) is cited by some researchers as a motive to collect items such as coins and banknotes, she added.

“It’s a tendency that people have to value something the more they own it, and for you guys, that something is numismatics.”

Some collectors would undoubtedly agree.

“Depending on the item, I think it becomes more a part of you over time, so of course it’s more valuable to you – and maybe in other ways than when you first acquired it,” added Scott Douglas, past RCNA education chair and former organizer of the association’s annual educational symposium.

Dare’s husband James Williston (centre), an honorary life member of the Calgary Numismatic Society, is ‘reaching out to numismatic family now more than I ever did before.’


As a type of “survival guide” for people living with collectors, Dare developed what she calls the “Rule of B,” which is a three-part lesson in relationship building.

The first “Rule of B” is “Brace Yourself.”

“You hear he’s a coin collector, and it seems benign,” said Dare. “It seemed okay but then insidiously kind of crept into my world.”

Years ago, Dare’s colleague encouraged her to go on a blind date with her husband’s coin-collecting friend. If she knew then what she knows now, she could have been better prepared for what she calls “the onslaught.”

“The reason I say brace yourself is because I had originally thought, ‘Oh, coins? Okay. You just collect coins, right?’”

Brace yourself, however, because there are countless ways to enjoy numismatics, including (at least for Williston):

  • pre- and post-Confederation Canadian tokens;
  • encased Canadian coins;
  • Canadian spinners;
  • Canadian coin postcards;
  • Canadian Tire money;
  • Alberta wooden tokens; and
  • coins encased in Lucite, which is a trade name for the clear acrylic blocks that “protect coins for posterity,” according to Williston, who’s the former president and an honorary life member of the Calgary Numismatic Society.

“Also, something to mention under the ‘Brace Yourself’ section is you guys usually lie,” said Dare, who added collectors – in her experience – often downplay the amount of money they spend when acquiring material for their collections.

“I’ve learned things are usually worth a lot more than you would think.”


After bracing yourself, the second “Rule of B” is “Breathe,” which includes trying to find a way to connect to your counterpart’s perspective.

“You get past the onslaught and maybe hack into the eBay account and find out what’s really going on,” said Dare, who has experience working in oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and health care, among other industries.

“You think, ‘I’m going to be in this for the long haul, right?’ So you need to breathe, you need to relax, and this is where you put things into perspective,” she added, contrasting her husband’s “eccentric list of stuff he collects” with her photographer friend’s hobby of shooting “toilets of the world.”

“So, you know, I’m glad that is not what you do, James. I say to myself, ‘I am grateful.’”

In her experience with the “Breathe” part of the “Rule of B,” Dare also learned to understand numismatics’ social significance.

“It’s something that’s very important to him, as I think many of the spouses realize. It’s a big part of your lives, and so I thought I might as well learn to get along with that.”

Numismatics “goes beyond just a group of nerds that get together,” Dare added, of the hobby’s camaraderie.

“It’s actually people that share fellowship – I know James uses that word a lot – and I’ve seen a lot of friendship here within a community of people that actually care about one another. I know there are also lots of really sad and tragic things that have happened within your community, but you really come together.”

This level of understanding is crucial to any strong relationship, Dare added, “because we would also want the same thing in return as a spouse.”

“We need to find something that we can connect to, and that’s when I really started to think about the aspects (of numismatics) that I do actually find interesting. I certainly have enjoyed meeting a lot of interesting people, and I really appreciate that.”


The third and final part of the “Rule of B” is “Boundaries,” which are “very important” because “everyone needs space,” Dare said.

“As much as I need to be supportive and you need to enjoy your hobby with your friends in the fellowship, there are boundaries. You can have your own space, but maybe it doesn’t leave that space,” she said, of Williston’s so-called “coin den.”

“And I think we have to have an expiry date,” she added, in regards to storing what she deems “unnecessary” print material that can be just as easily scanned and stored digitally.

“I will admit I do some ‘stealth work,’ which means if you leave publications lying around long enough, they’re going in the recycling bin,” she added, with a laugh.

While those old publications are important to Williston, his “valuable and precious friendships and relationships” are second to none.

“I’ve had a chance to meet some really interesting and wonderful people, too, and I really do appreciate that. We all have those kind of weird, eccentric characters in our family, right? But they’re still family.”


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing social-distancing measures, this extended “numismatic family” is now more important than ever.

“It’s definitely a time for people to ask themselves what’s truly important in life,” Dare told CCN in a follow-up interview this March. “It’s a soul-searching question that I think everyone, at some level, is asking.”

With much of Canada under quarantine or self-isolation, there’s also “the added aspect of confined quarters,” Dare said, “so there’s no place to hide.”

While some of those all-important personal boundaries are being pushed to their limits with collectors under quarantine alongside their non-collecting spouses, Dare is trying to see the brighter side of the situation.

“On a serious note, it’s something that James enjoys, and he still needs that space to be able to do it and be engaged with it. Over the past few weeks, we’ve all seen how important community and those connections can be,” she said.

As people begin adapting to the strict social measures, the term “physical distancing” is slowly replacing “social distancing” as a way to reinforce the importance of staying connected while under quarantine.

“The numismatic family is another family people can reach out to, and I think that’s even more important for people who are older because they might not live near family or friends or be able to connect with them.”

Trapped at home with his collection, Williston has made an effort to keep in touch with his fellow collectors around the world.

“I’ve been reaching out to fellow collectors via phone and email, sending out little comical videos on the situation. That kind of stuff is important,” Williston told CCN this March. “I’ve also been researching and buying on eBay, picking up the odd item like normal. I think people have more time for that now.”

Each week, he makes sure to call at least a few collectors to “touch base, talk coins and get an update on the situation in their part of the world.”

“I’m reaching out to numismatic family and friends now more than I ever did before.”

The first part of this story, ‘Understanding the collector after living with one for five years,’ was published in CCN Vol. 57 #16.

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