As I write this, the days are getting shorter, the weather cooler, and the world is getting back to its post-summer schedule. For coin collectors, that means that the summer season, dominated by the RCNA and ANA conventions, has given way to the hectic show schedule of October and November. I have often thought that, from a numismatic viewpoint, Labour Day is sort of an unofficial New Year’s Day. Most dealers and many collectors will be attending a show nearly every weekend. As busy as this seems, it continues to amaze me that many collectors, possibly most, almost never get out to shows.
That happens for a number of reasons. Obviously, many collectors outside of central Canada simply do not have access to as many shows. Another reason is that many collectors practice their hobby in private, when they can find time to be alone with their coins. In many cases the only people who know they collect are family members, a few close friends, and a couple of dealers. Some may go to the odd show, but they keep to themselves. I can understand that situation. For them, collecting is a diversion, a sort of quiet time with their coins. However, I can’t help but wonder if they have any idea of what they are missing by not getting more involved in the hobby.
First off is knowledge. No matter what you collect, there is a good chance that your collection is not totally unique. There is a very good chance that research has already been done that could help you move along faster in your collecting goals. Experienced collectors have plenty of information to share thanks to their countless hours spent studying coins. The solo collector has to figure out coin grading all on his own, without being able to turn to a more experienced eye. There were years when coins were struck weaker than others, there are coins that can be tough to find in certain grades, and there may be plenty of cases where the market just doesn’t always make sense. Talking with fellow collectors can help answer many lingering numismatic questions.
I have learned about coins in three ways: reading, checking stuff out on the bourse floor, and discussions with collectors. All three are good ways to learn. But the solitary collector is probably taking advantage of only one, or at best two, of these resources. The body of knowledge of collectors as a group is probably the greatest single source of information in the hobby. Take, for instance, the wonderful world of error coins. While several references exist, the best source of information resides in the memory of informed collectors.
Another case is the area of key and semi-key date coins. Some coins appear much more often than their population would lead you to believe, while other coins, which are considered common, can be tough to find. Finally, the market has some irregularities. While toning is not supposed to alter the grade of a coin, it does contribute to eye-appeal, and eye-appeal contributes to value. The best way to understand eye-appeal is by discussing a specific coin with another collector to determine what is beautiful and what is ugly. Even more complicated are copper coins, where the absence of toning is considered an asset.
Informally the ultimate grade of a copper coin does depend on the percentage of original red. The problem is that determining the percentage remains is a bit complicated, and that the rest of the strike can also influence the grade. In other words, it is complex, and the best way to unravel the Gordian knot of grading Mint State copper is to look at a lot of coins, and ask questions about why each example was given a specific grade. I have said it before, and I will say it again: taking your coin collecting interest outside the backroom can only enhance the experience. Check out a coin show or a club meeting this year.