What can you really do with it?

By Ray Oldenburg

Whenever an opportunity presents itself, I show part of my numismatic collection to others in order to promulgate the hobby.

Most people, young and old, are completely unaware of what exists in our realm except for items they see advertised from time to time by the Royal Canadian Mint in magazines or flyers. Almost always, the “wow factor” appears instantly.

“I never realized the Bank of Canada actually produced Princess Elizabeth on their currency.”

“You must be kidding. The banks actually printed their own paper money?”

“Beautiful engraving—you don’t see that anymore.”

“I never knew Canada actually produced gold coins intended for circulation.”

Generally, people are impressed and show a profound interest in the material produced. But on rare occasions, a fly does land in the ointment.

Several years ago, I visited an old friend in a nursing home. In order to cheer him up and break the constant monotony of television, I brought along some of my Canadian paper money. I expected the usual fascination, but instead, my friend asked, “What can you really do with it?”

The comment was a bit deflating, but it deserves an answer because people without a hobby – if they are not openly asking it – are thinking it.

We have all heard, and sometimes spoken, the usual superficial reply: as we participate in numismatics, we learn quite a bit about history, geography and metallurgy. This is, of course, true, but if we are honest, we could learn much more about these subjects by other means (reading a book or article, searching the Internet or speaking with someone knowledgeable). The truth is it goes a lot further.

The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary defines a hobby as “favourite occupation, not one’s main business.” It is a concise definition, yet it radiates depth. “Not one’s main business” implies it is something we pursue in our spare time. Of all the interesting things we could take up, we spend time with our hobby, which is, in our case, numismatics. “Favourite occupation” implies something we like best—again, in our case, it’s numismatics.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a hobby as “a thing that a person likes to do in his spare time.”

It is something we do—not something we endeavour to do something else with.

The simple truth is we don’t do anything with it. We participate in it and – most of all – enjoy it.

The explanation comes full circle when, for a moment, we go back to my friend in the nursing home. Back in the mid-1970s, his wife became smitten with ceramics. It began with a small kiln and ended with her husband building a small addition to their house so she could have more space engaging in her newfound hobby. She did, on occasion, sell a cup, saucer or vase to friends, but the endeavour was a financial sinkhole; however, the venture was for his wife almost a spiritual nirvana. She spent many happy hours with her kiln, lovingly crafting ceramics, and she thoroughly enjoyed her hobby.

I suspect we feel the same way about numismatics even if we can’t really do anything with it.

– Ray Oldenburg has been collecting numismatic items for 60 years and specializes in banknotes from Canada and around the world. He’s a life member of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association and has published several articles in the CN Journal.

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