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Has coin collecting become too democratized?

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Coin collecting was once the Hobby of Kings. Numismatists were generally crusty old specialists who knew the ins and outs of their specialties through and through. They spent a long time learning to grade and attribute varieties for themselves. Sure, there were kids plugging penny boards with coins they found in change, but few of them went on in life as adult numismatists.

 

Flash forward to the present. There still are the old-style collectors around, but slabbing has made it easier for everyone to participate. Slabbing started as a way to attract investors into the coin market with the preposterous notion that coins' grades could be fixed with certainty by experts and their values thus determined for sight-unseen trading. While that never panned out, we now have coins in easily consumed packages telling us their grade, date, and perhaps even variety. Certification has made it easier for non-specialists to let experts do the work for them so they can safely collect without having to worry too much about learning to grade and detect problems for themselves.

 

This isn't limited to numismatics. We see the same in baseball, classical music, and other areas once primarily areas of the congnoscenti. Disney bought the Angels and marketed baseball to people who didn't like the sport-- attracting them with fireworks, fountains, rally monkeys, and other claptrap. Record companies are getting classical artists to perform "cross-over" jazz and other popular works in the hope that people who don't like classical music will like them and gradually warm up to the idea of real classical music. The end result is that there are lots of people who think they like baseball and classical music when they don't like the pure forms of either. They like the dumbed-down versions that marketers have convinced them is the real thing.

 

Is this happening to coin collecting? Have slabs and set registries brought in people who like competition, investing, and other non-numismatic pursuits who like the hobby for the peripherals but not the heart of the hobby-- i.e. learning about coins, coin history, coin grading, etc?

 

I know some will shriek that I'm an elitist who would keep the plebians from enjoying the Hobby of Kings. I welcome novices, especially the young collectors who are filling their penny boards (or "cent boards" for those of you who are picky). What I don't welcome is the transformation of numismatics into a dog and pony show over whose coins have the most points, which slabs look best, which slabs give a better return on the investment, etc. I would rather see numismatics flourish under true numismatists.

 

Whatcha think?

 

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Interesting post.

 

Let me share with you the comment my wife made when I showed her the coin registry. She said, "oh, so this is where you can list your coins to say my coin collection is better than yours?"

 

Seems like her perception is in line with your comments. I think, based on my personal experience, that there may some truth to what you state. I have had coins since I was a kid. They were handed down to me from my dad. I was not what you could call a serious collector.

 

As I found out about third party grading, I began to collect some more. Ebay also helped in it exposed me to a lot of readily available coins. Would I buy off Ebay without third party grading - most likely not.

 

Are there a lot of collecters like me? Probably. Is it bad for numismatics? I don't know. I am learning about coins (this forum helps alot) and about grading coins. I would like to have the expertise to purchase raw coins, but until I have the confidence to do it I'll stick with NGC or PCGS coins.

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I often wonder how the Wayne Millers, Amon Carters, Louis Eliasbergs, Basses, et. al. of the world survived the world of coin collecting and numismatics in the days before the grading services....

 

The grading services...well the "big 3" anyway...do serve a useful purpose. To me, they assure authenticity and a very high probability that I would not be buying a problem coin (Lord knows, despite my best efforts, I've made some costly errors in that regard). That being said, I only own 5 slabbed coins (not including my GSAs and Redfields)...2 Binions, a Peace I won at a raffle...and then 2 I actually bought because I got a good price for a good coin. I know I'll never be a registry player, and I'll always have a twinge of envy and inferiority at those guys who can throw thousands of dollars at MS-65+ stuff.

 

I just wish that we could trust ALL dealers...professionals in the field...to sell fairly graded, undipped or cleaned, problem free raw coins to the best of their honest professional opinion and experience at a fair price, and to be honest and forthcoming when they are trying to sell a coin with "issues". And I wish we could all be smart enough in grading and trends to know what we're getting without having to rely on a slab...whether we collect Lincoln cents or $20 gold.

 

What also really gets me going is the money people are paying for slabbed American Eagles. At the risk of offending folks who may collect slabbed SAEs, certifying of those coins just strikes me as "over the edge"...and I think it may hurt the hobby, with a lot of new collectors jumping in buying those things at (IMHO) outrageous prices...when I just don't see a market for them down the road.

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Shiro,

 

Interesting article. I agree with what you said. I do think this hobby is being ``dumbed down,'' although I wouldn't necessarily use that term.

 

However, I don't how I feel about this numismatic lessening effect that is besetting our hobby. This is because you didn't touch on one important aspect: Is it a good thing for this hobby to grow? If it is to expand, then you cannot expect to have it grow *and* maintain the previous level of numismatic expertise.

 

Growth implies an industry and marketing, and a catering to the average (or even lowest) denominator.

 

Let's not think about growth for a moment... Let's just talk about evolving. Things that don't evolve tend to become stale and die away. That is certainly not what we want for our hobby.

 

Those who collect coins are members of the general population, and this population evolves. We're in the Internet Age, and the coin collecting population will (or has) embrace this just like the population from which it derives.

 

The Internet Age brings with it massive scale and massive potential and a whole different type of mindset. How does that apply to coins? Growth. Yup, we're back to that again.

 

So, is it good that we grow? I've suggested that evolution implies growth, and that growth is necessary for survival.

 

Obviously, what I've written isn't exactly the stuff of logicians. But, I do think that there is some truth and accuracy in my thoughts.

 

I would have to say that the ``dumbing down'' effect is a necessary negative aspect in the pursuit of a greater positive.

 

EVP

 

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So, is it good that we grow? I've suggested that evolution implies growth, and that growth is necessary for survival.

 

But what if it "grows" or "evolves" into a contest of who can buy the highest graded coins that requires no knowledge of the coins themselves? What if it evolves into another stock market in which coins are traded sight-unseen as simple commodities?

 

Will all growth and evolution be "good" for the hobby? It will be good for dealers and investors, but not for numismatics. If numismatics is about the study of coins, then numismatics will go the way of the dodo bird and something else will take its place (even if we call the new creature "coin collecting" or "numismatics").

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Shiroh,

 

Give the next generation some credit. Once they discover that coins were minted before 1965, and that most don't feature dead presidents, they will begin to actually study those coins as well as buy them.

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Shiro - excellent post. I love the word "cognoscente." smile.gif

 

I also believe that there is truth in the idea that the hobby is not all on the level of the learned numistmatist, but that is fine for keeping the hobby alive. As EVP said, the throes of change allow the hobby to evolve. But, I am a purist about evolution, and just because something evolves does not mean that it grows, it simply changes. This the hobby has done since the time where it was the "hobby of kings." I'm glad for that, because it allow for people like me to participate.

 

I think a distinction that should be made is that of "numistmatist" vs. "collector" vs. "hoarder" vs. "investor." (And there are probably shades in between).

 

The pursuit of numismatics is pedagogical. This may be an individual's amateur or professional endeavor, but it is nonetheless a "field" (if you will) of science, art and history. There are more people who keep this branch of study alive today than ever before, and many of them collect what they study.

 

Collecting (coins, I suppose) is a passion and/or an obsession. Collectors can take on many forms, but I tend to think of collectors as people who know a little about what they like, very broadly, and are informed about what numistmatists have discovered about what they collect. These people tend to know their collections and treat each and every piece with the dignity and conscience deserved. They value what they collect with an informed sense of what it means.

 

Hoarders don't know all of what they have. They are crows in the sense that they collect what strikes them as shiney or interesting, but they get it back to the pile and it fades into memory. They know little if nothing about what they hoard, except that they may like it and they may think it is valuable. Value is less often innate to the object, rather it takes on a nebulous monetary form. They are the dragons on the pile of treasure pile.

 

Investors could care less about coins. They want things that make them money and often take the word of hoarders that a certain coin or set of coins will make them money. Very few investors are informed about what they are buying and even fewer of them like what they have got, while they have it.

 

When wealth gets spread out - from kings to paupers - then the hobby of kings becomes the hobby of the commons. Bad? Not really. The numistmatists will still be the foci of knowledge and they and collectors will be the storekeepers of what is good and what is rare. The hoarders and investors will make it more difficult for numistmatists and collectors to function in the arena of purchase, and people who have nothing better to do than compete with their widgets (slabs) will only temporarily hold the cards.

 

I detest unfriendly competition (and I use to fight competitively). This, more than anything, is what makes the feel of the current hobby one that can be "dumb." It will evolve, for better or worse. In the meanwhile, perhaps we can all strive to be more informed collectors, or more engaged in numismatics.

 

Hoot

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I think a distinction that should be made is that of "numistmatist" vs. "collector" vs. "hoarder" vs. "investor." (And there are probably shades in between).

 

That's a good point. I'm interested in who will be the driving force behind coin collecting in the future. This will be reflected in coin-related publications we see. Will they be akin to the Grey Sheet and focus on coin prices, or will they more resemble The Numismatist ? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Participation in a registry program can only work in one direction on collectors:

 

less educated ---> more educated

 

In that regard, I would think it can only be considered a good thing. No matter what level of collecting you're at, more involvement in any aspect of the hobby can only lead to exposure to new things - whether you've been at it 20 years, or 2.

 

In my opinion, people who are fascinated by the coins they collect to a sufficient degree will take their knowledge of collecting to higher and higher levels with or without a registry. And I would venture to say that those in the past who took collecting to the pinnacle of knowledge would have done so today with or without a registry as well.

 

Does 3rd party grading make it easier to buy and sell with less knowledge? Yes. Did someone like Eliasberg develop their knowledge of collecting because they wanted to be able to buy and sell easier and be more sure of the grades they were looking at? Well, perhaps their early endeavors were characterized by this motivation -- but the kind of devotion that creates the "greats" in ANY field comes from within, not without.

 

The effect you're observing seems more likely to come from the dilution of the expert to novice ratio, rather than a lack of experts. Is that bad? Nah.

 

If you want the "good old days" back, then just go hang out at a local numismatics club. I would guess they still have the same feel, since a less commited collector may hang out on line, but isn't likely to actually join a club?

 

All of that having been said, there IS something worth considering regarding the registry's role in all of this. Sure, the registries function to bring more people into the fold, but they can also be a key tool for giving people an education about numismatics. It has been somewhat puzzling to me, and a little disappointing, that more people do not fill in detailed descriptions for both their sets and their coins. I think the opportunity to talk in detail about your trials and tribulations in assembling you set, and in selecting and purchasing each coin - as well as sharing your knowledge on the background of those coins - would be a powerful and compelling way to both share your passion and enrich the collecting world. And yet it is far from frequently used.

 

Why?

 

It just doesn't make much sense to me to hear arguements the registry is perhaps "dumbing down" collecting, while at the same time seeing so little effort to share knowledge instead of just certification numbers. It's a kind of running joke, I know, to kid around about selling/renting cert numbers from crack outs. A large part of the reason why that's even funny is because so many sets contain nothing more than the cert number. Where are the pictures and descriptions?

 

Share! It's YOU who enrich the hobby and shape its growth, not the mere existence of tools!

 

Arch

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To a large extent a market or field is really determined by the sum total of the knowledge, experience, effort, and wherewithal of the participants. While the money may be made in appealing to the largest segments or even pandering to the lowest common denominator, the leading edge will always be made up of those with the knowledge or vision to see what might be. Most of the rest will follow or strike off on their own.

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Prior to coming to this board I knew coins had dates and grades. Some were made of gold, silver, nickel and copper. Some had Indians on them, others presidents. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge.

 

Why did I collect - well the coins had a certain appeal about them. Some are like works of art, plus couple that with the fact that they are pieces of history attracts me to them.

 

However, thanks to this board I am learning about coins - Binion, Redfield, die cracks, die marriages, etc. are some of the recent topics of discussion.

 

I have two buffalo nickels in the registry. Is it competition? No, it helps give me direction and a goal.

 

So, in a sense, a third party grading service has helped me become more involved in coin collecting which is a good thing in my view.

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Collecting is to me, a continuum with shades of coin collectors all the way from the "acquirer" to the rounded "expert" in some areas of the field. Collectors evolve from one area of the hobby to another. Becoming more educated in the hobby is one of the facets of progression, that hopefully includes all of us.

 

You start out in one area, and as expand your experience and education, it often will lead you to another area of the field. Most collectors that I know, started fairly early in their life with collecting circulated minors. From this base, most grow and diverge their interests into collecting of coin series at a higher level of knowledge and expertize.

 

At the second level, they may be eclectic in their collecting tastes, which quickly adds to their knowledge base of the hobby. At some point, most collectors will evolve into "specialists" in some area of numismatics that may be focus on one type of coin or series of coins. All of this progression is built on a base of knowledge. It would be difficult in this hobby to advance very far without learning.

 

By advance, I do not mean just buying more expensive coins. That does not require many brains, just money. Many people on this board are highly learned in some series or specialized area of collecting. Others are with less experienced and are still evolving quickly. I believe the coin collecting evolves very much like any other human avocation.

 

Reflecting back on the collecting era before coin certification, few collectors bought coins from dealers that they did not have a strong relationship with. The Eliabergs and other notable collectors probably got stung just like all of us have at some time. These collectors ran in a more exclusive millieu than most of us and had the means and ability to buy almost anything that they wanted. I am sure that dealers treated them "differently".

 

I got out of the hobby, back in the pre-slab days because I did not like the buy/sell ratio of most dealers. I returned to the hobby as an "investor", buying rolls of $42.00 BU Saints (boy, those days are gone forever!). From there, I expanded into other denominations as my knowledge grew. I still learn something about the hobby, everyday, and hope that this continues. I also continue to specialize more as time passes. Without the learning and personal growth challenge, the hobby would not progress very far. This forum supports that learning process, for most of us. That is why we participate:p

 

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This is a very interesting topic. While coin collecting might have been the hobby of Kings, coin hoarding was the hobby of the masses. Most folks did not know about die strikes, die marriages, etc. and could care less, but they did know what they liked and socked them away for future generations. We are the fortunate ones who benefit from their frugality and foresight.

 

You know I have been a "hoarder" myself for the last 40 years or so (even though I called myself a collector). It is only with the advent of the registry that I really woke up and started paying attention to coins as a numismatic item of interest. I have started buying books on the series that interest me and, I feel, have started down that long road to the status of "collector". Hopefully what I collect will bring some type of reward to my heirs, either financially or more hopefully just having something from me that I really took an interest in and enjoyed.

 

Also the forums run by the grading sites are, to me, just an extension of letters written by collectors to their colleagues and peers of the time discussing interesting finds. The only difference being the magnitude and timeliness of the information.

 

I am normally quiet on these boards because I feel that I don't have anything to add, numismatically speaking to the conversation, but I do read and try to learn from the rest of you. smile.gif

 

 

Doug

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This hobby has become "Democratized" because of free access and a higher standard of living. As we progress further down the Hierarchies of Need, we are capable of developing additional avocations, other than just making a living.

 

I believe that hoarding is a natural human tendency, driven by survival. I guess a natural refinement of hoarding is collecting, and so on...................... tongue.gif

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blush.gif You made me blush again Arch! Thanks! smile.gif

 

Share and share alike, it makes the world go 'round. I also wish that people would write more about their coins, although sometimes I get carried away!

 

Hoot

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Coin collectiing has been around for what now - almost 2500 years ? Has it changed during that time ? You bet it has - and it will always do so. You can call it changing - growing - evolving - or whatever you want - but it will continue. It is not going to dry up and blow away - no matter whether we have grading companies or not - whether we have registry sets or not - investors, collectors, numismatists or hoarders - or not.

 

Is change good for the hobby ? Well that depends on the changes and your point of view. But the bottom line is - when a given change is good and perceived to be good by the majority, after a period of time - it tends to stick around. If that does not happen - poof - it goes away.

 

One of the largest and most profound changes to ever affect coin collecting was the invention of the printing press. Most people and very few collectors for that matter are aware that very soon after the invention of the printing press and the first book was printed - the Gutenberg Bible - there was a virtual flood of books printed on a certain subject. Care to guess what it was ?

 

Coins.

 

But coin collecting is not going to go away - it's here to stay. There have always been periods throughout the history of coin collecting that certain changes were initially perceived to be good or bad at the time. And right now we have many changes taking place. Some of them will stick with us - some of them won't. I for one believe there many good things happening that will only benefit coin collecting in the long run.

 

Some collectors - in fact I might say most - tend to drift in and out of this pursuit during their lives. When things are going on they do not particularly like - they drift away. When things change again - they come back. There are many other reasons for this happening as well - people change - everything changes. But those who really feel something for the pursuit of coin collecting - they always seem to come back sooner or later.

 

Excellent thread by the way - I enjoyed reading everybody's response.

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Dad planted the seed when I was little, and we would sit together, and go through some partial set we were working on, adding a coin here and there, until

he sold them... there were a number of times we literally went without food...

Growing up, I began to collect-- again-- (some 20 years ago) and have made some great strides in 'replacing' our 'lost' past... now, more comfortable than before, I enjoy visiting with him about coin additions, and sharing them with him

when we visit.

Besides Registry entries that are posted, one of my 'prized' sets is that of the large cent series, and I have most of them, including some varieties, yet many! of them are 'cleaned', scratched, etc., and most every coin is a mere FINE.

In my feeble mind, our time together was-- and always will be-- priceless. My son will grow up beside me, sharing in the hobby, and choosing his own path, but will always know his! dad took the time to share in the wonders, the glories, the

fascination, and the learning...

I'm not an 'investor', and dare say-- much of a collector-- as there is so! much to learn about, and yet-- so little time... I'm on these boards to learn from you: the knowledge, the expertise, the shared learning... thank-you!, for daring to care

enough to share that!!! smile.gif

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One of the largest and most profound changes to ever affect coin collecting was the invention of the printing press. Most people and very few collectors for that matter are aware that very soon after the invention of the printing press and the first book was printed - the Gutenberg Bible - there was a virtual flood of books printed on a certain subject. Care to guess what it was ?

 

I read about an antiquities dealer in the 16th century who made a decent living as a broker and traveled the Continent cataloging and buying rare medals and coins. Technically he dealt mostly in exonumia, but there were enough princes, barons, etc. around with money that he could profit in trading coins and medals and also writing books about them. When I go to my sister-in-laws I'll look for the catolog and find out more about him.

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OK, I found out who the first registry creator was.

 

I just read an article in an old auction catalog about Jacopo da Spada, and Italian numismatist and antiquarian (among other things) who lived in the 16th century. He traveled Europe purchasing coins for wealthy aristocrats (he was an early wholesaler in the days before coin shows). He cataloged inscriptions on and descriptions of ancient coins. By the time he died in 1583, he had collected 29 volumes of coin descriptions with over 9,000 illustrations, along with Roman coins from every emperor.

 

I wonder if collectors used to say, "Buy the coin, not the description."

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There may have been one before him. The Dutch scholar Hubert Goltzius 1526-1583, was among if not the first, to catalogue different collections. He traveled Europe widely and named a great many collections - 380 in Italy, more than 200 in France, as many in the Netherlands and more than 175 in Germany.

 

One of the earliest books on coins ever printed was a treatise containing the images & titles of the Roman Emperors on their coins. It was printed in 1511 and written by Margarethe Peutinger.

 

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What also really gets me going is the money people are paying for slabbed American Eagles. At the risk of offending folks who may collect slabbed SAEs, certifying of those coins just strikes me as "over the edge"...and I think it may hurt the hobby, with a lot of new collectors jumping in buying those things at (IMHO) outrageous prices...when I just don't see a market for them down the road.

 

Amen, to that!

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As I've thought through the issue, I think the real problem is the role the volume of easily-accessible information plays in forming new collectors' base of knowledge.

 

I doubt too many budding collectors rely on the misinformation put out by home shopping channel coin programs, but I think bad information on the History Channel and more credible TV shows can be dangerous for the newbie. By far the worst culprit is the Internet since it allows anyone who claims to be an expert to post BS. Coin magazines come next, and books are probably at the bottom.

 

Books are usually better sources of information because they usually include bibliographies. Publishers usually demand better research and writing skills since they are relatively expensive to publish and sell. Web pages are by far the least expensive method of disseminating information to a huge potential audience, and few pages include bibliographies (esepcially the commercial ones).

 

What it boils down to is that collectors can get information on coins easier now than ever before. If they don't check their sources and weigh claims based on the experience of true experts or their own experience gained through time and work, they can feel themselves experts due to the sheer volume of information they process. As long as they find and examine good information, they can learn quicker than in the old days. If they are lazy, they will take in a lot of bad with the good and thereby become confused or misinformed.

 

The issue I have is that new collectors can get the impression they are experts quicker than ever because they can easily get their hands on info. In the old days we had to check out books at the library, subscribe to periodicals, or buy books at the store. Now we can read posts like this one on the Net with little time and cost invested. Without experience to winnow the wheat from the chaff, we can quickly and easily believe bad info.

 

The problem isn't that numismatics has become too democratized, it's that we can more quickly and easily delude ourselves into thinking we're knowledgable when we're really not.

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As long as there's money to be made, marketers such as "The Coin Vault" will continue to prey on the unknowledgeable. They hype the market and artificially boost the price of their commodities.

Truly, knowledge is power over such cons. I certainly have a whole lot to learn and hopefully I can avoid a few pitfalls in the future.

I do like the following commemoratives, though: certainly the buffalo $; the Leif Erickson and Dolly Madison dollars; and the Nike 1988 and Columbus 1992 $5 golds.

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A little knowledge can be dangerous but to a large extent people who think they know a lot more than they do are only dangerous to themselves and their wealth. It's always been easy to delude oneself into a misapprehension of one's expertise. When large amounts of information isn't available then one can underestimate the scope of the field or the knowledge of others. This shouldn't be a particular concern nowdays as stated, since there is so little information on the coins that the new "experts" are collecting.

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