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Specializing – The Key to Longevity in Numismatics

As I
have written earlier, the key to longevity in numismatics is specializing. This
involves forming a basic working library, reading about areas of interest, and
collecting slowly and carefully. This can take a lot of money or very little,
depending on what you choose.

At the
grand end of the scale Louis E. Eliasberg sought to acquire one of each federal
coin listed in the Guide Book, from the 1793 half cent to the
1933 double eagle. He finally accomplished this in 1950 when he bought the
unique 1873-CC dime without arrows at the date. What a specialty! He also
acquired many colonial and early American coins, territorial and private gold
coins, and patterns. Also at the grand end was Harry W. Bass, Jr., who
collected widely but specialized in early American gold coins 1795 to 1834 by
die varieties—and formed a holding unequalled by any other. D. Brent Pogue
sought superb federal coins from half cents to eagles, from 1793 to the late
1830s.

On a
more modest and much wider scale in terms of those involved is collecting early
federal coins by die varieties—such as one each of the early large cents from
1793 to 1814, or Capped Bust dimes 1809 to 1837, or Liberty Seated silver coins
– to mention just a few specialties. The world of specialization is much
different than many think. The goal is to get one each of the different
varieties. Coins in grades such as Good-4, VG-8, and Fine-12 are perfectly
acceptable to insiders (while a newcomer to numismatic might sniff at any coin
that was not Gem Mint State). Members of the Liberty Seated Coin Club and the
Barber Coin Collectors Society nearly always select circulated coins. Their
inventories are regularly published, with the vast majority of coins grading
from Fine to About Uncirculated.

Obsolete
notes of state-chartered banks 1782 to 1866 are mostly very inexpensive. If you
were to seek one of each major variety from the State of New York, the cost for
many would be well below $100 each. A curious aspect is that a circulated note
with the inked signatures of the bank cashier and president is often worth more
than an Uncirculated, unsigned, unused note!

I have
very nice collection, probably the finest, of nickel-size tokens that were used
in coin-operated pianos and related devices. Most say GOOD FOR ONE TUNE or
similar. Most cost me less than $10 each, and probably only 5% cost me more
than $50. I have been collecting them for decades. In 1975 the Token and Medal
Society published my study, A Tune for a Token, which was
highly acclaimed and earned me an award medal. My entire collection at that
time was probably worth less than $1,000, but I had years of fun assembling it.
A few weeks ago at the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo in Baltimore, David
Schenkman gave me one I didn’t have from West Virginia.

Specializing
in numismatic books can be fun—such as trying to complete a full run of Stack’s
catalogs, or those of B. Max Mehl or of the Numismatic Gallery. This is an
inexpensive pursuit that provides a lot of enjoyment.

Going
to modern coins, some years ago I decided to form a collection of dollar coins
from the 1971 Eisenhower to the latest Native American pieces. Most cost less
than $50, sometimes far less, for a nice MS-65 (the grade I selected). Most
Proofs automatically come in grades higher than that—and those of recent years
are nearly all perfect. I formed this in parallel with writing what became a
best-selling Whitman book, A Guide Book of Modern U.S. Dollar
Coins. 
Why don’t you track down a copy, read it, and see how
interesting these can be?

Specialize
and you will really enjoy numismatics! Guaranteed!

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