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The Objects of Coin Collecting

For
this week’s commentary I share an article by Virgil Brand that appeared years
ago in The Numismatist, May 1905. The concepts have not
changed in the intervening years!  

 

The Objects of Coin Collecting

Ask
collectors their reason for collecting and almost invariably they answer that
it is for recreation. With the greater number this is the paramount motive, and
as recreation is a necessity as well as a diversion, a collection in providing
it, provides a service of no little value. But recreation is of several kinds,
and compensating mental recreation is more difficult to find than that of a
physical character.

Perhaps
the chief value of collecting is that it arouses so keen an interest in the
objects collected, that research and study concerning them, which otherwise
would have been uninteresting and irksome and might have received little or no
attention, becomes an attractive recreation, and in consequence made much more
thorough and comprehensive. A prompt reward for the expended effort is a greatly
increased appreciation of the collected objects. Knowledge gained through an
absorbing interest in the things to which it relates, is fixed far more firmly
in the mind than if acquired with no such incentive. Nor will the impulse
toward the acquisition of knowledge, thus given, easily exhaust itself as it
will be constantly regenerated by the discovery of new material.

The
majority, possibly, of coin collectors commence their cabinets with the single
thought of finding amusement, and view collecting merely as a pastime,
interesting and fascinating, but with no more substantial value than to employ
agreeably a few idle hours. The acquisition accidentally or otherwise, of one
or more coins or medals, which are at the time unknown and strange to them and
therefore arouse their curiosity, engenders a desire to possess other specimens
with similar attributes—and thus they become collectors.

At this
period they have no very clear idea of what they hope to accomplish; it is only
when they have progressed sufficiently to realize the magnitude and unlimited
resources of the numismatic field that they perceive the splendid and varying
opportunities that coin collecting presents, and it is then that they define
more clearly to themselves the objects and purposes for which they henceforth
collect.

Naturally
these will differ greatly and will vary according to the inclination of the
individual, depending upon which features of numismatics appeal to him most
forcibly. Some will find the speculative possibilities the greatest attraction
and will collect only for the purpose of financial gain; these, however, should
be considered dealers, rather than collectors.

Many
restrict their efforts to coins of a selected period or locality, or of a
certain metal or denomination, or gather only specimens relating to one or more
separate related subjects. Collectors adopt a great variety of limitations,
some of them unique. For example, one collector confined himself to coins from
dies with errors, another to those bearing representations of animals, and
still another limited the animals to elephants. But all, no matter how much
they have restricted their field, realize early in their collecting experience
that in order to proceed intelligently and arrive at a proper and thorough
comprehension of their coins, research and study more or less exhaustive is
imperative. To the collector’s zeal is now added a craving for knowledge, and
his cabinet becomes a powerful and valuable influence in favor of education.

The
branches of learning to which the science of numismatics is related are
numerous, and many collectors specialize, selecting one or more of them,
according to their inclination or interest. It is a part of archaeology and is
a valuable aid in the study of mythology, heraldry, iconography, and other
subjects. But its relation is closest to history; in fact coins have been
freely employed in revising the latter, and much valuable historical data rests
entirely upon their testimony.

In the
domain of art, coins and medals occupy an important place. They furnish
instantaneous ocular proof of the attained stage in its development at all
times, and are unimpeachable contemporaneous witnesses to its progress. Nothing
will illustrate more strikingly the advance of art, from the crude attempts in the
earliest times until it reached its greatest perfection, centuries later—its
gradual decline and almost total eclipse during the darkness and turmoil of the
Middle Ages and its rejuvenation thereafter, than a series of coins covering
the period involved. The features of numerous historical personages, as well as
the costumes worn in past ages, are known to us only from coins and medals, on
which they are faithfully reproduced by contemporary artists.

The
economist may be chiefly interested in coins as money and will find his cabinet
indispensable in the study of the monetary systems of nations, the relative
value of the precious metals at various periods, the fineness and weights of
the world’s coins, and the purchasing power at different times and in different
localities.

The
true numismatist, while he may specialize in a kind or class of coins, does not
do so in his researches concerning those he collects, but strives to acquire a
full knowledge of everything pertaining to them. He notes the size, weight,
composition, shape and date of issue of each specimen and learns its name and
place in the monetary system of the times. He investigates the causes of its
rarity, if it is rare—due perhaps to it being one of the small emission or of a
recalled issue—and if the latter he tries to learn the cause for the recall.

To the
uninitiated, all of this may seem a formidable task, but in reality it is far
from being so. Careful study of the history of the nation or other authority
issuing the coins will yield the greater part of the desired information; some
portions of it, of course, must be derived from special sources, and this last
applies peculiarly to researches concerning coins issued without the sanction
of any constituted authority (private coins).

The
above points are worth considering.

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