Like many collectors I began with pulling coins out of circulation. When I was 11 a friend found a Mercury dime in change and showed it to me. The odd coin did not create an immediate reaction but the seed was planted. The following year at my grandfathers farm he gave me some Morgan dollars. I would keep a few but sell a bunch of them to the sun of my German oma's friends. The stage was set for what would become a lifelong habit.
In my teens I didn't have a lot of money but I acquired coins here and there. A few acquisitions stand out even after two decades have intervened. One time I had my mom take me to a coin shop in Kingston, N.Y. It was the typical little shop with the typical coins. I had been reading Coins magazine and was convinced of the value of early 1960's proof sets. I came away with a 1961 set, for just under $10.
Reading magazines also exposed me to advertisements and I responded to a few. Littleton began sending me coins on approval. I kept some, a few dollars stuffed into an envelope along with the coins I did not wish to keep. The only one I can remember now was an 1804 Austrian 6 Kreuzer. It was big, and nice, and old! The cost was quite affordable as well.
The dark side of the coin market would strike me as well. An order for a XF Buffalo nickel resulted in a coin that was VF at best. A VF cost $20, XF $40. I still kept the coin being young and never too confrontational but I still hold a grudge against that merchant to this day.
Eventually I found a coin shop and started hanging out there almost every day. I was exposed to half dimes, bust coins, even a few foreign pieces. One day a man dropped off a big set of old silver thalers. A few showed up in Krause as unique and none of them tested as having any silver in them. I took the to a local show for the dealer to see if someone wanted the batch. When the prospective purchaser asked me about the origin I told the truth and an apporpriate offer was made for a batch of counterfeits. I don't know if I did what I was expected to do, but so it went.
My early twenties were chaotic and coinless. The unresolved issues of childhood expressed themselves, sometime quite unpleasantly, in adulthood. It took me to about age 24 to settle back into life. A career and spending money would follow two years later and my interest in coins would quickly follow.
Almost as soon as I started buying coins, I started selling them as well. Modern bullion pieces in slabs bought in larger lots yielded small profits. I took a liking to bust halves and had some success finding AU coins undergraded as XF. However for every undergraded coins there were at least ten that had problems. Scratches, cleanings, or just overgraded coins. This became too much work. I collected bust halves for a while, thought about type coins, and then eventually moved on to Civil War Tokens.
I love maps, newspaper articles, and photographs from the Midwest in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Civil War tokens fit right into this era. The tokens are less known, less written about than the main US coin series. This has appeal to me since it generates the idea that there are still things to discover. Bust halves are great in that every coin is just a little bit different. But, Overton, Breen and the rest have pretty much exhausted all there is to say about these beautiful coins. But even the tokens had been studied, perhaps there was something more exotic?
Eventually I landed in Sasanian coins. The Sasanian dynasty were the last non-Islamic rulers of Persia or Iran. The history of the Arab conquest is another area that fascinates me. The Sasanians had almost completely destroyed the Byzantines (Easter Romans) only to be in turn nearly annihilated by Heraclius. I wrote about this recently in the celator http://www.celator.com. The Arabs under Mohammed rose right as the conflict between the two empires culminated. But even then, the Arab tribesmen lacked siege engines or the knowledge to use them. The stories of how cities like Alexandria came under Arab dominion are wonderful reading. Sasanian coins are less studied than most and thus offer more of the discovery of numismatics than any US coin.
Now I have a stereo microscope, specific gravity testing equipment, and a small library on metrology. I’ve discovered some fakes that have slipped past prominent dealers. I have detailed measurements on almost 1000 Sasanian coins. I was even shanghaied to be the next president of the Twin Cities Ancient Coin Club, one of the most active in the country. And yet, still I struggle with what to collect.
Am I a collector or am I something else? I do love coins, I love the knowledge they are tied to. If I had my druthers I would study, measure, and write about coins and history for a living.
Now I am building up my websites, http://www.coinvalues.us and an ancient version soon to follow. I’ve combined by day job of database administrator and my hobby to create standardized databases of coin prices. I started with US because the programs and processes are easier but I hope to do as many coin types as I can. But what should I collect?
One thing that appeals to me is combining geneology and coins. One coin per ancestor, with an understanding that some speculation is necessary as I go back to ancient times. Another idea is the coin per century set. That’s a nice one and one that can be upgraded or expanded. The problem is that such a set is not tied to anything, it has no internal cohesion. I think what I need is the framework of a story, a story that can then accentuate with coins. Maybe I just need to tell one story at a time.