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Coins for Christmas

Posted on Tues, 5 December 2017 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Coin News
Coins for Christmas Just because

AT A RECENT local social gathering I was asked, as one often is, what my interests were —when I replied “coin collecting” I expected one of three usual responses: either the glazed-over eyes accompanied by the fixed smile, a “that’s interesting” and a quick subject change; the “oh, I have lots of coins at home that I’ve collected from foreign holidays/my dad left me, perhaps you can come over and tell me what they are worth?”; or the (less frequent) genuine interest of a fellow collector. On this occasion though I was met with a simple “why?”. The questioner wasn’t trying to be rude, they were genuinely interested, they couldn’t understand what anyone saw in collecting anything let alone coins, and were actually puzzled that anyone would spend serious money on coins that one couldn’t spend. Now let me clarify a couple of things here: firstly the questioner was female and it seems to be a fact that there are far fewer women “collectors” than men— women do of course collect things (cue the usual jokes about shoes and handbags), but in the more traditional hobbies of collecting (stamps, postcards, coins, medals, banknotes, et al) men do seem to be in the majority. This does, on occasion lead to puzzled looks in the eyes of our loved ones who really cannot understand our motivation (we’ve all seen it). And secondly, the lady in question is known as something of a minimalist—her house is pristine and clutter-free, so I wouldn’t expect her to necessarily be a collector anyway—but nevertheless her question struck a chord. Why do I collect coins?

I have always collected something, I, unlike the questioner, am something of a hoarder by nature, my house is full of books, ornaments, paintings and “stuff” and from an early age I collected —stamps, marbles, button badges, phone cards, postcards, medals and so on. All my life I have had a collection of some sort on the go, but each is far more easily explained than coins. Stamps I started because of my love of geography and my dreams of travel, I would see foreign stamps and marvel at their beautiful designs, so unlike our rather dour stamps (how things have changed: now there’s a new Royal Mail design every five minutes) and wonder if I may one day visit the places they came from. Button badges and fridge magnets were collected in much the same way—only this time to document where I had been rather than where I hoped to go one day and the postcards I have collected over the years have also tended to be geographically themed as I would pick up photographs of where I lived, taken years before, and be amazed at what had changed, and what hadn’t. Military medals were collected for similar reasons initially as I collected the medals of men who once lived locally, visiting their erstwhile homes, the churches where they are remembered and similar spots, as much to pay my respects and tell them they had not been forgotten as anything else—but coins? Why on earth did I start collecting them? When I was a boy, in the days when one could still pick up the occasional Victorian coin in one’s change, collecting was all about finding the most valuable pieces, finding the silver (or debased silver) amongst the base metal and making a bit of extra pocket money. But as an adult? Why do I collect? Why do you?

I tried to explain that it was all about my love of history, about holding something that had been in use hundreds of years ago but I was then asked why I cared so much about the condition of my coins (after all we do try to acquire those coins LEAST used don’t we?) and if I was so interested in things people had used why didn’t I collect spoons or tankards? I was then challenged that I was only doing it as a way to invest, to make money, and whilst there is no doubt I’d be somewhat miffed if I lost too much money on my collection, I can honestly say that making a fortune isn’t my primary motivation and said as much, arguing that whilst some people do collect as a savings plan or pension I was not one of them. So the question came back again “why do you collect?” and when she realised I didn’t have an answer the questioner was left satisfied that her rather sparse lifestyle, uncluttered by stuff and unfettered by the need to acquire was the superior one. We moved on to talking about other things after the usual chit chat about the weather, traffic congestion and local planning issues, but I am certain there was an air of smugness about her I hadn’t noticed before. I let it go, life is too short to worry about such things, and besides I do have an answer, of course I do, but it is one I knew she would never really accept so didn’t bother to offer it. My answer is simply this—“Why do I collect coins?”—“Because I enjoy it”. Sometimes that is enough.

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