Coins of the Civil War

Posted on Thurs, 22 November 2012 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Coin News
Coins of the Civil War A different perspective

IT seems that my last month’s “Comment” has been met with a reasonable amount of approval amongst the numismatic societies of the UK and beyond. I know of at least three societies planning some kind of valuation day/fair and the Numismatic Society of Ireland, which adopted the idea some five years ago with a table at the Irish International Coin fair in Dublin in February, specifically manned by Society members to identify coins brought in by the public, have voiced their support for similar events in Britain. Michael E. Kenny, Chairman of the Irish Numismatic Society wrote that “the benefits to the Society and the hobby in general have been enormous, with increased membership and attendances at our meetings”. It seems that if numismatic societies, indeed the hobby at large, are to survive and grow, then maybe this is the way to do it.

That said, I do envisage one small problem: invariably “identification” of a coin by an expert leads firstly to the one big question, “what’s it worth?”, swiftly followed by the second big question, “where can I sell it?”. The “Antiques Roadshow” mentality of the public, all ostensibly eager to find out what something is, when it was made, why and for whom, but really just keen to know how much moolah it will fetch (despite their protestations that they would “never part with it and would just like the valuation for insurance purposes”), means that any Society Open Day is sure to descend into one big valuation event or perhaps a buyer event for those who are there to “identify”. Now, that is OK if everyone knows the score before hand—if the “experts” are happy to buy (whether for their own collections or to sell on) and the public are happy to sell, then that is all well and good, but it doesn’t actually address the problem of encouraging others to join in with our hobby.

Somehow we need to draw people away from the “what’s it worth” camp and into the “isn’t it fascinating” camp. This might, of course, seem like hypocrisy from the publishers of the best-selling UK coin price guide in the world, but we cannot be naïve about this. We all know that amongst most people who have coins, whether from their own endeavours or left to them by another, there is very much the “what’s it worth” mentality and sadly we will never change that (hence the COIN YEARBOOK—we cannot change them but at least we can help them get it right). However, I simply will not believe that everyone who finds themselves with coins they know little about is only interested in their value. I cannot believe that none of them are interested in the history of the coins, the mintages, the mintmarks, etc. The trouble is, how do we in the hobby cultivate that interest? Hopefully those Societies that are planning events (and I reiterate COIN NEWS’ support for this: we will do what we can to help any Society that asks us), will be able to steer the inquisitive away from the monetary value of an item and towards its numismatic value and, with any luck, they will be able to increase their membership at the same time.

But whilst such efforts may be relatively easy in a one-on-one situation, that isn’t the case in the grander scheme of things. Sadly our hobby is one that always but always attracts the “what’s it worth?” question and I really would like to know how to get away from that. As many of you know, we also publish MEDAL NEWS and are very much involved in the medal hobby too. When we talk to “outsiders” about medals, the question of value rarely come up. Indeed most people are astounded when we tell them that medals are worth anything at all, let alone the large sums that some do fetch. With coins it is the opposite—even the humblest of coins is thought of in terms of what it will net its owner. A “basic” World War I Victory medal retails at about £10, a 1977 Jubilee crown for less than £1 (and that’s if anyone will buy one) and yet you put the two side by side and ask a member of the general public which would cost more if on sale and invariably it’s the coin they choose. How can we, as a hobby, get away from that? How can we convince the general public that it’s about far more than “what’s it worth”? You might think that coin issuing programmes such as the recent Olympic 50 pences would help, but sadly not—a quick look on line at a certain auction house will tell you that many people collected these coins just to try to make a quick buck (and seem to be succeeding. I just hope those paying through the nose for a battered coin you can get in change won’t be too disappointed when they come to sell…) and I am afraid that until we as “insiders” do something, then that is how it will stay. Coins are, or were, money and thus will always be linked in people’s minds with monetary value. I would dearly love to change that, dearly love to show the world at large how these little lumps of metal are so much more and maybe these “open days” being planned will be the start of that. So that is my Christmas wish for us all—that 2013 is the year we start changing attitudes, start the process of people thinking in terms other than a coin’s worth. It might be a long slog but we have to start somewhere—so why not now? In the meantime everyone at Token Publishing Ltd wish you and yours the compliments of the Festive Season.

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