Why do we do it?
Volume 42, Number 6, June 2004
Why do we do it? How many of us, I wonder, actually stop and ask ourselves why we collect coins. It's not the most logical of hobbies it it? For the collector of paintings, books, fine china, glasswear, clocks indeed a myriad of accumulation of such treasures. Books may be read, chinaa or glass displayed, paintings hung to adorn the walls of the collector's house . . . but coins? They are all too often locked away in cabinets, in drawers, in safes, even in banks-they do not add aesthetic value to their owners's house, do not add to the living environment, so what exactly is their point? On the face of it, nothing. They are, at the end of the day, simply lumps of metal that, whilst beautiful in their own way, are not in the same league as other antiques that can be displayed, showed off paraded. They are not Chippendale dressers to be admired, not Rembrandts to be wondered at-they are simply coins, everyday items the successors of which we carry around with us in our pockets and our bags-they are not objets d'art but very ordinary things that we, the numismatists choose to delight in. But why? We are not, of course, alone in our desire to make the ordinary extraordinary. Anyone who has ever put together a selection of postcards from his hometown does exactly the same thing. Stamp collectors the world over are as guilty as we are . . . match box collectors too, as is every person ever to have accumulated a hoard of key rings, badges, napkins etc, etc., etc. But why do we do it? The purists would, I am sure, argue that coin collectors cannot be bracketed with those whose pursuit is the acquisition of chocolate wrappers from across the globe and perhaps they would be right - there can be no doubt that the beauty of certain coins, the intricacy of the design and the sheer craftsmanship of their minting puts them more with the likes of Canaletto than Cadbury but not so with all pieces in our collections. We all have, or have had, coins in our collections which would be soundly beaten in the design and art stakes by even the dullest offerings the confectioners have come up with! Others would state that they collect for history, a history sugar packets and badges cannot have, arguing that the fact that their coin was maybe once used by a legionnaire to buy an amphora of wine gives it some gravitas, some superiority, over certain other "collectables" and again that is a fair point. But if that is the sole reason for collecting why not by-pas the coin and go straignt for the amphora or collect amphorae too? If it's Roman history you are after why look for it just with its coins? Personally I think we are the same as those who collect milk bottle tops or matchbooks - and just what is wrong with that? We don/t collect to have our coins on display like fine art or furniture for others to appreciate. We don't collect in order for the world to marvel at what we have managed to achieve; we don't collect to have others wonder at the intricacies of design or minting techniques (let's be honest most non-numismatists aren't THAT interested are they?). No - we collect for ourselves. We collect to get one of everything. To get the best grades we can, to find that elusive variety, that one mintmark we are missing. We collect because we want to, because we enjoy it and if that makes us more like the chocolate wrapper collectors than the gallery owners, more accumulator than expert, well I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
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