Coins for 2016
Volume 52, Number 12, December 2015
Two nations divided by a common hobby THE TOKEN TEAM have just been at the Whitman Coin Expo in the US city of Baltimore, Maryland, a city not on everyone’s radar as it’s considered by many to be just a satellite of Washington DC, but nevertheless popular enough to attract hundreds of coin dealers from across the continent and beyond. The cavernous, concrete convention centre where the event was held put one in mind of a Cold War era nuclear bunker (although when this was pointed out to one visitor to our table he retorted by saying “no, this is above ground, we don’t put our bunkers above ground, this ain’t no use as a bunker”. Well quite), but nevertheless it was filled to capacity with dealers and collectors on a scale we simply cannot emulate in the UK. Now, of course, everything is bigger in the US, we know that, and it’s perfectly logical to have larger shows, a bigger hobby, in a country with six times our population but it’s more than that. The American market for coins is very different from ours in the UK and it isn’t just a matter of scale, it’s a matter of attitude. Where we “Brits” buy our coins based on numerous factors, investment isn’t always top of the list. Certainly we would be foolish, and probably fibbing, if we said that we couldn’t care less about the value of our collections but value isn’t the overriding factor when making a decision to buy. Because of the variety of coins we have to choose from, our collecting habits differ from those of our US cousins and whilst the Ancient and World coin market is thriving in the States (with those collectors being more akin to us in their buying and collecting) the market for US coins is by far the biggest and in that the choices are limited and so collecting patterns are different too. US coins have only been around for 200 or so years, every one is milled and whilst you do get sub-themes like Colonial coinage on the whole US coins are fairly uniform and so collecting them has to be different to collecting, say, hammered Saxon pennies. As most US coins are still in fairly good “nick” the minutiae of grading comes to the fore and this is why “slabbing” has developed. This in turn has allowed coins to be traded as commodities with more confidence. This has evolved further with guaranteed “first strikes” and recognised varieties being slabbed and thus labelled, creating another sub-strata of collecting and so on. The slab has allowed the collector to buy and sell coins much more easily and this has led, logically, to a boom in coins as investment. In the UK, with grading being so subjective such trading solely as a money-making exercise isn’t quite so easy. Purists will be glad of that, the idea of buying and selling solely to make money out of coins is anathema to the numismatist and, of course, the slab is vilified by many over here. We at COIN NEWS never advocate buying coins just as an investment, we encourage collecting for the fun of it, however, as the average age of the collector goes up and younger ones don’t come along like once they did, is it perhaps time to ask whether the hobby here couldn’t learn a thing or two from the Americans? Is it now time to look at encouraging investors? Encourage the looking at coins as commodities as well as collectables? Is it (shock, horror) time to slab? I’m certainly not saying yes, I’m simply asking the question of the hobby. I don’t know whether slabbing and “trading”would ever take off over here but I do know that coin collecting in America is far bigger than it is in the UK and that’s not just because the country is bigger. Is it time to take ourselves down that same path as they have trodden in order to expand our hobby, or is that a step too far?
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