An age old question
Volume 42, Number 5, May 2005
As we learn the sad but inevitable news of the death of Pope John II we also wait for the equally inevitable plethora of “memorabilia” that is sure to follow to celebrate the Pontiff’s life and mourn his passing. Such memorabilia will, almost certainly, include coins and medallions readily issued by Mints across the globe, whether based in predominantly Catholic countries or not, and of course these coins will sell. They sell just as well as the stamps, the commemorative plates, mugs and other china ware; just as well as the photo albums, books and other paraphernalia that will soon come pouring out of the factories of the world just as it did when Mother Theresa died, when Princess Diana died, even when the Queen Mother died. The production of such merchandise has become something of a ritual and whilst many “serious” collectors will frown upon it there can be no doubt that there is a market for it, Pope John II coins will be bought, collections will be formed and money will be made on the back of his passing. That these items will be made, and bought, is not in doubt, the only question, numismatically at least, is whether the people who by such items can be classed as a new breed of coin collector; can they be welcomed into our exclusive world and encouraged in their new hobby or are they simply best left to their own devices! Many “true collectors” would be mystified, some horrified, to think that they were classed in the same league as those who will buy the John Paul II coins; just as they are astounded to think that they could be compared to those who buy things, coins included, that depict cats just because they like cats – but why? What do we think it is that sets us apart from those who buy in “themes” like this? Just what is it do we think constitutes a true coin collector? Why are we so puzzled when others cannot see the difference between us and someone who buys “bits and bobs” What, in our eyes, makes one man’s “hoard” intrinsically better than another’s? There can be no denying that a collector of high value hammered gold would not consider his hobby to be anywhere near the same as someone determined to buy every Pope John II coin that is issued in the next year but when it comes down to it what actually is the difference? Is it a matter of the age of his chosen pieces? If that’s so then at what age does a coin become acceptable to collect? What is the cut-off date? If not age then value maybe? Hardly fair really, very few of us can afford to collect gold and to try to claim that a man who has obtained every farthing variety since 1730 isn’t a “true collector” is plainly wrong. Is a “true coin collector” someone who only collects circulating coins and by passes the commemoratives? Well maybe that’s getting nearer the mark but then we’re on shaky ground when it comes to trial pieces, patterns etc – if someone seeks to acquire all the Petition crowns is he not a “true” collector? And what of commemorative proofs of circulating coins – such as the proof crown struck in gold to commemorate George V’s Jubilee in 1935 – when one came on the market recently did that not go to a “proper” collector? Maybe “coin collectors” can be classed as such because they only collect coins and not other paraphernalia – but in that case, if you are to condemn all those who have other items in their collections, then anyone who has ever picked up a money box, coin weight, Roman buckle etc. etc. is left out in the cold – again not ideal! Personally I think the nearest definition of a “true” coin collector is someone who collects coins for what they are and not what they might represent – over the next few months the Pope John Paul commemoratives will be bought but the fact that they are coins is, to most who buy them, an irrelevancy, what they are does not matter, what they represent – in this case a memory of a great and revered statesman, is what counts. A true collector will see them as coins first and memoirs second – maybe that, if nothing else, is what sets us apart from the memorabilia crowd. That and the fact we avidly read COIN NEWS every month of course
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