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Golden Age of Collecting
By Dr. R.S. "Bart" Bartanowicz
December 17, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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“I started collecting coins right after World War II. I had a terrific paper route. The customers were all doing well and they always gave me generous tips.

“A lot of customers were former servicemen returning from overseas. When they found out I collected coins, they often gave me foreign coins. These coins were like a bonus.

“My favorite coin, it’s the Buffalo nickel. That’s my story. I’m happy to be with a group of enthusiasts. So I’d like to join your coin club tonight.”

Our numismatist smiled as he listened to the gentleman tell his story. He wondered how many other people in the room had started out as paperboys in the 1940s and 1950s. Looking around, he saw a lot of people smiling.

Driving home later that evening, our numismatist’s friend Neal remarked, “The new fellow sure brought back a lot of memories. Both you and I were paperboys. Being a paperboy was fun.

“I always found lots of Mercury dimes and Buffalo nickels. My only disappointment was that I never found a 1916-D Mercury dime or 1937-D three-legged Buffalo nickel”

If there ever was a golden age of numismatics for average collectors it had to be then. We were able to find neat coins in circulation. That time has sure passed.

I’ve collected coins for more than 50 years. I’ve done well with some coins – and not so well with others. I never started out with the intent of entering the numismatic business or becoming a well-healed collector.

I’ve only collected coins that I like because of the design, history and other factors such as low mintage. There are some coins that I collected that others didn’t share my enthusiasm for, but it never bothered me.

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The key for me has always been to buy what I like. However, before I start collecting a coin, I always ask others what they think—so I can learn from their mistakes or triumphs.

Do I have regrets? Yep, I sure do. One of bigger regrets has been the Standing Liberty quarter (1916-1930). I had started to collect these coins from circulation in the late 1950s and had a dozen or so common dates. My goal was to assemble a complete set, including the rare and expensive 1916 that sold for about $200 back then in the grade of Fine.

The problem was that my Air Force pay in 1960 was around $100 a month. My competing interests in girls and cars pushed a Standing Liberty set out of the picture. My interests went back to upgrading my Buffalo nickel and Mercury dime sets. I forgot about the Standing Liberty.

Today, some 50 years later, the 1916 in Fine sells in the $5,000+ range. I missed my chance.

What this all comes down to is that my golden age of numismatics has passed. We have a new generation of collectors. They won’t find Buffalo nickels or Mercury dimes in circulation like we used to.

New collectors now look for modern error coins and keep a keen eye out for modern coins that have low mintages as well. It is just much different than when I was a youngster.

Conversely, new collectors can start out building modern sets from circulation, which is still a fun and inexpensive activity.



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