Coin Dealers Then and Now, Part 2

Last week I reminisced about what it was like to be a coin dealer when I started out in the business and some of the changes that I saw. This week I continue to discuss how the job of a coin dealer (and the numismatic hobby itself) has changed over time.

One of the greatest changes that took place toward the end of the 20th century was the advent of grading services. Third party grading began in the mid 1980s and provided a new source for information. Now buyers didn’t necessarily have to rely on their own grading skills or those of dealers. In the same way the computer and the Internet made much more numismatic information available to those who knew how to use the technology. So it seemed to many, especially those interested mostly in investment in coins, that a well-informed and trusted dealer and advisor was unnecessary. And to an extent all this easily available knowledge can help a collector who has the time and inclination to use it. However, for those unwilling or unable to make the effort to learn, no amount of information on the Internet or anywhere else will make a difference.

And for many, the sheer quantity of information can be overwhelming. The multitude of U.S. Mint products, Internet coin auctions and retail offerings, the lack of adequate holders and albums to aid collectors, and the promises offered by investment promotions can often be too much for collectors to digest. While there may be a smaller need for professional dealers, for those looking to navigate this new numismatic landscape a knowledgeable professional has much to offer. This can include advice, contacts with others in the hobby, representation at coin shows and auctions and more.

In the meantime, long-time professional dealers have aged and retired. Others have become specialists in certain series where advice and knowledge are especially important. There are fewer knowledgeable professionals in the hobby and we need lots of new professional dealers, catalogers and researchers. In the early days when I was trained, along with others of my generation and before me, hours were spent learning about coins: appreciating the pedigree of a coin, the condition of a coin, and how to grade it. We saw coins day after day, week after week, and month after month. The way my generation learned about coins is not easily available now so we must find ways to help out those just starting in the field. Maybe we need more schools to teach numismatics and professionals to share their knowledge to increase the younger generation’s appreciation of the hobby. The present PNG program for apprentices is a good way to start, but there is more that could be done.

I believe we need more local clubs to attract collectors and more written for beginners to help them mature in the hobby. We need more publicity about the value of collecting coins for their art and history and we need for the Mint to produce products that lead people to become more involved in the hobby. The Statehood quarter program that resulted from my proposal to Congress was a way to introduce people to collecting without them having to buy the more expensive U.S. Mint products that were flooding the market. The challenge for the present generation of collectors and dealers is to get the excitement back into the hobby and to encourage those who show even a casual interest to learn and appreciate all the wonderful things about numismatics. This is where today’s professional dealers can still make a difference. I challenge them to be successful in doing it!

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