In an internal discussion the other day, by e-mail of course (!), I reflected on some of the changes I have seen in the rare coin hobby since I first began filling a Whitman folder for Lincoln "pennies" in 1952. I was sure I would find a 1909-S V.D.B., then worth an amazing ten dollars, right away. I never did find one, but I went on to explore other series, do a lot of reading, build a library, and in 1953 to become a coin dealer part-time. I was a student at Forty Fort High School in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Fast forward to now: A good friend of mine bought a Civil War token the other day from a company based in Detroit that I never heard of, and I don’t remember the name. However, it has a STAFF that does nothing except post things on eBay, and apparently they have a dynamic business!
In 1952 no one dreamed of eBay. No one had a personal computer. There were three main TV stations—ABC, NBC, and CBS—to be viewed on black-and-white screens. Radio was the place to be—with Jack Benny, the Hit Parade, Fred Allen, and more, not to overlook the 15-minute serials in the late afternoon—Captain Midnight, the Shadow, and more. There was no automatic phone dialing long distance, no areas codes, and at the post office, no zip codes. Mail was delivered by carrier twice a day.
The first modern boom in the coin market started with the launch of Coin World in 1960 and the nationwide excitement caused by the 1960 Small Date cent. A $50 face value bag of these coins, just issued, was worth $12,000! In 1960 that would have bought two Cadillacs. Which reminds me that Cadillac was the be-all and end-all in luxury cars then. Today, they are still sold, but Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and other brands attract more buyers. Who could have guessed?
In 1964 Chet Krause, publisher of Numismatic News, estimated that there were 6,000 coin shops in America. Today there probably noteven 600. You may remember in the 1990s when there were sports cards shops everywhere. Today, hardly any remain.
When I was a kid in the 1950s it took two days to "do" New York City coin dealers, starting with Stack’s and New Netherlands at the top of the list (was good friends with the management of each), then Herb Tobias, Max Kaplan, Hans Shulman, and others (Lester Merkin was still a clarinetist in the private sector; later he became a prominent dealer). "Doing" Boston and the area took a day—several dealers were on Bromfield Street with Mayflower being the most prominent. Court Coin Co. (Harold Whiteneck, who told me about his private plane) and Sam Stone elsewhere, Copley Coin upstairs on Boylston Street, Arthur Conn in the suburb of Melrose, and some others.
Today in 2018 it is a different world. "Blog," as here is a new word. This is fine, indeed great. I enjoy coins today as much as ever, perhaps even more as I am niched doing writing and research and don’t have to be part of managing a company, as I was for years. As I write these words I have just finished cataloging Part I of the Joel R. Anderson Collection of United States Paper Money (incredible—watch for it!). Now I turn to helping ping to put the finishing touches on Mega Red 4, the Deluxe Edition of the Guide Book of United States Coins. With over 1,500 pages (!) it has been a best seller. Nothing helps to spur and to maintain interest in numismatics than reading interesting, informative books. The more you add to your working library the better.