The Road Less Travelled – My own meandering path from collector to Numismatist

Scarcely a day goes by when I am not asked about my own foray into the coin business – was I always interested in coins, and what lead me to choose coin-dealing as a career? I am always happy to briefly share my story with those that are interested, but must confess it never really occurred to me to put pen to paper on the subject – at least not until I was able to enjoy my “freedom 85” retirement projects. Recently, however, I was inspired by my good southern colleague Warren Mills, of Rare Coins of New Hampshire, who has recently shared his own story with followers of their newsletter. In reading of his experiences, I suddenly realized “hey” – some of our experiences are quite similar, while others have been markedly different. The common thread we do share is that we have both chosen to pursue very specialized and arguably unusual careers in our love of coins, and after 27 years in the field, I realize that perhaps it is indeed time to reflect on my own numismatic life’s journey.

The “formative” years

Yes, I have always been interested in coins, at least from the age of 5 or so, which is about the earliest memories I have. My parents had done some traveling, and my collection was started with a small handful of coins that introduced me – at a basic visual level – to the wonders and diversity of the larger world. On my sixth birthday, my mother and I left Toronto for Cobourg, Ontario, where my collecting passion really developed. There were no coin shops, of course, but young and enthusiastic collectors tend to attract the support and kindness of friends and family around them, especially in a small-town setting. A wonderful elderly lady that used to mind me – essentially, my surrogate grandmother – managed the part-time Cobourg office for the Peterborough Examiner newspaper, affording me the occasional privilege of sorting through the mounds of collection box coinage, looking for something special. Like every other collector, I began to work on date-sets of Nickels and Pennies, but also had a growing special fondness for the coinage of other countries and of other generations.

Perhaps my kindest benefactor at the time was a delightful former London vaudeville dancer named Bill; then in his eighties, no visit to his home would end without the requisite show-tune performance, as he danced around his living-room with the energy and vitality of someone half his age (accompanied by ditty lyrics I would only later come to recognize as being semi-risqué). Bill had sent an early 1833 Five Pound promissory note to Spink of London for an evaluation, and when they returned it with their always-formal letter explaining it had limited value due to condition, he very kindly gave the note to me. I still own and treasure the piece, together with an 1867 Silver Franc – from Bill’s youth in the family pub – which was my first introduction to the stately bearded portrait of Napoleon III.

Thus, my collection continued to slowly grow and diversify, and with it my interest in history and geography rather than the simple aesthetics of shape and design (ironically, the latter subject of geography would prove to be among my worst as I later progressed through elementary and high school, although I attribute this to the great emphasis then placed on geology and topography, rather than people and places!). Raised as a single child (my two sisters were considerably older and off on their own), I was somewhat introverted and quite dedicated to my hobbies.

After a few formative years in Cobourg, we embarked on several further moves, eventually taking us back to the edge of Toronto’s orbit. My mother had become a professional Irish folk musician, and tours with her on the road (or alternatively, waiting for her to return from gigs) instilled in me both patience and the ability to entertain myself. Coins were the perfect companion.

Somewhere in this period I had graduated from the age-old storage system of envelopes and tobacco tins, and been introduced to the “2×2” packaging system. Thus, my collection became organized, and I remember many a trip with my entire treasured collection housed in a couple plain black binders, zipped safely within a white vinyl travel bag hung over my shoulder. I looked over my coins whenever I could, began to equip myself with some rudimentary grading skills by simply looking at and comparing as many examples as possible, and began to contemplate my two ideal future occupational choices – forest ranger or detective. Yes, coins were a smoldering passion, but I had no concept that their study or trade could actually constitute a career choice.

My first hands-on exposure to a true numismatic “collection” came at the rural Cobourg home of my mother’s beau at the time. An engineer by trade, he had inherited a world collection from his father in 20 or so binders. To a 12-year-old collector, being invited to review it was like being handed the keys to the Smithsonian. Old and new, Silver and Gold, circulated and mint. Many days were spent going through the beautifully-organized pages, comparing and contrasting grades, etc. Perhaps the most spectacular item of all was my first encounter with the fabulous 1971 Gold & Silver Proof Set of Iran, struck to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. I simply did not have the market knowledge to provide an accurate evaluation on the collection for the owner (who, sadly, did not share his father’s interest in coins), however it was certainly in the many thousands of dollars. I do not know what ever became of the collection as a whole, though in a remarkable twist of fate, that very same Iranian Proof set would come into my Kanata home office 20 years later, with the former owner’s daughter and I not even recognizing each other until the set’s origins came up in parting comments.

Thus was the nature of my collecting path in those pre-teen years: independent, frugal, and worldly in scope. Not till early 1980, and a watershed decision on my mother’s part, did a first glint of my numismatic destiny appear on the horizon.

Sean Isaacs

Next Month: My move to Ottawa, and the discovery of a Numismatic Fraternity.

Mystery Cent

The Remarkable Centennial Journey of a Numismatic Pretender

1936 Dot Box Interior

1936 Dot Box Interior

It has been said that a journey is often more significant than the destination itself, and indeed, while most of us can identify with the adage, I had never contemplated this in the context of an inanimate object. That is, however, until I received an intriguing telephone inquiry in the fall of 2012.

As is often the case, I was contacted by a legal firm in the Ottawa area, and asked to provide a numismatic estate appraisal. Unusually, however, this estate consisted of a single coin, which was being described to me as none other than the fabled 1936 “Dot” Penny. Arguably Canada’s most famous coinage rarity, special strikings of this otherwise common date were prepared with a raised dot beneath the date – signifying their actual striking in 1937, while awaiting new dies after the unexpected abdication of King Edward VIII. Naturally I was highly skeptical.

While I once had the privilege of being present for the public sale of one of these extreme rarities, only three Specimen strikings of the purported several hundred thousand struck had ever been discovered. Indeed, of the many wishful claims over the years that I, and many other dealers have fielded, not a single known circulated example has ever been discovered. The variety of imposters I have seen are limited only by the human imagination, and range from “dot-added” forgeries to clever obverse-drilled examples which produce a semi-natural “hump” in the general vicinity of where the dot normally would be.

Mystery Cent

Mystery Cent

Due diligence demanded I respond to this inquiry, however, and I followed through with a visit to the firm’s office. As expected, I was presented with a coin that evidently was a small Cent of George V, but that was it. Rarely had I seen a Penny that was as structurally impaired as this estate piece, and whether or not it was actually a 1936-dated piece was even inconclusive. It was indeed a one-in-a-million piece, but unfortunately not in a positive way. The actual market value of this numismatic estate? Less than the value of the envelope in which it was housed.

1936 Dot Royal Mint Letter

Click to enlarge

In fact, had I not taken a casual second look at the envelope itself, I might never have come to appreciate the remarkable journey this coin had taken in its quest for recognition. What first caught my eye on the cream-coloured linen envelope was the “On Her Majesty’s Service” imprint, then the custom “Royal Mint” embossment, and finally both London and Ottawa Registration stamps from the spring of 1967 (yes, the envelope was posted when I was just five weeks old). Revisiting the accompanying paperwork, a delightful story quickly unfolded before me.

The coin entered the first leg of its journey through the Canadian postal system, as the Ottawa-based owner forwarded it to England’s Royal Mint with a request for authentication as a 1936 “Dot” striking. This in itself is ironic, as – per the Royal Mint’s responding small typed letter of April 28th, 1967 – England had not struck Canadian coins since the opening of the Royal Canadian Mint (originally, the Ottawa Branch of the Royal Mint) in 1908. Thus, where the owner could have taken a 10-minute jaunt to Sussex Drive and likely obtained an authoritative opinion from the coin’s actual manufacturer, it was instead sent on a transatlantic journey. To the likely disappointment of the owner, the above-referenced letter, eminently thoughtful and concise, confirms the uncertainty of the piece and refers the sender back to the “Ottawa Mint”.

1936 Dot Envelope

Click to enlarge

Thus, on April 28th, 1967 (again, the same day the letter was dated), the coin was once again packaged up and dispatched via Registered Royal Mail where it was received into the Canadian postal system two weeks later on May 12th – just weeks before Canada’s Centennial.

Also found in the envelope was the obvious catalyst for the owner’s inquiry – a newspaper clipping of a short article written by the late numismatic luminary James Charlton, detailing the intriguing story of the 1936 Dot coinage.

1936 Dot News Article

Click to enlarge

Once back on Canadian soil, a subsequent letter from the Royal Canadian Mint marks the final stage of this coin’s epic journey, while also relieving the owner of any dreams of early retirement. Once again, this thoughtful and formal letter reminds of us a pre-email past, where professional courtesy demanded more than just a quick hashtag or telephone message.

In the end, I offered the estate twenty-five dollars for the envelope and contents, not with expectations of seeking a profit, but rather out of appreciation for the historical context within which this extremely humble coin took its most interesting journey.

Sean Isaacs

St George Challenge Coin

A Stunning “Challenge Coin”

The concept of a “challenge coin” has been around for the better part of a generation, though will be unfamiliar to many outside of military circles.

More of a “token” than a coin, these pieces were originally the size of a typical municipal trade token, although in recent times have grown to be as large as 45mm or so in diameter, with much more detail given to aesthetics in terms of design and, frequently, colourization.

Essentially, a Challenge Coin was produced as both a good-luck pocket-piece as well as – even more importantly – a personalized symbol of fraternity within a specific regiment, core, or on a more macro scale, branch of the Armed Forces. Usually with a crest/design unique to that particular affiliation, these tokens also were regularly engraved with the recipient’s own personalized serial number in order to encourage responsibility to, and care for, his or her own token.

Beyond this affiliation and possibly aesthetic draw, however, is a very practical and potentially expensive element of the Challenge Token, from which the tradition actually gets its name. In a nutshell, each service member is obligated to have the token on him/her at all times, and if ever “challenged” to produce the piece at the company mess tent/bar and fails to do so, it becomes the delinquent’s obligation to buy a round for all those present. Conversely, if one is challenged to produce a Challenge Coin and is able to do so, the obligation to quench the thirst of his present colleagues then falls onto the shoulders of the challenger. As such, you may be hard pressed to find a member of our Armed Forces caught without his or her Challenge Coin in pocket, and – as a result – they make especially challenging items to locate and collect by non-members.

St  George Challenge Coin 2

Click to enlarge

The stunning 44mm Challenge Coin pictured here is both newly-discovered as well as unique. Rather than being affiliated with a particular regiment/branch of the Armed Forces, this piece was issued by the venerable Order of St. George here in Canada.

Like most Challenge Coins, however, it bears the unique serial number attached to its recipient. And what makes this particular piece even more treasured and unique? It belongs to me. Stay tuned…

The 1965 Winston Churchill Crown – Ever-present, yet oft-overlooked

If ever there was a “love-him, hate-him” statesman figure of the 20th century, Sir Winston Churchill would have to be at the top of an esteemed list of candidates.

Tainted in the memories of many for his involvement in the catastrophic Gallipoli campaign, and later revered as one of the generation’s greatest Statesmen for his steadfast leadership during the brutality and isolation of the Second World War. And who could forget some of the best (and gruffest!) one-liners of any politician on record?

Regardless of one’s current views on Churchill’s place in history, he was, without question, a unique individual in terms of both personality and accomplishments. Equally unique, upon his death in 1965, was the numismatic tribute accorded him.

In September of this same year, Lady Churchill – the former Prime Minister’s widow – visited the Royal Mint and struck the very first Churchill Commemorative Crown, a large copper-nickel coin of 38.6 mm. To today’s observer, the coin appears unusual on a number of fronts. Firstly – and as is the trend with 20th century English coinage – no country name is depicted on the coin. Nor is there a denomination, which often leads to the misconception that the issue is some sort of commemorate medallion, rather than the legal-tender coin of One Crown (Five Shillings/25 Pence) that it actually is.

1965 Churchill Crown, obverse and reverse

Most notably, with the release of the hugely-popular memorial issue, Winston Churchill became the first-ever “commoner” to appear on a legal-tender English coin, together with a reigning Monarch. This, together with the rare personal attendance of the Queen at his State funeral, effectively illustrated both the fondness for, and important legacy attached to the life and leadership of Churchill.

Just over 9.6 million examples of the Crown were eventually struck, together with a handful of rare “VIP” presentation strikings. This is not an excessively-large number, when one considers that a reported 350 million people in Europe alone watched the funeral procession on television, while England’s own then-population of 52 million could have (and, to a great extent, did) absorb this unique, widely-distributed mintage. What has always impressed me, as both a dealer and collector, however, is the remarkable pervasiveness of these coins. To this day, we encounter them on an almost daily basis, and rarely have less than 10 or 20 examples in deep-inventory at any given time. Indeed, I often – not intentionally unkindly – refer to the Churchill Crowns as “one of the world’s most interesting and cheapest” coins, usually retailing at a dollar or less. This is very likely due to both their retention as commemorative “collectibles” – as opposed to having seen extensive actual circulation, through which many/most coins eventually see their natural end – as well as the confusion often created over their actual nature and status (i.e. is this a coin or a medal?), for the reasons touched upon earlier.

All of this may quickly change, however, for as the 50th anniversary of this historic issue has suddenly arrived while most of us weren’t paying attention, so too has the Royal Mint’s surprise revisiting of the “Churchill Crown” in the form of their 2015 Five Pound commemorative coin.

Churchill 2015 Five Pound

Featuring an updated, though no-less-imposing full-planchet portrait of the former Prime Minister on the coin’s reverse, this new incarnation boasts the now-standard face-value of Five Pounds, and will initially be struck once again in cupro-nickel with identical diameter to the original memorial issue of 1965. Interestingly – though perhaps not surprisingly – the Royal Mint is also making the new Crown available as part of a two-piece set, which includes the former issue of 50 years ago.

It will be most interesting to see how this might affect renewed demand for the original, and perhaps we’ll see a re-energized, secondary market demand for the coin, a full fifty years after the greatest funerary assembly of world leaders ever gathered to mark the passing of a single uncommon statesman.

Sean Isaacs

References

Standard Catalogue of World Coins, 2014 Edition
winstonchurchillshop.com
Coins of England & the United Kingdom by Spink, 2012 edition

From Daniel Boone to the Alamo: the delightful diversity of early U.S. Commemorative Half Dollars

When one pauses to contemplate the excitement-factor of 20th century United States coinage, a collector can be forgiven for feeling somewhat blasé on the subject. Sure, while some would (kindly) consider the designs of this circulating coinage to be “classic”, others will more bluntly refer to the tired and stagnant nature of a series that hasn’t, for the most part, changed in any material way for an entire generation or more. Indeed, perhaps only the Swiss trump the Americans in terms of absence of modern coinage innovation, with their circulation designs that have remained fixed in time since Queen Victoria was on the English throne.

Only as late as the 1980s did the United States Mint begin dipping their fingers into the mixed-berry pie, with the earlier exception of the 1976 Bicentennial issues. And in fairness, this apparent lack of creativity wasn’t entirely the short-comings of an unenlightened U.S. Mint staff, but rather very much a reflection of the American public’s prevailing intolerance for change. After all, only in the United States could a steadfast addiction to the One Dollar note cause an attempted reintroduction of four consecutive Dollar coin designs (with more than 6 billion struck!) to be a complete failure. Clearly, the pre-Reagan generation was not an exciting time for commemorative coin collectors. That is, however, with the exception of those willing to look back one prior generation to a tremendously-diverse and challenging series of coins: the U.S. commemorative Half Dollars of 1915 to 1954.

Beginning with a 1915 issue struck for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, and ending with the final 1954 release of a Booker T. Washington & George Washington Carver Half Dollar, this fascinating series of coins is very much a reflection of American historical diversity itself. With a remarkable 45 different coin designs – all struck to an identical .900 fine Silver, 12.5 gram standard – many of these neat coins were issued as fundraisers for particular projects, and/or to mark historically significant events. A 1936 issue, for example, was released to mark the opening of the landmark San Franciso-Oakland Bay Bridge, and was actually sold from toll booths on the structure (an impressive grizzly bear graces the obverse of this coin).

Three key elements impress me most about this series of commemoratives, namely diversity, lack of recognition on this side of the border, and general affordability.

New Rochelle HalfAs already noted above, this series of coins pulls out all the stops on the diversity front. After all, how many collectors (especially Americans themselves) realize that U.S. business-strike commemoratives exist with depictions of William of Orange, General Lee, Captain Cook, Daniel Boone, a ferocious cougar, and a hungry beaver, among countless other themes?  My personal aesthetic favourite – the 1938 New Rochelle, N.Y. issue (pictured), depicting the fancy-dressed English mathematician John Pell leading a roped calf. More historically-significant than the prevailing Kennedy Half Dollar, struck every year of my life-time?  Certainly not, but a heck of a lot more interesting!  With numerous classic depictions of stage-coaches and sailing ships, horse-back generals and first-nations chiefs, frontiersmen and state iconography, you simply can’t beat the diversity of this coinage series.

When I refer to “lack of recognition” and “general affordability”, these two factors combine to present an enigma that I have long reflected on. That is, in my 25 years of professional coin dealing, I have never handled even a single example of the vast majority of these commemoratives. Sure, the majority of these commemorative mintages are quite low, but they are not impossibly so.  How it is that I have handled a 1796 American Quarter – worth more than $25,000 – but not a single example of the Rhode Island 1936 Half Dollar that only catalogues at $110 in UNC, is a real mystery. Clearly these coins are out there in the market, or otherwise their seemingly subdued mintages (often 10,000 pieces or less) would result in prohibitive retail values. Certainly, there are some that are indeed scarce; the 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial in typical UNC, for example, will require an investment of close to $3,000. For those looking for a single type-piece from the series, however, a pleasant 1946 Booker T. Washington Half Dollar in Uncirculated can be had for a paltry twenty dollars. Of the 45 issues, however, perhaps as many as 31 different commemoratives can be acquired in near Mint-state or better within the $100-200 price-range per coin.

In summary, those looking to make a foray into the collecting of interesting and aesthetically-diverse American coinage – while uninspired by the handful of dominant 20th century “tried and true” designs – simply must consider the 1915 and later series of commemorative Half Dollars. With perseverance and a modest budget, the hunt and assembly of such a collection promises much satisfaction and challenge. I invite our customers to pay us a visit, and introduce yourselves to this series through the dozen or so interesting examples we have brought into stock in recent days.

As always, Happy Collecting!

Sean Isaacs

Our Top 12 Gift Suggestions for 2014

These twelve gift suggestions will cover a broad range of interests, levels of experience in coin collecting, and budgets:

Click here for a one-page downloadable copy of this list: Alliance Coin Top Gift Suggestions 2014

If you need help finding something special, please just get in touch!

Four Key Watersheds in the History of Coin Collecting

In my dual role as both a collector and dealer of coins, I often pause to contemplate the remarkable 2,500+ year history of “Numismatics”, and the evolution of coinage from utilitarian instrument of commerce to aesthetic historical collectible and work of medallic art. Indeed, CoinWeek author Geoffrey Cope perhaps best summed it up, when he wrote:

Art in the form of coins is not only what we study but the emotion when we hold a piece of history.

Rather than focus on the motivations for collecting, however, I put pen to paper here in support of my own hypothesis that there are four key revolutions/watersheds that fundamentally shaped the origins and growth of coin collecting as we know it today.

1. The Invention of Coinage

It goes without saying that we would have no coin dealers without the Numismatic “big bang” of approximately the 7th century B.C., when the concept of metal currency appears to have arose somewhat simultaneously in three different regions, each with their own unique characteristics. The Kingdom of Lydia (modern day Turkey) saw the first use of Electrum, a naturally-occurring alloy of Gold & Silver. Meanwhile, in the Indus Valley (Pakistan), Silver Bars became a medium of exchange. And, finally, China saw the emergence of practical bronze “Spade” and “Knife” money. Cultural and intrinsic differences aside, all three forms of currency shared a common revolutionary function – the compact representation of value that previously necessitated the actual physical transport and exchange of material goods (i.e., livestock and/or agricultural surplus).

The first “Western” coins were later introduced by Alexander the Great in 4th century B.C., and both the art and fine-tuned function of coinage reached new heights in the Greek and Roman empires. Not only a transformative medium of exchange, coins were also used as a medium to convey Political, Religious and Military propaganda messages. Indeed, some of the only conceptual portraits that exist today of ancient rulers derive from the surviving coinage of the day.

2. The Renaissance (1350-1525) – rebirth of interest in the Art, Literature, Science and Numismatics of Antiquity

Widely-considered to herald in the birth of a serious interest in coin collecting, the Renaissance also saw the beginning of “Royal” coin collections assembled by European Monarchs. The development of the first Coin Cabinets facilitated the storage and presser vation of these new collections. Additionally, a fascinating series of larger-than-life “Paduan” bronze coins became popular, essentially copies of the finest Roman bronze coins that helped to fill increased demand for the originals.

Coins continued to be struck by hand, although the first milled coins were produced in England in 1561, using a horse-powered screw press by a French Mint master. Another notable development during this period – the 13th century report by Marco Polo of Chinese “Paper Money”, later replaced by the world’s first widely-successful notes of the Ming Dynasty.

In summary, although firmly entrenched as a “hobby”, coin collecting in the Renaissance generally remained the domain of the wealthy – and the tradition of the wooden European coin cabinet remains with us today among traditional collectors.

3. The Whitman Coin Folders (c.1938) – bringing Coin Collecting “to the masses”

Example of a Whitman Coin Folder

Example of a Whitman Coin Folder from the Whitman Coin website

The introduction of the [now] familiar blue Whitman Coin Folder was, in my opinion, the single transformative event in the evolution of coin collecting in the 20th century. Above all else, for the first time an inexpensive coin storage system was finally available to everyone. In addition to organization, the folders fostered a sense of “completeness” for the beginning collector, and further spurned the growth of a mail-order coin industry. Perhaps most importantly, however, was that fact that these new folders detailed both dates and mintages of all coins! Thus, for the first time, scarcity became properly associated with mintage. These folders became a staple in the childhoods of virtually every American and Canadian youngster, and spawned many other coin collecting supplies and references during the grown of the Whitman empire. Though initially very U.S.-centric, the folders soon expanded to cover both the Canadian and British coinage series.

Two other key events during this period include the development of the first numerical Grading System in 1949, together with the founding of the Canadian Numismatic Association in 1950 (now the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association).

4. The introduction of ICCS/PCGS Grading Services (c.1986)

The introduction of “Certified Grading” had profound implications in both the selling and collecting of coins. With the 1985 founding of PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) in California, and in 1986 of ICCS (the International Coin Certification Service) in Toronto, collectors could now submit their coins for third-party grading and authentication. This solved two critical issues facing the average collector:

  1. was his/her coin authentic?, and
  2. what was the actual technical grade of the coin?

Not only were both issues beyond the expertise of the average collector, but making an error on either front could have (and often did have) dire financial consequences. Now, however, with the introduction of these certification services, coins would be returned to their owners in sealed protective holders, and the often contentious issues of grade and authenticity were made academic. Now, regardless of any expertise imbalance between buyer and seller, the only key topic for negotiation remained selling/purchase price. Sure, subjective issues such as eye-appeal and toning might still cause hesitation in “sight-unseen” transactions, but at least an inexperienced collector could now purchase certified coins for his/her collection or portfolio, and be reasonably certain of getting reasonable value for their money.

In addition to the increased flow of good collectible coinage in the marketplace, these certification companies also facilitated a somewhat unexpected though no-less-profound contribution to numismatics, through the eventual publication of Population Reports. These [mainly] annual statistical reports, which detailed the number and nature of coins certified to date, yielded highly important data on two fronts:

  1. It allowed for increasingly realistic estimates of the surviving populations of many coins, both common and rare, and
  2. Revealed to the hobby that mintage figures did not always determine surviving populations

This last revelation was very significant, as previous to the compilation of certified population stats, we had mainly mintage figures to reflect on the relative scarcity of a given coin. True, this often provided an accurate reflection of rarity – for example, with a total mintage of just 3 pieces, it is obvious that the 1911 Canadian Silver Dollar will always be the most extreme of rarities. With a comparable mintage of approximately 200,000 pieces, however, one would expect the 1921 Half Dollar to be quite common. In reality, however, this fabled “King of Canadian Coins” is also extremely rare, with a surviving population of less than 100 pieces. Yes, we are to expect this, with knowledge of the great melting that occurred at the Canadian branch of the Royal Mint after the striking of the 1921 halves, however the ICCS population report clearly confirms this with currently more than 25 years of compiled certification data. With many other issues, however, population stats have been truly enlightening, often revealing that – for whatever reason – certain years and/or grades of decimal coins have proven to be considerably scarcer in our current market than these mintage figures would suggest.

On one final note – the advent of coin certification services has also generated a keen demand for “Finest-Known” coinage, in other words those specific examples at the top (or at least among the top 10) of the grading charts for a given year and denomination. This, in turn, has pushed up prices for these “condition-census” coins, which then brings fresh material into the market as owners/collectors look to take advantage of heated demand and competition. Perhaps the most brilliant manifestation of this is the PCGS Set Registry, which allows collectors to post their collections online – all in mandatory PCGS holders, of course – and be ranked against other sets within the same competitive category. At time of writing, a whopping 71,369 individual sets have been entered into the registry, representing every conceivable theme from typical United States and Canadian date-sets, to registry sets of Fiji, Peru and Sarawak. Even a partial change in grade of a single coin can alter the “ranking” of such sets, and if such statistics were available, one would no doubt connect a notable increase in the overall business performance of PCGS with the super-keen competitive tendencies of the Registry’s participants.

In summary, there are an almost endless number of innovations and evolutions to note in both the history and collecting of coinage – these particular four watersheds are my own perceived highlights, while each and every collector will have his or her own thoughts on the matter. Artistic aesthetics, historical allure, or intrinsic appreciation – whatever grabs you, just run with it, and the hobby of numismatics will never let you down.

Note: This article was adapted from my presentation to an Algonquin College Museum Technology class, c. 2002. Copyright Sean Isaacs.