Coin Collecting, Hobby to Industry
A Numismatic Journey Through the Ages
Caesar to Contemporary Coin Collectors
Precious metal coins have always held a special place in the hearts of humanity for both their intrinsic value and aesthetic appeal. People have hoarded coins as an accumulation of wealth for as long as coins have been minted, 2,700 years ago. Historical records of Ancient Rome indicate that coins were collected and catalogued by scholars and state treasuries. Even Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome is frequently cited as one of the first coin collectors. He often presented old and exotic coins to friends as gifts during festivals and other special occasions. Contemporary coin collecting and appreciation began during the Renaissance, it became a popular among the privileged classes and royalty. Because only the very wealthy could afford the pursuit of coin collecting, it became known as the “Hobby of Kings.”
Generations of young collectors have grown up collecting pennies, nickels and dimes, storing them in cardboard coin boards and folders. These organizational tools made coin collecting fun and accessible, drawing more children to the hobby. These kids learned about history and economics at an early age, and coin collecting became a lifelong hobby, passing on their passion and coin collections to their kids and grandkids. Today, collectors have access to coins online and educational resources that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. Coin collecting is a multi-billion dollar market with industry Associations and third-party grading certification companies. The following is the history of coin collecting from hobby to industry.
Coin Collecting Timeline
CLICK the image on the LEFT to learn more about coin collecting over the centuries.
Early U.S. Coin Collecting
In America, our Founding Fathers had a great interest in coins, and they set the foundations for minting U.S. coins beginning in 1792. Early United States minted coins weren’t collected by Americans, but by Europeans, who were very refined in the art and science of numismatics during early America’s formative years. As our nation began producing its own early coinage, English numismatists began to acquire new issues of these U.S. coins, which early Americans only saw as pocket change. Years later, American numismatic collectors woke up to the reality that the finest early U.S. coins were in Europe, so they traveled there to purchase these scarce coins of significant historical value.
Coin collecting in early America was very scarce through the late 1700’s, when the earliest collectors began to achieve some numismatic recognition. By the early 1800s there were already a couple dozen American Historical societies and libraries that included coins in their possession. By the mid-19th Century American coin collecting gained in popularity and created numismatic excitement in Philadelphia.
The Mint Act of 1857, signed February 21, abolished the copper half cent and cent that had been minted since 1793. After 64 years, the old cents were replaced by the new copper-nickel Flying Eagle cent, which were released to the public in exchange for old coppers and Spanish silver. On May 25th at 9 am the Mint doors opened to a crowd of over a thousand eager Philadelphians with their bags of small change, waiting their turn in their old coins in exchange for the shiny new issues.
The demand was so great that many resold their new coins on the steps of the Mint for a profit within minutes of receiving them. The Mint melted down most of the old coppers, while several thousand collectors saved the familiar “red” cents from their childhood, first calling themselves “Numismatologists.”
Hobby to Industry
Beginning in 1858, the U.S. Mint began to receive multiple inquiries from coin collectors for older dates and rarities, which they supplied until inventory ran out. Mint Director, James Ross Snowden knew of this high collector demand, and had no more supply, but he also knew of the old coin dies in storage that could restrike these rarities.
Secretly Snowden, and other Mint Officials, made restrikes and sold them through a local coin dealer, William K. Idler, who set-up distribution channels. Idler had his network of friends and relatives of Mint Employees visit dealers and coin clubs to sell these restrikes.
Tens of thousands of these rare patterns, restrikes, and other rarities were secretly made for 26 years, from 1859 to about 1885. Collectors today are thankful for this clandestine activity at the U.S. Mint. As most Gobrecht silver dollars of 1838 and 1839, Flying Eagle Cents of 1856, and most Pattern Coins would not exist.
American Numismatic Society
The ANS was formed by a group of collectors in New York City in March 1858, at a time when many learned societies were created. Teenager, Augustus B. Sage, invited his collector friends to meet in his family’s apartment. By April 6, 1858 the fledgling Society’s first constitution and bylaws were approved by the membership.
In 1865, it was incorporated as the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society or ANAS. In 1907, the name was changed back to the original American Numismatic Society or ANS. In 1866 the very first regularly issued coin magazine, “The American Journal of Numismatics” was published by ANAS, to the delight of coin collectors and dealers who thirst for knowledge. Under the leadership of several dynamic, resourceful and generous presidents, the ANS grew to become a major international center for numismatic research, and remains very dynamic today.
By the 1880s the rare coin market was very active, with the emergence of new dealers, new coin publications, and popular coin auction catalogs from legends like John W. Haseltine and the Chapman Brothers (S. Hudson & Henry). In June of 1882 the Chapman Brothers held the most exciting auction event of the decade, the sale of the Charles I. Bushnell collection of American Coins and Medals.
Newspapers couldn’t get enough of the numismatic hype, like the story of the rare 1804 dollar, and colonial coins being unearthed as treasure from common people, who instantly became collectors. Rising prices for rare coins sparked the publication of more auction catalogs, magazines, newsletters, and price lists in this decade, than in all the years earlier, combined!
American Numismatic Association
The ANA is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to educating and encouraging people to study and collect money and related items. With nearly 28,000 members, the Association serves the academic community, collectors and the general public with an interest in numismatics.
ANA origins begin in the mid-1800s, American coin collectors were far and few between. Many coin hobbyists became serious collectors, and some of them published periodicals as a forum for sharing numismatic information. One of these collectors was a small town doctor, named Dr. George F. Heath who lived in Monroe Michigan. Heath loved coin collecting, and found pleasure gaining knowledge of world history by studying his collection of coins, but he found living in a small town was an obstacle towards obtaining certain specimens, and it made meeting fellow numismatists very difficult.
In 1888, George Heath, all by himself, wrote, printed, published and distributed a four-page leaflet, Vol. 1 No. 1 “The American Numismatist,” in which he listed his coin needs, advertised duplicates for sale, and discussed numismatic topics. After a time he had a circulation of several hundred people, and over time he became known in larger cities around the United States, with editorial forums and advertisements on coins for sale. The February 1891 edition of The Numismatist, he printed a question, “What is the matter with having an American Numismatic Association?”
Following the article in “The Numismatist,” a campaign was begun to organize such an association, and numismatists from across the country reacted favorably when urged to band together to derive greater benefits and pleasure from their coin avocation. In October 1891, five men including Dr. Heath met in Chicago, and the gathering was a success. Officers were elected, and with 26 proxies, the American Numismatic Association was officially formed with a total of 61 charter members.
The visionary Dr. Heath, in summing up the new organization, said, “The foundation of the ANA was not laid for today alone but for the long and distant future as well. Each member can do a little in contributing to its success.”
20th Century Numismatics
A survey in 1900 showed that there were 21 full-time rare coin dealers in the United States, and several thousand serious collectors, who ordered Proof coins from the Mint each year. By 1904 the American Numismatic Association membership was at several hundred, of which only 40 were west of the Mississippi, and twelve states had no members at all.
The ANA periodical, “The Numismatist”, which was originally published in 1888, was becoming established as the numismatic publication for current industry information to the public. The same year, the American Numismatic Society (ANS) was prospering with elite members like J. P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who joined the Society. The ANS publication, “The American Journal of Numismatics”, was becoming much more specialized to the serious student and advanced collector.
ANA & ANS Today
Today, the American Numismatic Association is now the largest nonprofit numismatic organization of its kind in the world. Headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO, it houses the largest numismatic library in the world, where Dr. Heath’s original printing press for “The Numismatist” now resides. The Colorado facility also houses the ANA Money Museum that includes over 250,000 rotating objects encompassing the history of numismatics from the earliest invention of money to the modern day.
The American Numismatic Society boast a large membership mostly comprised of mostly academics, serious collectors and professional numismatists. The ANS numismatic collection is estimated at approximately 800,000 coins and related objects, is of international caliber. The ANS library houses more than 100,000 items, comprising of bound volumes, pamphlets, manuscripts, auction catalogs, and microforms. The ANS has prominent publications in a variety of series of Numismatic Literature, for a total of over 200 titles.
Professional Numismatists Guild
The PNG is a nonprofit organization composed of the world’s top rare coin dealers, paper money and precious metals dealers and experts. As numismatic professionals, their primary mission is to make the hobby safe for collectors and investors by maintaining strict standards of excellence and ethics for their member dealers. PNG members must follow a strict Code of Ethics in the buying and selling of numismatic merchandise, and respect. The PNG motto of “Knowledge, Integrity, Responsibility.”
The Professional Numismatists Guild, which was founded in 1955, had its inception in 1950, with Abe Kosoff, who is known as “The Dean of 20th Century American Numismatics.” After much effort, the Professional Numismatists Guild was established, from its original motto of, “Knowledge, Integrity, Responsibility,” the PNG went on to become the most respected organization of rare coin dealers in America. The roster of the dealers in at the beginning of PNG reads like a Who’s Who of Numismatics. For the first decade, membership in the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) was by invitation, and only a small number of dealers were asked to join. As time passed, the PNG achieved stature, experience, and wisdom, and the membership rolls were expanded.
Today, the PNG comprises a membership across the United States and abroad of virtually all leading professional numismatists. The typical PNG dealer has more than 25 years of experience in the industry, must certify that he or she has significant financial worth, and must be elected by a majority of the present members. Because PNG dealers are elected to membership by their peers, collectors have the assurance of buying or selling coins with confidence.