Jim Bisognani: It’s Back to the Future for This Collector
Posted on 10/29/2020
As the unforgettable and life-changing year of 2020 rapidly comes to a welcome close, I had the chance to strike up a very interesting conversation with a fellow coindexter named James. Amazingly, this gent recently reconnected with the numismatic world after over half a century away from the hobby. This led me to stop and imagine if I were a Rip Van Winkle of sorts and hadn’t been involved with coins since around 1965.
What would the collecting landscape look like today? As I shed my cocoon of slumber, how would I interpret and embrace the new normal in the coin business?
To put things in perspective, James S. from the Great Lone Star State gave up the hobby the year after 90% silver ceased to be a mainstay for everything from the dime to the half dollar. In 1965 silver dollars (that’s Morgan and Peace Dollars, my friends) were still readily available at near face value.
Waking to a new age of coins
If I were to suddenly come out of a coma (the Mrs. often accuses me of already being in one), I would wonder, among many other things, what had happened to numismatics. Not only would I be flabbergasted to find online documentation of coins selling in excess of more than a million dollars several times a year, but I would be shocked to see so many coins in new-world, sonically-sealed holders.
My fellow brethren that are in the know tell me these are third-party grading holders. Dealers buy and sell coins like this sight unseen on electronic trading networks. Registry sets are a passion. Dealers and collectors can still attend major floor auctions, but they are also broadcast live to prospective bidders and enthusiasts around the globe!
Online auctions are the mainstay now, primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the only regular trading source of acquiring new coins for my collection.
With high-resolution imagery, I can virtually touch my potential purchase through my HD computer monitor. What a War of the Worlds-eerie feeling! Have otherworldly beings infiltrated my hobby?
|What would you do if you awoke from a decades-long slumber (besides checking the price of gold)? Click image to enlarge.|
An interview with James
Even though I am living through it, I can hardly fathom the changes sometimes. I couldn’t help but wonder what James S. from Spring, Texas thought after his 53-year hiatus.
Like many of us, James started collecting coins in his youth by looking through change he received from his paper-route customers in New England or buying the odd bag of Lincoln Cents at one of the bigger banks in Waterbury, Connecticut.
“I continued coin collecting through high school but put it on hold when I went away to college in the fall of 1965. College, military service, a career and raising a family delayed my return to numismatics until December 2018, a month after I retired from a 31-year career building my business.”
When he reunited with numismatics after more than half a century, he discovered a completely different numismatic world.
“Everything had changed — national auction houses buying coins sight-unseen based on digital images, the increasing dangers of Chinese counterfeits, the wild-and-woolly eBay frontier, registry sets, the prevalence of the 70-point Sheldon scale versus the much simpler G, VG, F, VF, EF, AU and so forth.”
James has gotten burned a couple of times by the handful of less scrupulous collectors lurking among eBay’s overwhelmingly honest sellers network.
I was curious what his first purchase was after returning to the hobby. It turns out it was an iconic coin every collector of my generation longs for.
“It was a 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent graded NGC MS 63 RB. I had to get it. Before I left the hobby, I had collected every other Lincoln Cent, including the 1955 double shift, so I had to have the '09-S VDB to complete my collection.”
What James collects now
“My approach to collecting took a U-turn. Instead of trying to complete sets as I did as a kid, like Lincoln Cents, Buffalo Nickels and Mercury Dimes that were always in circulated condition, I decided to assemble what I call an ‘eclectic typeset.’ If I like a mid-19th to early 20th century US coin design, I will try to acquire a handful or so of the lowest-mintage examples from that series. However, they need to be in MS or PF 64 or higher and certified by NGC.”
“I will probably never own a silver 3-cent piece, but I love James Longacre’s nickel 3-cent design. I expect to start Phase II of my collection next year when I begin collecting type pieces from 1793 through 1855.”
My friend from Texas said he also has an extreme fondness for the entire Barber series.
“I really like the coins and they wear well,” James said, adding that he has his eyes on one of the Quarter series’ big three and is aiming high. “I would like to get the 1913-S in MS 65 or better. Two of the coins on my bucket list are an 1883 Trade Dollar, PF 64 or higher, and an 1899 Morgan Dollar, PF 65 or higher. An 1895 Morgan PF 65 or higher and a 1916 Standing Liberty quarter, MS 65 or higher are dream coins.”
My new coindexter has a true appreciation for the numismatic hobby. For him, it’s the camaraderie, the learning and the history of our treasured metal discs that are most compelling.
James and his wife, Joanna, still have a regular date night, something the two have shared for nearly 40 years!
“Joanna and I have a date night every Saturday, where we dine in a local restaurant, usually sharing a bottle of a full-bodied red wine.”
During this time, the couple has learned more about each other’s favorite pastimes. They discuss Joanna’s crossword puzzles and her progress in learning Spanish. Joanna asks what’s new in the numismatic world, and James will happily recount a new factoid about a coin or series or a particular coin coming up in an auction.
So my friend, if your wife asks you what’s new in coin collecting, you can pull up this article to help convey the passion you have for this great hobby that is perhaps only surpassed by the love you both share.
Until next time be safe and happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.
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