You will find them everywhere in their natural surroundings: at coin shows, auction sales, in coin shops, at the flea market… But, there is only very few information about the genus of coin collector. It seems to form a part of the biological family of collectors, which for its part belongs – without any doubt – to the human beings. This is the first attempt to describe the nine hitherto known species of coin collectors.
The sex of the collector
The typical coin collector is male. There is at the most one serious female collector for every 1000 male collectors. Nobody has yet found a sensible explanation for why that should be so. Let us try therefore to find one by going back into the dim and distant past. In his hunt for the one and only coin that he wants for his collection, the man becomes the prehistoric hunter in search of prey. He wants to look out for, hunt and kill his prey and then take it back home. What happens after that does not interest him. He places the coin he has captured in a box where there are already many other coins which in past years spurred on his hunting instinct. His pleasure in collecting lies, with few exceptions, (compare the Self-exposer, the Researcher and the Historian) not in possessing something, but in the hunt.
Collecting coins has no purpose in itself–even though every collector would vehemently deny this. Let us continue looking back at our earliest history lying subconsciously latent from the remote Stone Age. While the man brought home the prey, making use of it was a matter for the woman. She divided it up into useable and useless pieces. Perhaps that is the reason why women still tend to be geared to practical things. And so they do not become coin collectors. For, as stated above, collecting has no practical purpose. Coins cannot be used for either decorating the house or the body, nor as an investment whose value remains stable and which can be easily sold, and only rarely as a prestigious object. So why, for heaven’s sake, should a woman collect coins?
How to find out which type of collector you are
While, in most cases, no sensible reason why they should collect coins occurs to women, male collectors are never at a loss for an excuse. When collecting they have an aim in mind or can give a reason why they collect. The aims and reasons are different from collector to collector, but also typical. Read through the following statements. If one of them applies to you, you can find out which type of collector you are. If you think that several statements apply to your case, you are a mixed type and that makes you one of the large majority of collectors.
I want the area of my collection to be complete.
Read on under: 1. The “Classic” Hunter
I want to make a good profit from my coin purchases.
Read on under: 2. The Speculator
I want to enjoy the beauty of coins.
Read on under: 3. The Aesthete
I only want to have perfect specimens in my collection.
Read on under: 4. The Perfectionist
I want to own as many coins as possible.
Read on under: 5. The Rubbish Chute
I want to set up a monument to myself for eternity.
Read on under: 6. The Self-Exposer
I want to make new discoveries with the help of coins.
Read on under: 7. The Researcher
I want to possess everything that is connected with my area of collecting.
Read on under: 8. The Local Patriot
I want to hold a testimony to history in my hands.
Read on under: 9. The Historian
1. The “Classic” Hunter
Actually all coin collectors are hunters, but in its classic form it is possible to distinguish this type from others. The “Classic” Hunter can be recognised by the fact that he always goes out hunting with a list in his hand. This list of his possible quarry is the key requisite of his collecting. He is only interested in coins on his list; he ignores all the others. When he makes a purchase it is not the object that concerns him. He gets pleasure from ticking it off. Nothing is more satisfying for the “Classic” Hunter than as many ticks as possible.
All catalogued areas have a magic attraction for the “Classic” Hunter. From these he can make lists, which he “works off.” However, a paradox dominates his life as a collector. Although he strives for completeness, the moment he achieves it what he is doing loses its meaning. The day when he ticks off the last item on his list is the day on which he contacts a coin dealer to negotiate on the sale of his collection. He is bored by a complete collection that no longer offers him the experience of hunting, but only of possessing.
The “Classic” Hunter is very easy to get along with. He is not sociably inclined and prefers to go hunting on his own. He talks very little about his activity, in most cases because he knows nothing about the historical background of his coins.
How to recognise the “Classic” Hunter and collector: he always carries a list around with him, in which he notes down all the coins he has acquired.
His hunting grounds are: mainly coin markets, more rarely coin dealers; only in the final phase of his collecting activity can he be encountered at auctions.
He collects mostly: German imperial coins according to Jaeger, coins in circulation according to their dates and embossed letters, more rarely coins with portraits of all the Roman emperors.
2. The Speculator
Many coin collectors dream of being able to make a big profit on selling their collection. The Speculator has made this dream the essence of his collecting. For him, the most important thing about a coin is that it offers a chance of increasing in value. The Speculator believes in the fairy tale about a treasure, which lies buried at the end of the rainbow. He intends to dig up this treasure by acting cleverly. That is why he reads the price lists of all the relevant coin journals like a stock exchange report. He ignores those areas for which no regular price lists are compiled.
Today you come across the Speculator mainly on the Internet. He is driven by the hope of getting his treasures off an unwitting private person for very little money, so that he can make a big profit himself. The Speculator detests dealers because they diminish his gains.
In his dealings with people, the Speculator tends to be inconspicuous, only occasionally outing himself as a coin collector when he boasts about the fab-u-lous returns that he has recently made. And whoever he is talking to only gathers by listening closely that this profit was realised by the purchase and sale of a coin.
In the long run the Speculator remains a loser in coin trading. As he has no knowledge of the true value of a coin, he is restricted to the areas where crowds of other Speculators are romping around, who mutually drive up the prices and thus produce an artificial boom. As soon as some of the Speculators drop out, the prices plummet until they reach a level at which “proper” collectors can come back. The Speculator is always a collector for only a short time. As soon as he has understood that he can only lose money by collecting coins, he drops out.
How to recognise the Speculator: he can give you no information on the items in his collection apart from their price and how many were minted.
His hunting ground is: principally the internet. He tries to buy coins direct from the producer in order to prevent the middleman from making a profit.
He only collects: coins that promise a profit and whose price structure is easy to understand. He is very often to be found knocking about in the market of coins that are currently being minted.
3. The Aesthete
The aim of the Aesthete is to hold in his hands a coin as a testimony to perfect art. Whether he has to pay a bit more or less for it does not matter to him. He can afford it anyway. Aesthetes are mainly to be found in well-paid professions, such as those of doctors and pharmacists.
The Aesthete’s hunting ground is neither the coin market (too loud and hectic) nor the Internet (ugh, only for plebs!). He buys at auctions, if possible in Switzerland. He loves to wear his best suit, put on a conservative tie and go to an auction with his pretty wife on his arm.
Aesthetes can be recognised not only by the way they collect. Usually their whole life is a complete work of art in itself. Their homes, uniformly styled throughout, match the top-quality red wine and the five-course meal that you are offered on a visit. It is altogether a pleasure to associate with an Aesthete. He lacks any kind of grim determination. For him collecting is nothing more than an enrichment of his life, and the hunt for coins never becomes an end in itself.
As for the areas of his collection, the Aesthete only considers those in which above all beautiful coins are to be found. These include coins minted by the Greeks, the numismatic works of art from the time of the Renaissance and, since quite recently to a greater extent, the Romanesque bracteates. But the Aesthete is by all means prepared to acquire an object far removed from his particular field the moment he is attracted by its beauty.
How to recognise the Aesthete: by his well-groomed appearance, broad general knowledge and complete absence of any kind of dogged determination.
His hunting grounds are: only auctions, preferably in Switzerland.
He collects mostly: Greek coins, Renaissance medals or bracteates.
4. The Perfectionist
The Perfectionist does not see his collection in quite such a relaxed fashion as the Aesthete. Like everyone who aims at perfection, the Perfectionist is completely absorbed by his passion. He seeks the perfect coin. Everything about it must be right: condition, style, centring. There was once a collector who sold what was actually a perfect coin for one reason only: the tip of the Roman she-wolf’s tail could no longer be seen on the flan.
Completeness is unimportant for the Perfectionist. Just like Caesar, who would rather have been the first man in a village than the second one in Rome, the Perfectionist prefers to own one single coin that is in keeping with his ideas instead of buying many that do not quite match his requirements.
The Perfectionist spends a lot of time investigating how the perfect piece should look. His library contains all the important auction catalogues from the past. If a certain type of coin interests him, the Perfectionist is in a position to say when a specimen of it turned up which was in keeping with his ideas of quality.
You only come across the Perfectionist at auctions, for only these offer coins of the quality he is looking for. He spends hours at the preview and knows before the auction begins, which coin(s) he is going to bid for. When he starts to bid the auctioneer can be pleased, because the Perfectionist is prepared to pay any price to acquire “his” piece. If there happen to be two Perfectionists at the auction, this can result in ridiculous price increases. Neither is prepared to give in. Reason goes out of the window, hands are repeatedly raised, and by the time the auction is over, the winner often turns out to be a loser, because many Perfectionists actually cannot afford their taste.
How to recognise the Perfectionist: you only have to look at his collection.
His hunting grounds are: auctions only.
He collects mostly: what interests him, but it has to be perfect.
5. The Rubbish Chute
The opposite of the Perfectionist is the Rubbish Chute. His collection is built up according to a single criterion: cheap, cheap, cheap! The Rubbish Chute restricts his collection neither to a particular area nor to a period of time. His aim is to amass coins until, like Dagobert Duck, he could fill a swimming pool with them. If you look at his collection it can really only be called an agglomeration.
The Rubbish Chute is to be found wherever there are a lot of coins to be bought for little money. At coin markets he stands at bargain boxes, at auctions he prefers to buy in lots and coins, which can be had for more or less the value of the metal. Nowadays he is also more frequently encountered on the internet.
The Rubbish Chute is not to be confused with the Speculator. The former differs from the latter in an essential characteristic: the Rubbish Chute does not buy in order to sell again, but to accumulate coins. Like Fafnir in Germanic mythology, who sat on his money to guard it, so the Rubbish Chute sits on his supposedly valuable hoard of coins and does not have to experience a coin dealer telling him how little his collection is actually worth. This shock is reserved for his survivors when his will is opened.
How to recognise the Rubbish Chute: he cannot pass a bargain box without picking out at least a few cheap coins.
His hunting ground is: wherever he can obtain a lot of coins for very little money.
He collects mostly: everything.
6. The Self-exposer
What is most important for the Self-exposer is not collecting, but the monument he can erect to himself with his collection. That is why for him the decisive moment in his life as a collector is the point at which he is able to present his coin collection as a product of his activity as a collector. This may come about by bequeathing his items to a coin museum and then being celebrated as a patron by the curator in his annual report. If the Self-exposer is too mean to do this, he can choose one of the following options: he can a) have his collection auctioned under his name, or, if its quality is too bad, b) publish it under his name, though he frequently has to pay for the printing costs, since no one apart from him is interested in his collection. It is characteristic of him that in any case his photo, which is published together with the collection, is larger than the largest of the coins he has acquired.
The Self-exposer generally spends little thought on the area of his collection. He prefers to be looked after by a middleman, who relieves him of the trouble of personally selecting coins for his collection. That is why he is only rarely to be met at coin markets or auctions.
Geographically the Self-exposer is currently mainly to be found in the United States, where generous taxation laws support him in his endeavour to be eternally remembered by bequeathing his collection to a research institute.
How to recognise the Self-exposer: he speaks less about his coins than about himself.
His hunting ground is: none. Only in rare cases does the Self-exposer himself go hunting. Usually he asks a dealer to draw his attention to all the coins on offer that might interest him.
He collects mostly: what the dealer he can trust recommends to him.
7. The Researcher
The Researcher, whose collecting activity also frequently leads to a publication, is not to be confused with the Self-exposer. A Researcher’s collection is of great academic interest and contains many unpublished items, so that their publication enhances numismatic knowledge.
It is not objects that the Researcher collects in the first place, but knowledge about them. He frequently spends less money on his coins than on the literature he needs to classify them. Coins are a means for him to enjoy discovering historical numismatic connections. The condition of an item is quite unimportant for the Researcher. On the contrary, the satisfaction he derives from being able to decipher an almost illegible inscription is his greatest pleasure.
The Researcher is short of cash. And as he experiences pleasure from classifying his items, which can only be done once for every coin, he is in constant need of new pieces at the best possible price. That is why the Researcher is frequently to be met at coin markets where he rummages about in dishes containing coins that are difficult to classify and which are sold off cheaply by coin dealers. With his superior knowledge the Researcher repeatedly succeeds in coming across a real snip, i.e. finding a coin which is worth considerably more than the dealer is asking for it.
The Researcher, too, dreams of a treasure, like the Speculator, but while the Speculator can express its value in hard cash, the Researcher wants an item that answers an unsolved academic question.
Researchers are fascinating personalities who can talk interestingly for hours about their field. It is a pleasure to listen to them. If you can see the coins through their eyes, the ugliest coins become important historical testimonies that provide an insight into our past.
How to recognise the Researcher: if you look carefully at his collection, at first you have the feeling that it is made up of nothing but rubbish, but the moment the Researcher starts to talk you forget the coins’ condition.
His hunting grounds are: the bargain boxes and the lots at auctions.
He collects mostly: coins that make great demands on the collector’s knowledge. This applies, for example, to medieval coins, coins minted by the Greek cities under Roman rule and coins from the Middle East.
8. The Local Patriot
Whereas everyone listens attentively to the Researcher, any person in his senses tries to escape the Local Patriot. This name describes someone who knows every spot in his local district where he can find something of interest to him, but who, in spite of his special knowledge, does not succeed in putting his knowledge into a larger framework. He is not interested in anything outside his field.
The Local Patriot can talk about his special area in such precise detail that no listener can help yawning. He only collects coins from the one area to which he has a special relation for biographical reasons, his most frequent “subject” being coins from the district from which he comes or in which he lives.
The Local Patriot is someone you have to get used to. He always insists that he is in the right and is a bit of a know-all. To know all is relatively simple for him, as he generally only talks about the subject that interests him. He is incapable of listening.
The Local Patriot only purchases coins from his special collecting area. This results in his eventually having all the usual coins and hardly being able to acquire anything new. Nevertheless, he visits coin markets, as his greatest pleasure is to name to anyone who cannot get away from him quickly enough one by one the coins he has recently acquired for his collection.
How to recognise the Local Patriot: he talks and talks and talks and talks and talks and talks…
His hunting ground is: wherever he can browbeat people into listening to him.
He collects only: coins to which he has a biographical connection.
9. The Historian
For the Historian coins are a means of turning history into something tangible. What interests him about an item is not its condition or its beauty, but the history that is contained within it and which he believes he can share by buying the coin.
His special area of interest is in coins that can be associated with a name or an event rooted in the memory of the general public: Caesar or Cleopatra, the tribute money, half-shekels, in the New Testament or Judas’s 30 pieces of silver. As the purchase price is of no importance for the Historian, items like these are overpriced compared with their realistic value determined by their condition and rarity.
Historians are ‘island’ collectors. They do not collect coins from a particular area, but individual names, and some of these collectors only possess a few (less that twelve) coins. They show these few objects to other people with great enthusiasm. The Historian collector type can chiefly be found among teachers (especially of Latin, Greek and religion–in descending order) and former pupils of Latin (who have all forgotten the bad marks they used to have in this subject at school).
Historians collect not only coins, they also prefer to read historical novels, go to the cinema to see every sword and sandal film and bore the whole family when they go on holiday and stop in front of every stone of a ruined town.
How to recognise the Historian: he only owns a few coins, but he can talk about each one until nobody can listen to him any longer.
His hunting ground is: mainly the coin dealer, where he buys as soon as possible without discussing the price.
He only collects: coins connected to personalities he knows and considers to be important in history.