bowers

by Q. David Bowers  – Stack’s Bowers

Each year at this time, and in some years at other times as well, we hold an Americana Sale. The focus is on numismatics of our country with special emphasis on tokens, medals, documents, paper money, and archival items apart from the mainstream of federal coinage 1792 to date, although these are included as well.

Going back in history to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the collecting scene was very different from what we know today. There was hardly any interest in mintmarked coins, and in the federal series emphasis was on copper cents and half cents 1793-1857, later small cents, silver Proofs of all years, circulating silver coinage prior to 1839, gold dollars, $2.50, and $3, and all gold coins of the 1795 to 1834 era. In the forefront of activity, however, were such specialties as Hard Times tokens, encased postage stamps, colonial and early American coins, Civil War tokens, and medals of all kinds. Believe it or not, more people collected encased postage stamps than did for Morgan dollars by date and mintmark. No one cared at all about an 1893-S dollar, a rarity today.

The typical collector bought and studied his her own coins, tokens, medals, and paper money, drawing upon information found in reference books, in dealers’ catalogues, and in periodicals including the American Journal of Numismatics and The Numismatist.  While grades were important, it was not front row center for most specialties. A copper coin of Vermont minted in 1786 had to be “nice,” and this meant, say, Fine or Very Fine, sometimes on a rough planchet. Hard Times tokens had to be “nice” as well, but such grades as VF, EF, and AU satisfied most buyers as they showed all the details sharply.

The attention to studying and enjoying their holdings created longevity of interest.

Fast forward to 2015 and our Americana Sale. In recent years there has been a tremendous renaissance of interest in series other than federal issues, although the last remain dynamic, lead the market, and create headlines. Most buyers of the sutler tokens, early American medals, Indian Peace medals, and other items in our forthcoming sale will be collectors who have been in numismatics for a number of years and will continue to be in the future..

I have often said that one coin or other item is worth 1 point in desirability. Knowledge about it adds 1 more point. Put them together and you have 1 + 1 equals not 2, but 3. I urge readers to linger on the descriptions in our Americana sale and read the narrative. If I am not mistaken this will create a possession desire for many items that yesterday seemed strange!

I define numismatics not as an industry, as some do, but as an art and a science, a way of life. Our Americana Sale will contribute to this art and science and, equally important, enjoyment of our favorite pastime.

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