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Q. David Bowers – Some Reflections on Collecting

By Q. David BowersCo-founder, Stack’s Bowers ……
Some reflections on collecting in past times, part of a commentary I am doing on the “instant collecting” of today, 2019. “Instant collecting,” via the internet and with certified coins and 101 different sources for pricing information, would seem to make it unnecessary for most collectors to know about authenticity, grade, or much else about numismatics. Today, for most buyers, collecting is mindless. Soon, the novelty wears off, and the newcomers are gone forever.

Now, to the past:

Nearly 20 years ago, in October 2001, Ken Rendell, my one-time coin dealer friend, prominent in autographs and books, stopped by the office. We discussed the aspects of collecting. Those who sought old letters and documents were invariably interested in history and made it a part of their activity. Scattered exceptions were those who bought a “trophy” item such as baseball signed by Babe Ruth or a George Washington letter, but did not delve into their background. The first type of collector stayed in the hobby for a long time, while those buying trophy items were soon gone.

Not long afterward I spent an enjoyable day at the 10th Annual New Hampshire Postcard Show, held in an old-time town, Fitzwilliam, about a two-hour drive from here. Upon arrival at the stated location, a VFW hall, I was greeted with a room filled with dealers exhibiting tables filled with cards. There was no grading system in place. People bought cards that appealed to their senses of art, history, and romance. Price information was sketchy, at best. You were on your own, and a coin or postcard offered by one dealer for $5 might be priced for $10 or $15 by another.

To me, this is more enjoyable than having 101 price guides! Of course, I love challenges, the road not often taken.

From the time of my arrival, shortly after 10:30 a.m., until the show closed at seven in the evening, I perused, poked, and pursued cards, seeking old-time images of railroad stations, country stores, “grand hotels”, and other items, mostly from the state of New Hampshire. By day’s end, I had bought about 800 cards, 99% of which cost from $1 to $5 each, with most of the remaining 1% costing under $100. What fun! The dealers with whom I talked were all having a nice time. Camaraderie was the order of the day, and anyone wanting to “talk postcards” could do so, in the meantime gathering knowledge. No one seemed to be too busy or too important to answer questions or to pass the time of day.

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the air. It seemed that everyone had a good time by show’s end. This reminded me of what a coin show used to be like when I was a teenager in the early 1950s.

A few days later I visited with my friend, David Sundman, owner of Littleton Coin Company, and told him about the show, after which he commented: “I love collecting postcards because there are no catalogs, and you can never tell what treasures you will find.”

Today in 2019 as you read this, you can still experience the art, history, romance, and enjoyment of numismatics—by reading interesting books, specializing in affordable areas within coins, tokens, medals, and paper money, and going slowly.

Do this and you will have a great time!

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