Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How much do you need to know?

A collector posed that question to me the other day.  Not in those exact words, but when boiled down, that was the essence of the question.  If I look at any old Canadian coin catalog or Trends, I can find lists of coins by date with the occasional variety tossed in.  For instance 1894 and then the fat 4, 1896 and the far 6, 1859 and the 9/8, you get the idea. Is this sufficient?  Perhaps so, for the more casual collector that isn’t concentrating on the series but has a wider interest across a broader field of collecting.

But what about other varieties, those that are not published in the major catalogs?  Take for instance content you find on discussion boards or specialty web sites.  People post their findings as they look at their coins.  Lots of varieties are brought to light by collectors taking just a bit more time and looking at the detail on the coin.  If you are starting to specialize any series, you probably pay attention to those finds and add them to your list.  The 1876 full serif T, the 1881 micro D or spike leg N, how about the 1899 9/9’s.  Ah the list.  Here it is again but now a bit longer as I add mine and others findings to it. 

Charlton has been publishing variety sections in the back of their catalog for the past few years now.  The current years catalog, 2011, 65th Edition, has published over 80 different Victoria large cent varieties complete with photographs illustrating the variety and an index with comments regarding cross references to Griffin, Zoell, Turner and Gravestone numbers, scarcity and demand.   We are now beyond just a list and are working from a photo guide with references back to older published works and specialty items still in the pipeline.

But is that enough? For many this is the cats meow. Up until 2007, lists ruled.  In 2007 however Turner published his ground breaking epic, “The 1858 Cents of Provincial Canada”.  If you have not picked this up, it is well worth the read.  Turner takes a page from the U.S. variety researchers play book and goes right to the die level, matching obverse and reverse die pairs and stringing out the hierarchy.  In his follow up with Vol. II in 2009, he expands to the 1859 W9/8 as well.  Now we have die pairs and die families.  You really start to get a feel for the “why” some things you see on certain coins are the way that they are.

Perhaps the question is really are you a casual collector or do you specialize?  Specializing requires a deep dive, deeper understanding and a look across relating series.  For instance, can you study Provincial Cents of 1858 and 9 without understanding what was going on at the Royal Mint, and the changes in planchet alloy, die steel, the coining equipment etc.

Seems to me there is a gradient here.  You will find yourself somewhere on the curve, from the most casual of collectors to the researcher.  Your knowledge needs will be different and you will be able to answer the question as it pertains to you.  For me, it’s the deep dive.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How do you like your reference material?

By looking at my desk on any given day, one would have to conclude that I prefer my reference material in the form of books.  I no longer even attempt to put some of them back in the bookcase.  Some of them lay open to the last topic I was researching or just generally reading about.  One on top of the other, both to the right and left of my work space.  Yes I like books.  I also use various web sites for shorter reads, discussion insights, new stuff (until it’s published in books) and the like.  I have a few books in pdf format that I use on my screen.   As easy and simple as that is, I just don’t use them all that much.  Time and time again I reach for the physical book and not the electronic one.  How about you?  Let me know your preference.