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Coin Collecting

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By Lachlan Labere

Coin collecting isn’t a science unless you happen to be a practicing numismatic.

For 53 years Les Copan has been studying coins, tokens and other forms of currency, developing significant collections of his own along the way, as a member of what is now called the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association and an acting Fellow of the Canadian Numismatic Research Society.

Numismatics, by definition, is the scientific and historical study of currency in all its forms. Copan, a Lower Mainland resident recently in the Sicamous area visiting relatives, says that while the word numismatics may be difficult to get your tongue around, it’s a subject that tends to pique people’s interest.

“Let’s start with money. What is money?” asks Copan. “Money has no value. Anything can be money. We place a value on things. For example, we have a silver dollar here in Canada… They were considering having a silver dollar, made two of them, and then decided not to do it for many years later. Those two coins exist. One of them is a national collection in Ottawa. The other one, it was offered, and the owner wanted something like a million dollars for it. Nobody would bid that. He had to keep it. It didn’t have the value he hoped it would.”

Currency, as well as medals, says Copan, are also historically invaluable as they can depict the images of past leaders, events or cultural practices that might not otherwise be available.

“Anything else gets destroyed over time but the medal holds,” said Copan. “I saw an archaeologist who gave a talk with a slide show showing the importance of coins. He showed the coliseum in Rome and around the top there’s a series of notches, and for many years they couldn’t figure out exactly what they were for. Then somebody found a coin in a dig that illustrated how it was back 2,000 years ago. Evidently the notches were used to hold supports.”

Copan’s foray into numismatics began in childhood at his parent’s Vancouver candy store. Coins and other foreign currency taken in at the store were collected in a jar.

“My mother used to say everybody should have a hobby,” said Copan. “She said to my older brother, ‘you can have the stamps,’ and she said to me ‘you can have the coins.’”

But Copan’s interest in taking up the hobby of coin collecting didn’t really take off until after the Second World War, beginning with Canadian coins.

“I started building a collection of Canadian coins, and then you reach a point where you can’t find one of the coins, in our case, a 1925 five cent piece,” said Copan. “It turns out it was a very low mintage, they didn’t make very many of them. Finally I went to a coin dealer and asked him about it. He said ‘yes, they’re scarce.’ He dumped about 20 of them on the counter and said take any one for $1. The same coin today is worth about $90 to $100.”

In 1956 Copan joined a local coin collecting club, which was also part of the national association of Canadian Numismatics. Today, he is the association’s area director for British Columbia and the Yukon.

When not traveling, visiting relatives or attending meetings and conventions related to numismatic pursuits, Copan says he can be found at a flea market in Surrey, where he sells coins and other currency to collectors and would-be collectors. Copan says you become a true collector when you buy your first coin, as opposed to picking it out of loose change. But he warns, collecting requires serious, long-term commitment, driven by a love for coins and coin collecting, as opposed to hopes of financial gain.

“If you want to invest, the way I put it to people, I’ll tell you how to make money with coins,” said Copan. “First of all, spend a couple of years studying so you know what you’re doing. Then you have to buy rare coins that are in the thousands. Then you need 20 or 30 years for them to appreciate in value.

“If you build a collection for your own enjoyment, and then go to sell it, if you get half of what you paid, you’ve done well,” he said.

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