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Getting Back to Basics
By Mike Thorne

In keeping with this column's focus on "Basics & Beyond," this month I will go back to basics and review a Smithsonian Book written by David Ganz: Guide to Coin Collecting. Ganz is among other things a lawyer, a politician on the local level, the author of many numismatic books and articles, and "a nationally recognized numismatics expert." In other words, Ganz is definitely someone qualified to produce a coin collecting guide.

In Chapter One, Ganz starts at the very beginning, with the history of coin making. He writes, "Coinage began some 2,800 years ago in the kingdom of Lydia, located in modern-day Turkey. In Lydia, coins were made of electrum, a natural gold-and-silver alloy.&" Obviously, even at the very beginning, gold and silver were important indicators of value. In his discussion, Ganz mentions Chinese spade money, cocoa beans, and "knife money" that was used in a number of countries.

Chapter Two covers "American Coinage History." Some of the more interesting (to collectors) coins pictured in the chapter include the 1907 Saint-Gaudens high relief gold $20, the 1776 Continental dollar, the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter, and the 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln cent (mislabeled as a 1909 V.D.B.).

Chapter Two's sidebars include "Founding of the U.S. Mint," Glenna Goodacre (the designer of the Sacagawea dollar), and the Kennedy 50-cent piece. As you would expect given his reputation as the "father of the state quarter program," Ganz devotes a couple of pages to the discussion of the program's origin.

Chapter Three is titled "The Coin, Up Close and Personal." As you would expect, Ganz again starts at the very beginning in this chapter, first defining the terms "obverse," "reverse," and "edge." Some of the other topics discussed, or at least defined, in the chapter include "adjustment marks," "fineness," "field," "mintmark," and "incused design." The coin minting process is covered under such headings as "blanking," "annealing," "striking," "inspection," and "proof coins."

Ganz begins Chapter Four, "What to Collect," by discussing all the different ways that the state quarter series can be collected. Examples include by date and mintmark, by date only, by proof coin regular issues, by silver proof coins only, and so on. He then talks about all the different ways that U.S. and world coinage can be collected.

"Tools of the Collecting Trade," Chapter Five, discusses many basic, but essential, elements of coin collecting. Some of the most important elements include coin storage (many coins have been ruined by improper storage), tools for viewing your coins (light source and magnifier), and an inventory list or computer program. Ganz also talks about coin clubs and coin museums.

Chapter Six looks at different ways to acquire coins for your collection. Chapter subheadings include "Pocket Change," "Bulk Acquisition from Banks," dealer junk boxes, "Local Merchants," and "The Internet." In one sidebar, "Buying Coins Directly from the Mint," Ganz provides a list of several mints (e.g., United States, France, England, Japan, Australia, Canada) complete with mailing addresses, phone numbers, and web addresses.

Chapter Seven considers an issue that's nearly always at the top of any collector's mind: "What's It Worth?" As Ganz expresses it, "People collect coins for many different reasons, but the storehouse of value that each contains ranks high with nearly every collector." Some of the chapter's subheadings include "Quantities Minted," "Quantities in Circulation," "Mintmarks," and the all-important "Grading." One of the sidebars contains a list of grading/certification services, complete with web addresses.

Chapter Eight asks a question whose answer can make or ruin a collector's day: "Is It Genuine?" In this chapter, Ganz talks about how much better the situation is today than it was a couple of generations ago. Now, we have certification services that will, for a fee, determine whether or not a coin is a counterfeit or has been altered. As Ganz puts it, "Two things simultaneously weakened the scourge of counterfeiting: first, the creation of the American Numismatic Association Authentication Trust (ANAT, later ANACS) certification service; second, passage by Congress of the Hobby Protection Act."

Chapter Nine, "Managing Your Collection," covers some of the same ground discussed in an earlier chapter, as it opens with sections devoted to storing and inventorying your collection. However, Ganz, as an attorney, gets into an important, but not widely discussed problem for the collector: What will become of your collector when you die? Some of the suggestions Ganz makes include having a current inventory, preparing a list of individuals or firms that you would trust to handle your collection, and leaving written instructions for your heirs.

Chapter 10, "Coins of Distinction," discusses and pictures some of the ultrarare coins in the Smithsonian's collection. Examples include a 1933 gold $20, a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and an 1804 silver dollar.

With a list price of $19.95, this 154-page paperback book contains a wealth of information for the new (and more established) collector. It's well-written, beautifully illustrated, and fully deserving of a slot in your numismatic library. It can be ordered directly from the publisher, HarperCollins, or from online booksellers such as Amazon.


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