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
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
"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
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
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.