Rich Market or Mints Last Stop
By David C. Harper
as to whether coins are becoming obsolete is one
that has been on the minds of many collectors. A
rapid decline and elimination of the use of
coins in everyday commercial transactions would
be followed a generation later by a group of
people of prime collecting age who would have no
real memories of coins.
It is these individual memories that most often
provide an initial basis, or the initial
impulse, to go and collect coins.
With ever increasing use of debit and credit
cards, it is easy to see the theoretical
possibilities of a disappearance of coins, but
practical considerations mean that coins should
endure a long time beyond the point they become
My question here is are the world's mints
accelerating the trend to coinage obsolescence
by their own collector coin policies?
Coins caught on 2,700 years ago in Asia Minor
because they are a convenient way of valuing
transactions because they provide a standard
size and weight of a metal of commonly
Their utility hinged on their familiarity and
the trust people placed in issuing authorities.
Money changers arrived because over time there
became so many issues of varying weights and
fineness that they could take a piece of the
action due to their greater familiarity with
coins that a farmer, shepherd, fisherman or even
estate owner could never hope to match.
Advances in world trade and well being often
followed attempts to standardize issues or when
one particular issue swept all others aside and
became the common monetary unit of measure.
Successful coins were widely used and
recognized. The most recent example of this
phenomenon was the creation and growth in the
use of the South African Krugerrand, which
reigned in the 1970s as the World's Best Way to
It was made of a recognizable metal of standard,
design, weight and fineness. It offered owners
convenience and peace of mind. Their numbers
exploded. This created the paradox. Money only
has value if it is scarce. Nations like Zimbabwe
that make money common launch inflationary
cycles. However, within this overall scarcity,
successful coin issues are common enough to
become widely recognized.
In the last 30 to 40 years, coins produced for
collectors have become completely divorced from
commercial transactions and the average
population. The impetus of novelty pushed mints
to proliferate sizes, metals, finenesses, face
values and designs that even professionals
cannot keep up with them all. Editors of the
Standard Catalog more and more find issues from
years ago that somehow nobody noticed for
incorporation in the reference guides.
Coins sold to collectors, in say, Germany, are
offered nowhere else, but even most Germans
would not recognize the issues because they are
not used by them at a transactional level.
If the world's collector population is
confronted with coins that have declining
utility in everyday life and designs that have
become so numerous that most are not recognized
when they are encountered, are not mints
contributing to their own eventual downfall?
Rather than a lucrative market, collectors may
be the last link in coins' relevance. How long
before the link breaks?