By Greg Burns
It struck me the other day. I was in a used book store with my wife. We were on a three day week-end vacation, just us, no kids. And here I was browsing through the book section on Canada looking for something relating to the colonial period of Canadian history. HISTORY, I thought? Ick. Isnt that the subject I used to sleep through in school? What am I doing here actually using a precious commodity like my scarce vacation time trying to find books on this stuff?
I picked up coin collecting a few years ago after a ten or fifteen year hiatus. For whatever reason, part of my interest seems to have evolved to include early Canada. It started out innocently enough. At first it was just a token or two that happened to be a little over a hundred and fifty years old.
Gee, thats real old, I thought, and cheap too! So I picked up one or two.
But then I needed a book about them, something to help with attributions. After all, isnt one of the most common phrases a newcomer hears Buy the book before the coin? So I picked up a copy of the Charlton guide.
The first book was good for the basics, but as I discovered more of these pieces that interested me, I found that there were other types. And many of the types had different varieties. Of course, my first book didnt cover all of these things, but it did have a bibliography so I could find other books that did.
Now, some of the books are rather uncommon things. So the next order of business was to join the American Numismatic Association so that I could take advantage of the library mailing service that they offer. A fine thing, I was able to get access to many of the scarce publications so that I could determine which I wanted to pursue for permanent acquisition (and which only had one or two minor items of importance which, I blush to admit, I copied).
Now, its a remarkable thing, but once you start reading these books you start getting a flavor of what the authors are like. You develop favorites. They become like friends. Long distance ones, but ones you feel comfortable with -- like an old pair of well broken-in shoes.
Addictive as this is, I soon found that membership in just the ANA wasnt enough. I had sucked their library dry of all of the reading matter that could easily be identified as an item of interest. Soon I had to join the Canadian Numismatic Association, then the California State Numismatic Association, then the Token and Medal Society. My goodness, where does it all stop?
Remember, all this time Id also been looking for numismatic items from this area of interest. At first the most recognizable coins and tokens, then later the more esoteric ones, perhaps the ones some of the more obscure authors make reference to. Sooner or later the subject of paper money comes up also ... gotta have an example of one of those. Jetons, medals, stock certificates, all start to have some interesting connections.
Sooner or later I find that I want to know more about each of the different pieces Ive acquired. Who made it? How was it manufactured and why? What kind of people used it and how were their lives different from mine?
Well, one of the best ways to answer these types of questions is by reverting to that practice long forgotten. Reading history books.
Not just the books with history in the title, but books written contemporary to the time of interest, newspapers yellowed with age, published diaries, advertisements, anything that might have some new comment or unusual tidbit not noticed elsewhere.
And the little gem of our affection, the coin, sits in the palm of our hand like the perfect link with the past, a tangible artifact of peoples and times gone by.
Of course, this summary ignores the appreciation of our treasures for all of the other reasons we hold so dear: their artistic beauty, their possible scarcity (were creatures of avarice after all, arent we?), the fact that they make some type of a collection of like objects and can fill holes so to speak (the nature of people to categorize and sort things).
What a consuming hobby! So many ways for each of us to be interested in what and how we collect. Now if we can just call that interest in old stuff that isnt around anymore something other than history."
snail mail: GCC, c/o Michael Kittle, P.O. Box 388, Agoura Hills, CA 91376-0388