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Introduction & Overview
Numismatics, the study and collecting of coins, medals, tokens and paper money, had its beginning in the Renaissance, when men of leisure rediscovered the art and history of the ancient world. Then as now, coins offered a unique insight into vanished worlds of the past, and coin collecting was the fashionable pursuit of the affluent and educated in European society.
For centuries, numismatics was literally the hobby of kings.
The Habsburg rulers of Austria, Britain's King Charles I, German and Italian princes were among the most avid collectors. The vast fortune of the Rothschild family had its seeds in the rare coins sold under the Red Shield" which hung over a little shop in Frankfurt's 18th century Judengasse. P Hessian Landgrave Friedrich II financed his coin collecting in part by sale of his subjects as mercenary soldiers to the forces of British King George III. In more recent times, Russian Grand Duke George Mikhailovitch amassed a great collection of his country's coins and medals. Italy's King Victor Emanuel III emerged as one of the greatest numismatists of all time. The collection of Egyptian King Farouk seized the headlines when it was sold at auction after his ouster.
Coin collecting blossomed in the United States in the first half of the l9th century. Early collectors such as Matthew Stickney, Joseph J. Mickley, Montroville W. Dickeson, Lorin G. Parmelee, Charles I. Bushnell, R. Coulton Davis, Sylvester S. Crosby and others laid the foundation of systematic collecting of American material.
Early dealers and auctioneers such as Edward Cogan, Augustus Sage, Ebenezer Mason, Capt. John Haseltine, William Idler, Edouard Frossard, J.W. Scott,Lyman Low, W. Elliott Woodward, Henry and Samuel Hudson Chapman created the world of American commercial numismatics. A later generation would include Thomas L. Elder, Wayte Raymond, B. Max Mehl and many more.
United States Mint Director James Ross Snowden launched the Washington Cabinet of Medals and began restriking various rare coins to use as trading stock in his quest for rare Washington items, then the hottest things in U. S. numismatics. Through out much of that century, the Mint was a major force in the world of coin collecting.
Collectors of that era sought American Colonial coins and tokens, early United States copper coins, Indian Peace and Washington medals, Hard Times and temperance tokens, political items, world and ancient coins with the same avidity. Local and national organization sprang up, including the New York-based American Numismatic Society in 1858.
Publication of Augustus G. Heaton's book Mint Marks in 1893 led to a fundamental shift in collecting toward regular issue U.S. coins by date and Mint mark. Wayte Raymond confirmed this trend by introducing his National coin albums in the early 1930s, making it possible to store coins in an orderly manned and have them available for easy display at the same time.
In the 1885-1930 era, great collections were amassed by such figures as the Garrett family of Baltimore, H.O. Granberg, Virgil Brand of Chicago, Col. E.H.R. Green, William H. Woodin, the Norwebs of Cleveland.
A more popular type of numismatics was served by the American Numismatic Association (ANA), founded by Dr. George Heath in 1891. Popular numismatics swept the field dramatically in the Depression years with the appearance of the first of the "penny boards," invented by J.K. Post of Neenah, Wis., and marketed by R.S. Yeoman of Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine. Inexpensive albums made assembling sets of Lincoln cents from circulation a national craze and brought millions of Americans into coin collecting.
Lee F. Hewitt of Chicago introduced the influential monthly magazine Numismatic Scrapbook in 1935. Raymond's Standard Catalogue of United States Coins made accurate information available, freeing collectors of reliance on widely distributed but self-serving dealer house organs such as Mehl's Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia.
The continuing post-war information explosion began when Yeoman's new Guide Book of United States Coins first appeared in 1946. The arrival of numismatic newspapers, Numismatic News, which began as a biweekly in 1952, and Coin World as a weekly in 1960, transformed the marketplace.
The fast-developing coin market saw many cycles. One of the first was the 1939 commemorative coin boom, followed at length by booms in Proof sets in the 1950s, rolls and bags in the 1960s.
During the 1970s a new class of active coin investor entered the market. Many established coin firms served such investors, but more were reached by telemarketers, aggressive sellers of coin via telephone solicitation.
Grading has been an intrinsic part of the coin market since the beginning and has remained a controversial area ever since. Strictly speaking, grading should be a description of the amount of wear, if any, that a coin has received since leaving the Mint.
Most frequently used terms and their abbreviations are Poor, Fair, About Good (AG), Good (G), Very Good, (VG), Fine (F), Very Fine (VF), Extremely Fine (EF) About Uncirculated (AU) and Uncirculated (Unc.). Proofs are specially prepared coins, struck on polished blanks between polished dies. Proof (Pr#) is a method of manufacture, not a condition.
Today, grading and price have become so closely interwoven that the statement of a coin's grade has a determining effect on its price. After decades of wrangling, the ANA attempted to standardize grading terms in 1977, when numismatist Abe Kosoff adapted the Sheldon numerical grading scale to all U.S. coins through the book Official ANA Grading; Standards for United States Coins.
This system had been created by Dr. William H. Sheldon in 1945 to grade early American coppers such as the 1794 large cents by condition and color. A value of 1 was given a "basal state" coin, worn virtually smooth. A Mint State 70 coin was a perfect coin that had never seen circulation. Mint State or Uncirculated coins were given numerical grades of MS-60 or better.
The American Numismatic Association Certification Service, ANACS, began third-party grading in 1979, after some years of authenticating coins for the numismatic community. ANACS applied the Sheldon scale to all U.S. coins it graded and showed that a profitable market for independent grading existed.
Early in 1986, the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) was born, offering what it termed precision grading by professional numismatists, including 11 grades of Uncirculated from MS-60 to MS-70. Sonically sealing the coins it graded in rigid plastic holders soon known as "slabs," PCGS made possible sight-unseen trading in coins bearing its assigned grades through a nation-wide network of participating dealers pledged to accept all PCGS grades without question.
Some time later, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America, NGC, began its precision, third-party grading and "slabs" became the basis of a whole new wave of numismatic investment marketing. Today, the most widely used grades and numbers include Good-4, Very Good-8, Fine-12 and 15, Very Fine-20 and 30, Extremely fine-40, Choice Extremely Fine-45, About Uncirculated- 50, Choice About Uncirculated-55. Mint State or Uncirculated grades begin with MS-60. Most often encountered are MS-63, Choice Uncirculated (sometimes called Select); MS-65, Gem Uncirculated (sometimes called Choice); MS 67, Superb Uncirculated; MS-70, the theoretically perfect coin, struck from perfect dies on a perfect planchet.
Copyright ) 1998 by Amos Press, Inc.