By Dr. Steve Carr
When people run a marathon (26+ mile foot race) they sometimes hit “The Wall,” where they basically run out of gas and either cannot continue or must go at a slower pace. When a collector hits “The Wall,” it is not physical - they have either completed a collection or can no longer afford to upgrade it or add any additional examples. There is still the pain of not being able to add to your collection, but it is mental, not physical. What do you do when you hit “The Wall?”
You can always quit. But if you are like me, this was not even an option. Coin collecting is the neatest hobby I have every participated in. There are no set rules on what you have to do next. It is all up to you.
Hitting “The Wall” has been a recurring problem for me. For years, I collected large cents from 1793 through 1839. I currently need only four middle date varieties (1816-1839) and I lack less than 100 early date varieties (1793-1814). The middle dates are all rare and expensive and the early dates are mostly 1793s and 1794s, again fairly expensive in the grades I like. The only way I can get the middle dates is to cherry pick them and the early dates just never seemed to be available. So what did I do?
Collecting another series was the most obvious option. So I started investigating. I had to like the series and it had to be fairly challenging. After a few months, I decided to collect error Kennedy Halves. These were sometimes available at my bank and there were some neat double dies in the series. One date even had a broken collar (these had a lump on the edge). I even found an error 1970-D! This satisfied me for about 6 months. ThenI quit finding new errors to collect.
Obviously, I needed a bigger challenge. I next tried Barber quarters. This is a much under appreciated series that usually comes very worn. There are three tougher dates in this set (I could afford them, I thought) and Barber quarters were available at most coins shows, coin shops, and on line. I plugged away at this set for almost a year, when I decided that one of the keys (1901-S) would be more than I wanted to spend. Even as I worked on this set, I still tried to fill in holes in my large cent collection.
Another “Wall!” This time, I discovered a new area of collecting that now rivals my interest in large cents. This new area was National Bank Notes.
I first learned about these notes at an ANA Summer Seminar class taught by one of the experts in this field, Peter Huntoon. He shared the history of this series (I’m a history buff), showed that there were different series of notes for the different bank charter periods, and made apparent to me that these notes were special. As a bonus, they were also local. Think of all the fun I could have researching a local bank. I was hooked!
I got home and started looking for national bank notes from my home state of Kansas. Fortunately, Kansas notes are pretty common, so there was usually a Kansas note available somewhere. I quickly bought four or five before I decided I needed a strategy for collecting them. My solution was to include all cities and towns within a day’s drive, allowing some time for research. Then I saw a note from Colby, about six driving hours from home. Not in my collecting area. But it was pretty and I really liked it, So I bought it. Now, it seemed I was going to have to collect notes from the entire state.
Over the years, I continued to buy more notes notes. These purchases came from eBay, local dealers, coin shows, and auctions, I have also learned where most towns in Kansas are located (something my kids don’t know!) and have a picture and/or information about many of the banks. I’ve also discovered a collection of Comptroller of the Treasury reports online at https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/title/56. It’s been fun.
This “second” collection has kept me very interested in numismatics. And my large cent collection has not suffered. It continues to slowly grow (enough to keep me interested), with fewer additions. Now, each addition seems more special. For me, this is the ideal situation to keep me interested and active in my hobby.
Perhaps you have also hit “The Wall.” Try a different collection. It may be just what you need to keep your collecting enjoyable.