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THE REAL NUMISMATIST OF THE CENTURY

By Ed Reiter


A decade ago, with the 1900s drawing to a close, I wondered aloud – or at least in the pages of COINage – who might be considered the most important man or woman in our hobby over the preceding 100 years.

In short, who might be deemed the Numismatist of the Century?

I started with a column listing my own top 10 candidates, and followed that with a greatly expanded article offering the views of seven distinguished panelists. Both were well received, and both were reprinted elsewhere.

The column and re-publications generated several interesting responses. Veteran hobby observers nominated a number of outstanding numismatists whose names had not appeared in the original column and articles. All of these nominees certainly merited inclusion in such a survey.

But the most intriguing response came from a hobbyist who lived in Murray, Utah. He suggested that his nominee “has perhaps had more impact than any of the others,” and then went on to make a persuasive case.

“This person,” he said, “is responsible for:

“1. The very creation of money and its concept.

“2. The act, art, pursuit or perhaps affliction of collecting.

“3. The design, change of design and acceptance or rejection of any given issue.

“4. The success or failure of every ‘coin dealer’ or auction house.

“5. The source for all original numismatic research.

“6. The initiation, continuation and success of numismatic publishing.

“7. The preservation and ‘care taking’ of numismatic material.

“8. The creation of coin clubs, associations and societies.

“9. The rise and fall of the coin markets, values and overall demand.

“10. The satisfaction received from holding history and sharing it with others.

“The list is perhaps endless,” he went on, “and I am sure that it comes as no surprise that my pick for Numismatist of the Century is John Q. Public.

“Without ‘old John,’ all of the others would have no meaning or value. It is indeed ‘old John’ who has done more for the pursuit than any other single individual.”

There’s plenty of food for thought in these remarks. Without a doubt, the individual hobbyist – John or Jane Collector, if you will – is the cornerstone of coin collecting as we know it today, and as it grew and prospered during the 1900s. And as I can attest all too well, it’s an all-but-impossible task to pick one single person who stands above all the rest in such a survey.

“The reason it is impossible to pick one person is very simple,” the Utah man wrote in his thought-provoking letter.

“As the collecting community at large, over history, we have been, are and will continue to be ‘joined at the hip’ in this strange pursuit. As individuals, we are and have nothing. It is only with the inspiration (and perhaps perspiration) of all of the others who are joined with us that the spark of motivation ignites the pursuit that becomes our life’s passion.”

He concluded:

“Old John (who of necessity will remain without gender) is the individual who has the foresight to preserve a bit of the past, even if only to validate his/her own existence. Old John is the one who makes the publications and books, auctions, dealers, clubs, associations and all other advancements in the pursuit necessary.

“Without ‘old John,’ the pursuit does not exist.”

Ten years later, all I can say is: Amen.