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Coins now 'California cool'
August 02, 2007

That coin collecting has had a merry run these last 10 years or so is obvious to everyone. Why this occurred has elicited many opinions.

I had a call from a reporter from USA Today on Tuesday. He was doing a story about coins. He wanted to know why they were so hot. I cited the obvious suspects as reasons. I didn't say anything that would startle. Then I went back to work on Numismatic News. The mental wheels kept turning.

One of the stories this week is about Silvano DeGenova and a new gallery he will open in September in Newport Beach, Calif. The new gallery is going to be about 13,000 square feet. That is an amazingly large size, especially when I compare it to the tiny coin shops I grew up with.

Then it dawned on me. Perhaps a contributing factor to the growing appeal of coin collecting is something I will call "California cool."

The phrase may date me, but the meaning should be clear. There are a lot of coin businesses in California. They are run by individuals of my generation. They have done it in a way that has attracted big dollars from outside investors.

There is a cachet to being a coin collector now. We aren't nerds anymore. Collectors are now successful business men and women who want to declare that they have climbed the summit of American business. The flags they want to unfurl are 1913 Liberty Head nickels, one of which is now owned by a Californian, and an 1894-S dime that just switched owners and coasts, making its way to Manhattan.

These are not investors of the 1980s type that sought to make mutual funds out of coins. Not at all. Now it is all about the pride of ownership, the prestige, the "wow" factor. Having the coin is the end in itself. This is a true collector motivation and one that can have staying power.

I will never own a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, but I have held one in my hand. I will never own a 1894-S dime. I've not ever seen one up close, but I would like to.

California dealers have helped achieve this new level of prestige. They were not alone in this achievement, but it was their way of doing things that seems to be the pattern to be copied.

Well done, California. California cool is a much better reason to buy a coin than Wall Street could give us.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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