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Do You Speak the Coin Language?
July 27, 2011

Have coin hobbyists lost the ability to communicate with each other in simple language?

I am beginning to wonder.

I wrote a while back about a collector who bought a five-coin 2010 America the Beautiful bullion coin set of 5-ounce coins early this year when the hobby was going crazy about them and their 33,000-coin mintage.

As other issues came out, the 2011 ATB bullion coins and the 2010 uncirculated collector ATB coins, that collector apparently got confused as to just what it was he bought.

He asked me what he had.

I told him.

The Mint contributes to this confusion by not making proof versions of the coins. The collector version is what it calls uncirculated.

However, uncirculated as a term also justifiably applies to the bullion coins, even though they have a more brilliant surface than the collector version, which is a more matte-like vapor-blasted surface.

They are two distinct finishes, yes, but they are both uncirculated.

Yesterday I get an email forwarded to me from the Numismatic News ad department. An advertiser is asking what collectors mean when they call up and ask for the America the Beautiful collector sets or bullion sets.

It’s not like this advertiser is not selling both. Then it might be understandable.

I email back my definition of collector and bullion coins.

What do we do as a hobby to prevent confusion, give every new numismatic product its own unique serial number?

Yes, I’d like to order coin No. 9904683.

Do we read off orders like airline itineraries?

That’ll be one 2010 America the Beautiful uncirculated collector set, which includes five coins minted at the Philadelphia Mint and each has a “P” mintmark and exhibits a vapor-blasted surface.

If the coins are in third-party slabs they also might be what are called early release coins, which is supposed to be more desirable. This requires more explanation.

Don’t you dare simply ask for a collector set or a bullion set.

And, yes, I know, I am opening myself up here by using this example because the fifth and final collector issue of the 2010 designs is actually not available from the Mint until tomorrow.

As we know, Mint order takers act as if you are from Mars if you ask for a coin that is not yet available and they can give the impression that the coins will never ever be available, thus panicking collectors to immediately contact me.

Perhaps we should require coin orders to be placed in French.

Yeah, now there’s an idea.

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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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