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Don't Just Watch Gold
February 05, 2010

Economic statistics have always interested me. I began reading them when I started delivering newspapers at the age of 11.

At first it was simply the prices of gold and silver that interested me, but both were government controlled at the time and so did not need checking daily. I slowly branched out to reading the financial news and commodity prices.

This process did not occur overnight, but it did occur.

Connecting the numbers to numismatics is always the challenge.

There are people who mistake the prices of silver and gold for a barometer of the health of coin collecting. They are not.

The peak of the coin boom of 1964 was followed by a terrible hobby crash that nearly cost the founder of this firm, Chet Krause, the company. But since there was no hobby stock exchange to point to, it happened below the public radar.

Personally, I was swimming against the prevailing tide, but I had a job. I had the desire to spend some of my income on coins.

Even as others hobbyists were leaving the hobby in droves, silver got frisky after government controls were lifted and the remaining hobbyists were fascinated by it. Some made money on it.

The overall health of the hobby, though, is based on the number of participants. These participants are limited in their actions by their incomes and in turn their incomes are dependent on whether they have jobs.

While it is interesting and even profitable to watch silver and gold prices, a figure that does a better job of hobby health forecasting is simply the employment numbers.

The last time unemployment was as high as it is now was the early 1980s. Economic recovery then helped generate a hobby boom that was led by silver dollars.

Today it was announced that another 20,000 employees were cut in January. Some of them likely are coin collectors.

As they cut their hobby expenditures to stay financially afloat, their cutbacks will work their way through all of numismatics. These cuts run from proof sets to modern commemoratives to anything else that the average collector buys. Ouch.

Robust numismatic health will not return until robust economic health does.

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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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