I recently picked up a trio of books by Q. David Bowers: Virgil Brand: The Man and His Era (1983); The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection (1988); and The Norweb Collection: An American Legacy (with Michael Hodder )(1987). I found the many stories within fascinating.
While these volumes can make for heavy reading (sometimes literally), they also allow contemporary collectors to peer into the hobby as it once was. Although things are much more technical and technological nowadays, the key things haven't changed. The coins are still the heart of it all, and the interplay, rivalry and camaraderie among collectors is still the best part.
Before PCGS, before the industry turned to a one-size-fits-all version of the Sheldon Scale, before internet coin sales, per grade population reports, and other features found in today's coin markets, American numismatics was dominated by giants. These towering figures competed against one another, often in person at notable auctions, to assemble timeless sets that collectors still marvel at, talk about, and seek out pieces from.
For a hobby so rooted in the past, it's important sometimes to step out of it and think for a moment about the present. The truth of the matter is that we as modern collectors are the heirs to a legacy left to us by such storied greats as Lorin Parmelee, John J. Ford, Colonel E. H. R. Green, King Farouk of Egypt, Louis Eliasberg, Virgil Brand, et al. And as big as these gentlemen were in their day and even now, modern collections are being built that equal or exceed the fantastic sets assembled in the past. Simply put, giants still roam among us.
Spend a few hours looking through the hundreds of possible sets in the PCGS Set Registry and you're bound to stumble upon a well-thought-out collection of beautiful, high-end coins. In a series that we know so well, namely the Eisenhower dollar, there are coins in the top sets the likes of which we'll never see again. The lowly Ike, dismissed because of its clad composition and all-too-frequently woe-begotten presentation, is elevated in these sets to a position of high art. Beautiful colors and razor sharp strikes, coupled with surfaces serendipitously preserved in MS-67, 68, 69, make you forget everything you knew – or thought you knew – about clad coinage.
For a collector of this series, owning a coin from one of these top sets would be the ultimate thrill.
Thrilling, too, is the chance to own a piece of three recent and very impressive pedigree sets. The North Shore Collection of Standing Liberty quarters was offered for sale at the Long Beach Show in January, 2012. Four top population pieces from that set's rival, the arguably superior Just Having Fun Collection, will be offered later this month at Stack's Bowers Americana Sale in New York. Lastly, the mesmerizing Cardinal Collection of 18th and 19th century American rarities, perhaps one of the most significant collections of 18th and 19th century American rarities ever assembled, will also be offered at the Stack's Bowers sale.
The story of how these sets were assembled, by whom and at what price could likely fill a few volumes like the three books I read. Maybe these stories will be told at some future date by this generation's Q. David Bowers. Until then, it's exciting just to know that numismatic history is unfolding all around us. Some of us are even fortunate enough to walk among giants ourselves – though we may not know it yet. And thanks to tools like CoinFacts and Set Registries, we can watch today's greatest collections being assembled.
Someone should write a book about that!