Bonding with Our Coins
By James Higby
March 2008

There I sat toward the end of the first day of a two-day show, having found nothing for the collection. Even Tom Reynolds's copper stock, always broad and deep, had failed to yield any needed variety, at least in the way-down-low state of preservation to which I have had to resort in these latter days of collection-building. Tom had a corner setting at this particular show, with what I call his "cheap seats" (where I was firmly ensconced) down the aisle, and his more stratospheric items on the endcap table. Just for fun, I craned my neck over to the more pricey Boardwalk/Park Place area, where he also displays his slabs, and, squinting mightily, thought I spied an item that had twice eluded me in the past - a silver dollar bearing the mystical date of 1799. The more recent of those second-place finishes had found me on cellphone hold with a favorite dealer, who, when he came back to my call and heard what I wanted, had to tell me that he wished I had initiated my call 13 seconds sooner. Yes, there I sat, remembering all that, and loaded for bear.

The chairs at Tom's end table were occupied, so he obliged my request that he get it out of the case for me. What a beauty it was in its PCGS holder, with its original color and surfaces, plus a delightful array of die cracks here and there on the obverse (did I just now prematurely betray that I brought it home with me?)! I quickly became oblivious to my surroundings, going over the coin again and again, as Bill Noyes advises in the introduction to his books, to find any and all defects that might be there. I must have flipped the slab between obverse and reverse two dozen times, before another EAC member and friend sitting next to me leaned over and wryly observed, "You're bonding with that coin, aren't you?" That was the first time I had ever been asked that question. I responded with another question: "How did you know?" "I recognize the look," was his answer.

Suddenly a host of questions coursed through my mind: Was I sweating, or worse, drooling? Could he somehow detect my elevated adrenaline level from afar? Were my increased pulse and blood pressure observable from the outside? Was I [gasp] breathing heavily? Or babbling meaningless syllables? Was I "sugaring the strawberries," as the French refer to tremors of the hands? Was I humming my college fight song without realizing it? No, a quick check answered in the negative to all. But I'm still not really sure. In any event, thanks to Jeff Noonan for identifying and naming this phenomenon and inspiring this essay.

All of us have probably observed it in others, even if we are not aware of it in ourselves. We have watched someone else sitting at a dealer's table, mulling over a potential purchase, justifying and rationalizing until the decision is made. Some of these potential buyers maintain a constant patter of verbal interchange with themselves and with the dealer, while others, such as I, contemplate the purchase in silence. The painful part, handing over the wad of greenbacks or writing out the check, is mercifully over in practically no time, and the coin is now his/ours. We then relive the many times we have gone through the exact same sequence of activity in adding a coin to our collection. Into a secure place in the coin bag it goes, along with assorted other things that have attracted our fancy at the show. When it's time to go home, the coin bag is kept close at hand, just in case we have an opportunity to cop a quick glance at our new treasure while sitting at a red light or other suitable time. The bonding continues…

It seems that the return to the home domicile is always accompanied by many distractions: wife and kids to greet, mail to sort through, dog to wrestle with, voice mail to triage, weekend "work" emails (don't those guys ever take a day off?) and plumbing emergencies to handle. "Oh, and your Mom called, twice. She didn't say what she wanted." As we go about the fulfillment of these obligations, we do not forget that a fresh bonding session eventually awaits us. But it may be hours before we can get back to the coin cache, or, if it was a Sunday show, maybe days.

Ah, finally, it's Wednesday evening, the most urgent obligations of the work week have been dispatched, the kids are off to jobs and music lessons, we're caught up on at least some of the reading material, and find ourselves in the sole company of Fido, now fed and pottied and contentedly chewing on a rawhide bone. We remember the treasures we brought home from that now long-ago weekend coin show. We rescue the coin bag from behind some things that have accumulated in front of it: our bowling bag from Monday evening, our briefcase containing work we really should be doing instead of looking at coins, and our son's guitar case that he just didn't have time to put away. But once we dig into the special compartment reserved for the latest acquisitions and carefully draw them out, we know we're in for a pleasant evening.

Old copper coins are such easy things to bond with! Perhaps more than any other early American coins, they have both the look and feel of times gone by. The fact that they were used by rich and common people alike adds to their appeal. Far from being flashy, they look humble themselves, sometimes worthy of our pity as much as our admiration. Unaffected by the current spot price of bullion, they have to stand entirely on their own merit. But there was that something about these coppers from the show that especially attracted our attention, so we afford them extra time. We wonder if Lady Liberty feels the same about us as we feel about her.

When I have several new coins to look at in a single session, I like to get them all out and arrange them in some sort of symmetrical pattern on the top of my desk and under the bright lamp. I try to include some of my older acquisitions so that they will all get to know each other better. Doing so emphasizes the spectacular range of colors that old copper takes on, and the less attractive ones are somehow acquitted of the charges against them and validated by their acceptance into the company of the nicer pieces. After all, they might just have feelings, and I wish all my coins to feel good about themselves while they are in my custody.

So, I bond with them. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, for me and for them. As coins become harder and harder to locate and buy, the realization grows that I might be coming closer to the time when new purchases are fewer and farther between, all the more reason to fall more deeply in love with the ones I have managed to make part of my life. At some future time each of us will purchase our "last" coin, usually without knowing that it is our "last." Perhaps more true than with any other series, we buy our coppers less for financial gain, and more for highly emotional reasons. Thus should we gather our coppers while we may, and make it a point to find the time to spend with them and strengthen the bond we have made with them across the centuries.


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