Ian Fenn's Blog

28 Apr 2015

The Difference between a Numismatist and a Coin collector.

Coins | Ian Fenn

I am writing this blog while waiting for the forecast rain storm to come and more importantly the post. I have already been to the gym and finished mowing the lawns. My real aim in waiting for the post is to receive a parcel from California not a coin, a rare lens. That lens, printing Nikkor 105mm F 2.8, will be the subject of a blog in a couple of weeks assuming I get it. The seller has already emailed me early this morning asking if I received it. The seller is an old hand at selling movie equipment ( the lens was designed for "printing" movies) but is very new to eBay. I suspect his concern is that under the new EBay rules a newbie seller doesn't get their hands on the money until positive feedback has been received.

I have been on the receiving end of that policy and hated it. The lens is valued at over US$1000.00 is a big item and for that amount of cash to be held in effective escrow is frustrating. The only thing is in this case is I would never have been a buyer if it weren't for EBay's new policy, as there is just no way would I have parted with so much cash to an eBay newbie.

This morning USPS sent me an email saying the lens had cleared Customs, from past experience I know that there is a 60% chance it will be delivered between 10:00 and 13:00. So apart from wanting to play with my new toy, I also want to give that eBay seller his due so I am waiting at home till 1300.

What better way to spend my waiting time than to write another blog?

I know a few people read these blogs but it doesn't seem to be too many. I really hope I am not boring the socks off people!!! So if you do read it and want to give me a little encouragement, please give me some feedback (even just by replying with the single word "read") that way I will know I am not rambling to an "empty room" or worse driving people to despair with inane pointless ramblings. Jake if you read this how about a read counter for blogs?

When I attended my first summer seminar in 2013 was really surprised to find people referring to each other as numismatists. I immediately felt out of place! I was just a lowly collector amongst the academic elite. It didn't take me long to realize it was a minor case of culture shock.Coin collectors in the USA are regarded as numismatists.I first started looking at coin collecting at the height of the Hunt brother's market machinations. Many of you knowing history will not be surprised to read that my budding interest was quickly extinguished, add in marriage, kids (in that order) and mortgage and you know the long hiatus that ensued. In 2000 I moved from lil' ol NZ to Vienna Austria. As is not unusual in a career life cycle, the move to Vienna occurred at a time when I was just getting my head above the financial waterline. By the end of 2003 I was collecting coins seriously I had the spare cash!!!. I was a coin collector there was no way in Europe I could be called anything else!

Europe has a long history in academic numismatics. In the part of Europe of Europe I live coin collecting was first and foremost a hobby of emperors and the aristocracy. An aside: Vienna is home to one of the world's most important coin collections a collection started by the Hapsburg's . So for at least a few hundred years Numismatics has been the field of academics. The Vienna University has a Numismatics department, its status was such that up until a few years ago the prerequisites for studying numismatics was fluency in Latin and ancient Greek

I have met members of the faculty and many of them have titles of professor. Nearly all are highly esteemed in the world numismatic community. To call them coin collectors would be a grave insult. Like wise to call me a numismatist is to insult the years of study and research they have behind their titles. So I describe myself as a coin collector and an amateur student of numismatics.

The US coin collecting world is unique; it's a huge market driven hobby. So huge that it drives the other markets in Europe, Asia and Oceania. The very commercialization of the hobby in the USA has benefited the whole world of coin collecting and numismatics. It influences the market in Vienna. Germany, London, New Zealand e.t.c. However, we shouldn't forget the difference between collecting and studying. So as much as I admire the American coin world I think that same "world"needs to understand the academic side. So, for me, at least there has to be a difference between a collector and a numismatist, even though both are the "obverse" and "reverse" of the hobby we love.

So what do I think the difference between a collector and a numismatist is:

A Coin collector is someone who "fills albums". He or she may start with the key coins they rely on others for information. That information comes from books, market reports, magazines and coin clubs. A coin collector, metaphorically speaking, "buys the book before the coin"

A numismatist researches coins using them to learn how people once lived. A numismatist is the archeologist of money. More often than not it is the numismatist who makes new discoveries, and who can tell us the importance a particular coin. A numismatist "writes" the story of the coin.

I am sure you understand that I believe not all coin collectors are numismatist, but many if not all numismatist's were once coin collectors. It's 1200 and time for lunch so I will cut this ramble here. If even you don't agree I hope I have given you food for thought.

The Picture: an Axumite coin( Christian era). The work of Professor Hahn ( retired) and other numismatists helped understand the history of one of the first, if not the first, Christian empires: AXUM



Level 5

Very nice article. I like your conclusion.


Level 7

Ian there is one thing your forgetting. A lot of these blogs don't have research. You have to judge each one on its own merits. Some of these people are yn's they don't have books or access to them to do research. They don't care about history. Some just want to collect. Yes they want to fill holes. How did the experts start collecting investment coins. No I'm willing to bet the so called professional started by filling holes. People develop over time. There practice on collecting will change. You just don't wake up one day and decide your not a collector anymore but one of the experts. Believe me it took them time just like anyone else.


Level 4

Hey Ian, Good overview from a different point of view - Some may or may not agree - But that is how opinion plays out doesn't it - Thanks for the write up & enjoy that lens SpartaCuse


Level 6

Thanks for the very informative blog.


Level 7

Didn't know there was a difference. Anyone who reads the book is learning about the history of the coin and it's origin's. About the people there history how the coin came into existence. So what's the difference between the books you do your research in than anyone else?. I'm sorry you put it that way. I'll tell you why. This is the ANA. Now I know the interpretation of those three letters. I'm 62 year's old and I learn something about coins everyday by reading books and blogs. Because here were all the same. We collect coins for what they are. To learn. To enjoy one of the greatest hobbys in the world. To enjoy holding a coin maybe a couple of years old or one made a century ago. So what's the difference. There is none. I enjoy what I do as millions do. I enjoy writing blogs and reading them. I enjoy making friends. If this makes me less intellectual than a Numismatic than so be it. I'm making money learning and having a great time. Thanks for taking time to write your blog. It's important that collector's write what they know so other's can pick things up. Take care Mike.


Level 5

Good info


Level 4

People who run museums and write numismatic books and catalogues also "fill albums" whether real or metaphorical. Let's be honest here: coin collecting, or the act of filling albums, is a hobby. A hobby is primarily a leisure activity aimed at relieving stress by distracting the mind along some particular line of interest. Thus professional numismatists may just as well be called hobbyists because, unlike dentists and plumbers, there is no imperative societal need for their services; no doubt professional numismatists make a living at it because they enjoy it. Numismatics can be differentiated from coin collecting as a hobby insofar as numismatics is primarily an intellectual pursuit; individual coins or collections are the means by which to increase one's knowledge and understanding of the objects themselves as artifacts of material culture, or of the particular historical era within which they were produced. Numismatists who make significant original contributions to this pool of knowledge and understanding and share it with others are known as "eminent numismatists." Certainly many numismatists are also coin collectors and/or dealers, or perhaps curate public collections in lieu of or in addition to maintaining their own. However, to assume that the only people deserving of the title "Numismatist" are those who have the luxury and inclination to become university professors in departments of numismatics at European universities is incredibly elitist. I imagine that very few of these professors, fluent as they are in both Greek and Latin, also hail from less than privileged economic backgrounds. Thus I am quite happy to hurl a "grave insult" at these scholars by grouping them in with us lowly coin collectors. And it is insulting to me that I should not also be considered a numismatist, because it assumes that I am not, nor can I ever be, a serious student of the coins I collect for study.

Ian Fenn

Level 5

Sorry you read it that way. I have met these people and they are not privileged and have worked extremely hard. In my collecting field I am horrified at the poor research and written work by some collectors,, the people I understand you call imminent numismatists. Have a look at the coin weekly articles on the coin I collect the Maria theresa thaler published in October and November last year. The writer actually called restrikes original, also stated wrongly the coin was first restruck in 1783 ( I have seen the mint records for Guenzburg and Vienna and the coins were first restruck in 1781). What was horrifying was that author was actually claiming references that, had he actually read them, would never had made the assertion he had. I already have people emailing me sending me the article and all I do is cringe!!! As I said Academic numismatists are one side of the coin, and collectors the other, both contribute. But collectors can learn a lot from the academics .


Level 3

An enjoyable read. Thanks for your thoughts.


Level 4



Level 4

Thank you for sharing -I read it all .


Level 6

Thank you for sharing! Great blog!

Ian Fenn

Level 5

Juno=> I will have to do some checking... I suspect that it was done via a mercury amalgam...the coin would only need a little heating to drive the mercury away.

Ian Fenn

Level 5

I have had it confirmed. the gilding was added by using a gold and mercury amalgam . the coin was heated to evaporate the mercury leaving the gold plating

Juno Moneta

Level 4

It's a rare numismatist that also delves into the philosophy of coin collecting. Coincidently, I recently come across some other interesting coins of Axum, they all exhibited a gold colored center devise. Ian, do you know the nature of that and how it was accomplished? I enjoyed the blog thoroughly - Thanks!


Level 2

I have read this article and enjoyed it. Thank you for writing it.

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