That’s what happened with me. As a youngster I assembled a massive collection of coins. When I got my first Redbook I was ready to complete a series in a particular denomination. Capped Bust Half Dimes were my first love. They’re cute, weigh almost nothing but are filled with a beautiful design and age so well. But the prices were a little high at the time and in order to get a pleasing coin that was problem free was going to cost me about $50 at the time. Children aren’t patient and I was no exception.
Another option was Roosevelt Dimes. These were incredibly affordable in mint state condition (still are today). I loved those with rainbow toning on the rims, seeping onto the field of the coin. Unfortunately my interest waned because they all had such a similar design. Like many children I was bored quickly.
I remember going through the cases of a local coin show and spotting an Indian Head Cent that didn’t look like the rest. It had a boat on it, called the Monitor. I thought that was really neat. Next to it were examples with a beehive, one with a cannon and another with a dog. Each were different designs and each had a very interesting story to tell. The dealer told me they were Civil War tokens and even showed me an example of a store card from my native Toledo Ohio. I purchased two and was hooked.
Since then I have bought and sold many Civil War tokens but have also graduated into many areas of tokens and exonumia – a field few get involved in. I have since grown into a young man and taken several interests in U.S. coins including the two I had previously abandoned. However my collecting interests have jumped into Trade Tokens, Hard Times Tokens, Shell Cards, Encased Coins, Food Stamp Tokens and dozens of other off shoots.
Tokens and exonumia offer a great opportunity for most collectors, young and old, to acquire a more diverse collection but also to assemble it on their own terms and often at more favorable prices. What I mean by this is, there are few set rules to collecting these items. There are few series that are actually a series, that can be defined by a first issue and a last issue. Few can be called a complete collection. In the Civil War tokens for example, one could hundreds of different examples from the state of New York that are completely unique – no other examples exist. Another collector could have many more that are unique. Neither collector will have a full and complete collection.
I like this because it takes off some of the boundaries that a price guide or a folder provide (not always a bad thing) and allows collectors the opportunity to define their collection based on what they are interested in. That first collector of New York tokens might only want to collect issues from New York City and no other city. The other collector might only want to collect issues from doctors and dentists from all across the state. Both would have outstanding and meaningful collections.
As you can imagine, there is probably not too much competition in these issues which is another great reason to get involved in tokens and exonumia. Of course though that is definitely chaning as investors and collectors with big pockets begin to discover the fun on this side of the collecting fence. One great way to tell if a particular token or piece of exonumia is going up in price is if it’s included in the Redbook. Although not always true, examples that are include some early American tokens of obscurity to most, Hard Times Tokens, Civil War tokens Feuchtwanger tokens, and Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation tokens.
If you are fascinated by any of these series I invite you to join the TAMS, NTCA or the CWTS. Each are great organizations with lively journals dedicated to the collectors of other items. There are also some great recent publications by Q. David Bowers, the proflific author. For comprehensive introduction, I recommend a copy of Russell Rulau’s books and a trip through the bargain bin or junk bin of your local coin show. Most collectors don’t care for these and that’s fine by me!