When I was in high school everyone in my life told me just: “go to college and study your passion.” My high school counselor did not offer any specific advice. He just said, “do what you love!” I loved coins and I loved history but neither were just going to hand me a job like everyone made it out to be.
The world economy went into recession during my third year at a public university. I remember when the news came on and Bear Sterns collapsed. I was on my way to one of those fluff humanities classes, pursuing my history degree. It was the kind of class that taught nothing that actually translated into job skills or applicable resume building.
I graduated in 2012 in a changed world. Everyone had degrees and because I choose a history degree and foolishly believed what everyone said about just doing what I loved, I entered a hopeless job market. I took several jobs working in food service, with my passion for numismatics always on the back of my mind.
Numismatics Usually Isn’t a Career for Most it’s a Hobby
What kind of job could I have as a numismatist I thought? Times have changed and funding for jobs related to coins and money had to have been sparse. I dug a little deeper and found that many of the jobs were volunteer based.
I worked really hard and started doing research. The goal was to write my first article for publication in a numismatic journal. The thrill was unreal. I loved digging into archives and using my history skills, that I had previously taken for granted. Unfortunately there was no pay in sight. I could certainly continue for the love of it, but what would I do to make a living?
Unfortunately most numismatists are not career numismatists. In fact, most of my fellow peers are quite learned professionals, some being doctors, engineers, public service workers, professors, and school teachers. On the opposite a few were even on the brink of poverty, yet still maintained an ability to collect coins. I thought nobody outside of the leading authors and professional dealers made a living off of numismatics. So I decided to dig deeper.
I did not want to be a rare coin dealer, although that certainly was and still is a possibility. I had been a part-time dealer in the past with much success, though feared holding a large and expensive inventory and the costs associated with insuring it. It seemed like that was the only way though to make a working with coins.
Work is Supposed to be Work – No Short Cuts
Why couldn’t my passion be my career? The leading bloggers of my age group were teaching their readers: less is more and to take time off to discover yourself. I didn’t have money to discover myself! Student loans ate up just about all of the money I had each month. Were they living in some kind of fantasy world? Perhaps my generation takes for granted that we don’t have to mine coal, run a farm, or scale steel beams to make a living. Perhaps we have just too much time to think about this and not enough physical labor to make us thankful for what we have.
Still, with the tools and resources we have, I was determined to make at least some of my career dependent on my passion and expertise of coins. It would take time. If you don’t have a spouse that can support you while you are trying to follow your dream I highly recommend you take a different path. It can be a struggle.
I started my path by going back in time and looking at the career books for history majors, the kind I should have had in high school but failed to act on. There were a variety of jobs listed, many of which I felt highly qualified for. You the reader know painfully well, jobs aren’t earned anymore by finding a job you like and putting in a resume. Now more than ever, with so few openings (especially in a field like history), it takes networking, hard work, and a whole lot of luck!
Email a Numismatist – This is a Hobby of Friends
From there, I attacked networking. I worked extra hard over a three year period (and still do) to send out emails to prominent numismatists and pick their brain. There’s a little secret I’d like to share with you: If there’s one thing the professional numismatists want, it’s a future generation of coin collectors. The generation before them advocated the same. Most people are happy to positively impact the hobby, however possible. In fact, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do for you.
During that time I was able to come to exchange daily and weekly emails with some of the hobby’s most important and storied authors, dealers, and collectors all in coins I was interested in. It’s amazing how much sharing a common hobby can bring two people together. Many of these exchanges have turned into lifetime friendships.
Now it isn’t that easy. Only on a couple of occasions did those email exchanges lead directly to job opportunities. In fact, one was so lucrative that the offer was to fly me out to a major American city to start work on a $50,000 a year career. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go anywhere because of family commitments. I needed to get more creative and find something that allowed me to work from home or where I was already living.
So what jobs are available for budding numismatists?
One career that almost cemented my future in numismatics was as a professional coin grader. Unfortunately due to family issues I couldn’t make the necessary move. I have heard from others that such a career is rife with falling asleep at the same PR69 and PR70 American Silver Eagles all day and can easily become monotonous. That’s fine. If you are a hard worker and passionate you can use your grading skills and put in the time and hard work necessary to move up in the company.
I also had an interview to work as a remote cataloger at one of the largest auction houses in the country. One of those email friends referred me to the right people in the company and gave me a direct line to a career I had always dreamed of. I was completely halted when I failed the comprehensive grading exam. Unfortunately my lack of experience in gold coins caught up with me. Something to consider for the budget collectors; the big fish play with the big money coins. Still, the right email communication can pay off.
To be honest, there is little beyond that which I have mentioned available that is a direct job in numismatics. There are however some entrepreneurial paths, which after dejected and humbled, I began journeying towards…
Part two will follow in the coming weeks.