by Steve Zieba

It was the best of deals, it was the worst of deals, it was an age of knowledge, it was an age of ignorance, it was a time of fulfillment, it was a time of emptiness, it was the season for truth, it was the season for lies, for some it was the beginning of a journey, for others it was the end of the line.

There was a dealer in a town with coins to sell and ads by which to sell them, and in a nearby town there was another dealer, with similar coins and similar ads. From there, the similarities ended. The first dealer, aptly named Dealer A, was a grade above the rest. A font of numismatic knowledge, A was always willing to share his insight and expertise, forever dwelling on the high, the good and the noble. With his cadre of fellow sophisticates, A could always muster a wry snicker or two whenever the conversation turned to the banal motivations of the average collector.

Indeed, for A and his compatriots, life was good. Enthralling debates concerning strike orders and die states filled their heads while the seductive lure of numismatic bibliomania whetted the temptation of even the most hardened amongst them. Scholarship was at an all-time high, along with prices, and this group felt secure in their tight little world, with visions of an empire where the sun never set. And whenever a twinge of doubt came along, the sophisticate could always congratulate himself on being above such rabble as the Morgan dollar specialist, the Lincoln cent hole-plugger and the dreaded silver round aficionado. Yes, for the sophisticate, life was very good.

In a nearby town, in seemingly another world, yet inexorably intertwined with the numismatic elite, lay the comfortable confines of Dealer B. As a dealer, B was clearly of a lesser grade, his standards a cut below the rest. However, B was a clever sort with a gift for marketing and through clever artistry verging on the bombastic, could always claim to offer the best deal around. Since his clientele suffered from a distinct inability to judge good from bad, whether in coins or dealers, so much the better. For B, life was good.

Much like his compatriot Dealer A, B had his own cadre of followers and, like A, played to their preconceived beliefs. In conversation, the pedestrian dominated: completion of date sets, investment potential and the nefarious split grade. Slabs were always popular fare as B's clientele felt more confident following the judgment of others than that of their own. The security of knowing others who felt as they did gave them the confidence to commit without hesitation, and this they did with glee. B's group not only failed to comprehend the motivations of the numismatic elite, most were unaware of the A group's existence.

However, it became apparent, even to B's sunny crowd, that all was not well in the land. A discontent began to settle over the populace as the B crowd became disillusioned with the current state of affairs. One by one, they began to drop by the wayside in numbers far greater than the usual attrition. Worse, fewer and fewer recruits were entering the fray, making things even harder for the determined combatants of the investment marketplace. From a few disgruntled expatriates, a cry came forth; calls for reform, for a new order above and beyond the dealer relationship, and these were combined with bitter recriminations against Dealer B, indeed against both A and B.

To the sophisticates, the problems of the B crowd were of their own making and of little or no concern. A's followers felt aloof; they were an island unto themselves. However, no house, no matter how strong, can withstand a bad foundation, and the numismatic foundation was slipshod at best. A house of illusion, built on greed and cupidity, the only result could be disaster.

For the B crowd, deceived by their own ignorance and that of others, numismatics became a bitter experience. Ashamed by their failures and alone, they slipped silently away from the once promising hobby. While for A and his sophisticates, life went on more or less as before, immune to the mass of struggling would-be collectors, comfortable within the strict confines of their own little world, more or less.

Copyright © 1994, The Willamette Coin Club. All Rights Reserved.