British Catching Up on Commemoratives

I thought my first article pretty much covered my views on this subject, but it’s getting pretty comical. I have come to realize it is more serious than simply the significance of events and anniversaries being lost in the morass of commemorative issues. Our hobby of numismatics is being debased.

I don’t know what it is about the British. They issued very few commemorative coins until Elizabeth II’s reign. She issued three commemorative crowns in pre-decimal coinage: 1953 Coronation, 1960 British Festival in New York and the 1965 Churchill commemorative. Prior to Elizabeth II, commemoratives were issued for silver jubilees, etc. By that nature, they could only be issued infrequently. Now I guess the British figure they have some catching up to do.

Today I was browsing thru a dealer’s catalog online and found to my amazement that concurrent with Gibraltar’s issuance of DOG commemoratives, the Isle of Man has issued 21 CAT commemoratives AND RUNNING. I really burst out laughing. These commemoratives are issued in at least five different denominations, including gold, silver and copper-nickel. Some people actually buy this stuff. That’s 105 commemoratives, AND RUNNING – I don’t have the 2001 catalog. Do you know that you can actually purchase this entire 21 coin cat commemorative set in silver for a mere $1250.00? That’s an average of $60 per coin. Not a bad profit for the dealer. People must be buying this stuff, or dealers wouldn’t take the time to create the ads

Now if you know a serious cat lover, this is just the Christmas present for them. But wait, there’s MORE!!! The Isle of Man has been issuing Christmas commemoratives every year since 1980 in four metals (copper-nickel, silver, gold & platinum) and each metal is denominated as “50 Pence”! Not even the USA does that. American Eagles are minted in platinum, gold and silver and are denominated as $100, $50 and $10. But this issuance of 50 pence coins in 4 different metals are all the same size coins.

This is getting serious. The morass of commemorative coins is no longer comical, especially when various metals are all used for the same denomination. This is becoming a debasement of numismatics. It is beyond the idea of merely a loss of significance of an anniversary or an event. This is further debasement of our coinage.

Governments are selling massive numbers of commemoratives and unknowledgeable people are buying them. They end up spending money on coins that have little to no value beyond the bullion they contain. Many of these coins don’t even have bullion value (copper-nickel), yet people buy them. When they get the coins, they store them away, expecting they will go up in value significantly. When they don’t, the idea of coin collecting bears the blame.

Just last week I was shown a box of 100 Canadian 1986 silver commemorative coins that someone had purchased, apparently thinking it was a good investment. After 23 years the individual gave up on any possibility of the coins having any significant value and he donated them to charity. I tried to find an outlet to sell them, but couldn’t even sell them for their bullion content as there wasn’t enough silver in the coins to make it worthwhile. It is causing numismatics to be poorly thought of.

Why should we care what others think of our hobby? In this day and age, governments are just looking for something else to regulate. Legislatures are working overtime looking for things to concern themselves with in our lives. At the moment I can’t imagine what they would do, especially since government is the source of the problem. When isn’t it the problem?

What can be done? Writing letters and emails to Congressmen or the US Mint is a lot of work for relatively little benefit. That would only deal with one country, the United States. The USA is not so much a problem in this regard as are many other coin issuing countries. Countries like China don’t care about or listen to other’s opinions. We need to strike this problem closer to its core.

Why are commemoratives issued so prolifically? There is a little bit of money made by the mints, but it’s pretty insignificant relative to their national budgets. I believe it must have to do with promotion, especially in the case of China. I don’t know what Gibraltar or the Isle of Man are promoting, except perhaps tourism. You can go to the Isle of Man and see their Manx cats! Wow, where’s my ticket?

The avenue I see to handle this is by appealing to our own numismatic organizations which have been promoting these coins all along. There are five in particular in the United States: Krause Publications, NGC, PCGS, ANACS and the ANA. Now these organizations are not to be faulted. They have simply been doing what they advertise and were created to do. It has long been Krause’s job to catalog coins, and so they have been doing just that. NGC, PCGS and ANACS certify coins and they have been doing exactly that. I include all three grading services that show population reports because that is where the promotion occurs. Then there is the ANA. Surely the ANA should be concerned about the future of numismatics.

In the United Kingdom, there is Spinks, CGS-UK and various numismatic associations such as the British Numismatic Society (BNS) and the British Numismatic Trade Association (BNTA). Spinks has been around for a long time. Coin collecting has much more history in England than it does in the United States, so there should be some concern there. CGS-UK is a very new certification and slabbing service in England, the first I know of in Europe.

I appeal to anyone concerned about this subject to contact these organizations and see how they feel on this matter. Appeal to krause and Spinks to stop putting the morass of commemoratives in their catalogs. Appeal to the grading services not to grade them. Appeal to numismatic associations to influence governments to stop issuing them. Organizations such as the ANA, BNS and BNTA can bring infinitely greater influence over government entities than individuals.

Certainly various subjects will come up: Which coins are legitimate? Which ones should be cataloged? Which ones should be certified? Where do we draw the line? I’m not sure, but it must be drawn somewhere, else our hobby will be lost in the morass with all the morass of coins and catalogs. The subject will be spurned by people and kids will be deterred from it. What coin collector 50 or 100 years from now will know what to purchase?

If you have an opinion on this, please let me know. Am I out to lunch? Am I worried about something totally insignificant? Perhaps you can see something I am missing, such as why this is occurring. Maybe there is another factor besides promoting tourism or making a country well thought of.

If you feel like contacting any of these institutions, or others that may influence the subject, feel free to copy and paste my articles to them, edited if you prefer. I would appreciate a note you have done so.

Note – I previously wrote and posted this article at the NGC Registry, 29 Sept 2009.

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