Coin Collecting as an Addiction!
Without a doubt, Coin Collecting allows or encourages habitual
behaviors. It is also attractive to people who are given to
habitual behaviors. The active collector shows the attributes of
an obsessive-compulsive neurotic. Some collectors admit to
excessive zeal in pursuit of their hobby. At least one
collector on rec.collecting.coins has admitted to missing a house
payment because he bought a coin instead. He is not alone.
Compulsion to Collect
Collectors are not satisfied until their assembly is complete.
They need "one more coin" to bring a collection to fruition.
Once that coin is found, then either of two behaviors begin.
Either the collector "upgrades" the current array or he finds a
new pursuit. Usually coin collectors find new coins to hunt.
Occasionally cross-addicted collectors will switch from coins to
stamps or guns or other collectibles.
Like other compulsives, addicted collectors think that the world
revolves around their hobby. In his book Computer Power and
Human Reason, Joseph Weizenbaum compared compulsive programmers
(hackers) to the gambler of Dostoevsky. The compulsive gambler
is sure that life is a big gamble. The programmer claims that
the brain is a computer, that the universe is software, etc.
Coin collectors deal with money, a common if not ubiquitous
medium which propels much if not most of our daily lives.
However, even financiers and certainly the rest of humanity, do
not have so demanding and unyielding an interest in the forms
and uses of money.
Users and Dealers
When his habit outstrips his income, the drug addict may try to
become a "dealer." So will the numismatist. However, any
successful dealer maintains a detachment from the material of
commerce. "Never get high on your own supply," said the woman. A
dealer who is a user or a collector can become unobjective. When
he does, he will lose money.
The rational dealer finds people who are already addicts.
However, the addict who wants to deal becomes a "pusher." The
pusher tries to addict others whom he can bring under his
control. Coin collectors often make themselves welcome in school
classrooms. They give unusual coins to store clerks or tip
waitresses with unusual coins. Their goal is to get non-
collectors "interested." Eventually, the interested outsider
comes to a coin club meeting, goes to coin shows, and becomes a
buyer of coins, initially at least from the collector who
introduced him to the hobby.
In the drug world the dealer is never your friend. At the
tavern, the barkeeper is a good listener - at a distance, and as
long as you keep buying booze. Dealers and collectors live in
different worlds. Dealers have only one use for collectors and
if a collector stops buying, then the relationship stops.
Addicts associate with others of their kind and coin collectors
enjoy each other's company. However, collectors do not become
emotionally involved in each other's lives for two reasons: they
are not interested in people but in objects; and, being addicts,
they are emotionally dysfunctional and cannot empathize or
sympathize with anther person. Numismatics a lonely hobby.
Wear Yellow on Tuesdays
The compulsive gambler believes that superstitious behaviors can
affect the outcome of games of chance. The compulsive collector
writes letters to the Mint or Congress or the numismatic press.
The excuse for letter writing is that it will "influence" other
people to make a "decision" that will benefit the collector.
Congress should at once make more or fewer coins of some or all
types for presentation or circulation, and so on. A cursory
examination of national bribery scandals proves that this is an
The collector searches pocket change hoping to spot the most
minute differences in coinage. These errors supposedly have
great value. And indeed, they are interesting (any engineer
who knows tool and die or high-speed industrial processes can
appreciate error coin -- with a detachment unknown to the
collector). But it is superstition to believe that a large
assortment of common errors will ever have some new "gestalt"
value greater than the sum of the parts.
The compulsive gambler loses and loses and loses, even though he
may win on occasion. The coin collector seldom makes any money
at their hobby, no matter how often they buy and sell. Dealers
and collectors are in different worlds. Dealers buy and sell
among each other at a price range different from their commerce
with collectors. Collectors can no more show a profit than a
player at a casino.
The part-time dealer (or "investor/collector") will claim
otherwise. They show coins they bought cheap and sold high.
They also ignore the tremendous investment in "inventory" that
makes these few sales possible. For the collector, the illusion
is supported by the numismatic press which regularly reports the
periodic increase in coin prices. However, "trends" evaporate
when the collector sells his coins.
Even astounding rarities that make the news are usually sold at a
net loss when measured against inflation. A banker, real estate
salesman, lawyer or engineer will make much greater profits from
practicing their craft than they will by collecting coins. The
illusion of profit in numismatics sounds like the ringing of
coins falling from a slot machine to call other suckers to the
The coin collector "knows" this but will not do the simple
arithmetic any more than a reefer addict will tally the money
that went up in smoke, claiming that he tokes weed "for
enjoyment." This is the same fire-wall that protects the
collector from facing the fact of his addiction. He knows it
isn't profitable, but he is doing it for fun.
The Medical Side of the Coin
Read about "addiction" in a mainstream reference such as The
Merck Manual. You will see that the word has a range of meanings
and applications across social, legal, and medical lines.
Using marijuana is the classic example of an addiction that is
not an addiction. It is "habituating" but going without it does
not cause the physical effects seen in alcohol withdrawal. Even
so, as with gambling, the social and psychological effects on the
individual are the same as other addictives.
The question of physical withdrawal from coin collecting is not
easy to quantify. Collectors who are honest may admit to feeling
uneasy or dissatisfied if they are unable to buy coins, or at
least go to a coin show. You know if you are addicted if you
ever feel that you "must have" some coin -- even though you have
never felt that you "must have" an orange or a plate of spinach.
Michael E. Marotta
ANA Member 162953
© 1997 by Michael E. Marotta
(In the fall of 1997, this topic was discussed briefly
on rec.collecting.coins, a Usenet newslist. Without archives, I
cannot properly attribute the initiators or commentors. The above
are my views on the subject in the wake of this
discussion. I created this version specifically for The Delphi
Stamps, Coins and Postal Forum)
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