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Coin Collecting as an Addiction!

Coin Addict 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 irrational strategy.

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 one-armed bandit.

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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