Monday, February 23, 2009

Inside the mind of a Heritage coin cataloger

Feb. 23, 2009
Posted by John

(I never imagined a title to a post like this one would actually sound interesting to me, but as I’ve been starting the long path of coin erudition, I have found myself entranced by several interesting coins, reading coin catalogs, and meeting the people whose job it is to do the day in and day out work of creating Heritage’s award-winning coin catalogs. One of these is John Beety, a young numismatist of note, a former junior state chess champion, and a gamer of many stripes. As you’ll see here, he’s also a talented writer. It will be my pleasure to turn this blog page over to John from time to time as he explains what makes a coin cataloger tick. – Noah Fleisher)

The Noah Fleisher monopoly on the Heritage blog has ended!

John Dale Beety here, U.S. coin cataloger. One of the best on-the-job benefits of being a cataloger is looking at thousands of coins a year from hundreds of consignors. Some of the finest collections pass through the cataloging department, and after years of looking at the best of the best in American coinage, one can become a trifle spoiled. A couple of weeks back, I was cataloging an 1893-S Morgan dollar in VF25, a mid-range coin that thousands of collectors – myself included – would be proud to own. I finished the description on that coin and put it aside, picked up the next one and saw another 1893-S dollar, this one in VF30.

I thought to myself, “Oh, there’s another one,” immediately followed by, “Did I just think that?”

As rare as the 1893-S dollar is, with hundreds of collectors consigning to Heritage with every auction, inevitably a number of 1893-S dollars will pass through the cataloging department. I’ve personally cataloged dozens of them over the course of two-and-a-half years. Prized as they are, as a rule, cataloging an 1893-S dollar is no longer an event.

There are exceptions, though; in the January 2009 FUN Auction, Heritage offered two Mint State examples, an MS64 and an MS65, and when each of those 1893-S Morgan dollars came up for description, the cataloger made a point of showing it to the rest of us so we could all appreciate it.

My fellow catalogers and I call such items “pass-arounds,” coins so special that we can’t help but share them with one another. Sometimes they are exotic rarities; when Heritage offered a Class I 1804 dollar in the April 2008 Central States Auction, all of us shared in the thrill. Others are unusually attractive coins; cataloging a piece of Seated Liberty silver with rich, original “target” toning is one of my greatest joys, and I’ve been known to show off particularly beautiful examples.

Still other pieces are not fabulous rarities but intriguing curiosities, such as the heavily worn Panama-Pacific quarter eagle commemorative from Central States in 2007 that makes one wonder whose pocket-piece it was.

In future posts, I aim to highlight some of our “pass-around” coins and what makes them so special, the better to share them with a wider audience. On occasion, I’ll also take a look beyond coins, to highlight items of interest in other departments; I’m a firm believer that no collector has only one hobby!