Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Take thrice the daily intake of caffeine, a frustrating problem at work that needs some back-burner cogitation, and a recent revisiting of eBay, and that’s all that’s needed for a seriously long stint of late night web browsing for the purposes of collecting.

I would expect there’s a coincidence of collectors among people who write code, largely because I believe that both are ventures that jibe well with people who are “detail-oriented,” which is my polite way of saying obsessive-compulsive. In my case, I’ve gone through several iterations of collecting, starting with an aborted attempt at stamp collecting back when I was maybe 10. To some extent, it seemed to me that collecting was just a specific form of being a careful pack rat–you take care of your belongings to help them to last, even if you don’t need them at the moment, just because someday you might–a last vestige of handed-down Depression-Era values.

I switched over to collecting coins, but not expensive ones… just some interesting U.S. coins I had come across. One of my favorite finds was a glass jar of pennies that my father had saved when he was a kid. I was so excited to find some “seriously” older coins (e.g., from the ‘50s rather than the ‘70s or ‘80s).

I have since taken to dumping my pocket change into jars: one empty Glenfiddich metal canister for the quarters, aka laundry money, and one empty plastic jug that formerly contained olive oil for all the rest. Maybe someday my kids might find it as exciting, if these containers survive that long. The first attempt at this involved storage in an empty poster tube, and during the Nisqually quake, the tube herniated and broke; my wife (then girlfriend) decided to “clean up the mess” by taking all the coins to Coinstar! Coinstar of all things! Not only did I not even get to see six years worth of savings churn through the machine, but I get to pay 8.9% for the privilege! AIEE!

Ultimately, I didn’t do much in the way of collecting coins as a kid. I just kept a few dollar coins and some examples from various years. Another short-lived collection was that of Star Wars trading cards (even as a kid I eschewed sports-related things); I don’t even think that lasted through a full summer before I traded them away for something else.

In college, though, I started collecting for real. I fell victim to this newfangled idea–a card game where you collect the cards. This was, of course, Magic, the Gathering™, around the Alpha/Beta transition, and before I had even heard of the CCG acronym. My college roommate, Naval, would purchase boxes of card, sell the packs, and then trade with the people as they opened their packs. Well before Kyle MacDonald hit the trading scene, Naval turned one island into a Shivan Dragon. I did my own purchasing and trading. Even now, I have a Fleer binder of nifty cards and a white box of extra cards in my office, for lack of a better place for them. My friend Brian, who has alternative names for most everything, refers to Magic as cardboard crack. I’m pretty sure I was addicted or close to it while in college; any extra money I had from my computing jobs on campus would go into it. Later, I’d try out Jyhad and Middle-earth, and to a lesser extent Dr. Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, and BloodWars, before I ultimately swore off investing in any new CCG.

After college and after collectible card games, I got found myself back into coins by what I would have considered to be an unlikely source for me buying anything, Shop At Home TV. I usually just tell my TV to omit those shopping channels when setting it up for the first time, so I’m not sure exactly how it was that I came to be staying up, late at night, watching the Coin Vault. Somehow I got drawn to buying a whole slew of silver coins (mostly brilliant uncirculated), and only later discovered that there was a hefty markup. Nonetheless, it piqued my interest again, if only mildly, for numismatics. I certainly enjoy getting each year’s silver eagles for depositing into my Dansco album.

In addition, my prediliction for Zeppelin1 paraphenalia, which is a collection2 in its own right, bled into coins with regard to the 1930 three- and five-reichsmark coins, which feature the dirigible and laud its 21-day circumnavigation of the world in 1929. I have to say, it’s pretty difficult to find those coins on this side of the water. With some rusty college German, I can partially navigate some internet sites and eBay sales. Ron, of, has been a good resource, both in terms of coins and how to bridge the gap between US gradings and German gradings. One of my early morning tasks today is to perform my first international wire transfer, to pay for a recent winning auction bid for such a coin.

It still seems a little crazy to be trying to guess whether or not an online vendor is trying to gouge you (and by how much) without a price reference guide, or even without necessarily many vendors selling the same items. It makes for some hefty search sessions (and my browser tabs increase to the point where you can only see the first three letters of the title of the page), and even then, it still sort of feels like jumping off the deep end, especially in the realm of coins, where you’re trying to double-check the quality grading by inspecting a grainy submitted picture, that isn’t particularly zoomed in. Nonetheless, I’m trying it out, and we’ll see how well it all turns out.

1 The airships, not the band.
2 I had always been a fan of airships, as long as I can remember. But it was only during the collecting of some material for a game of Nobilis–entitled Means and Ends, it had a chancel which was a modified version of Seattle Center circa 1962 during the World’s Fair–that I branched out from Life magazine copies and into Zeppelin books. Of course, the geekery doesn’t stop there; I’m also a member of the Lighter-than-air society, and I regularly wear a Save Hangar One t-shirt in the hopes they don’t dismantle Moffett Field’s historic hangar.

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