Colin Gullberg edits Chopmark News for the Chopmark Collectors Society. The September 2015 issue (vol. 19, issue 2) has a nice
interview by Colin with coin and literature dealer Scott Semans. Here's an excerpt, with permission. -Editor
CG: First, do you collect anything yourself? What got you interested in this area of coin collecting?
SS: As a kid I collected mainly circulation series of US coins including silver dollars, then as the family would vacation in Canada or
Mexico I added these. In my late teens my father began travelling overseas and bringing back a wider range of coins, so I added one-per-country,
copper “crowns” and examples of different coinage metals. When I started buying and selling coins around 16, I set these aside and began building
research-oriented collections of mainly Asian series. So: Kutch, Nepal, Netherlands East Indies & pre-colonial Malay/Indonesian, Haiti, Tibetan gaden
tangka, modern Middle-eastern nations (to 1980), calligraphy variations of common Chinese, primarily Song through Qing, “official” Chinese charms,
British India by type, India temple tokens. I tend to sell them when a good catalog comes out and I no longer need actual coins for reference, so
most of these are not current interests.
CG: How long have you been a numismatic book dealer? What made you want to focus on Asian numismatics?
SS: I was already focusing on Asian coins by the mid-70s and began selling a few books be-cause information on these series was so hard
to find. Looking at old price lists, I see one of my early offerings was the Kann catalog which I sold retail at $25, and $18 to
CG: How did you get into the numismatic book business? Few people focus on this area, can someone (still) make a living at it?
SS: In the 1970s I could get bulk unpicked coins of many Asian series and I loved searching for varieties. But I would have to use space
in my own price lists to publish the information on how to distinguish them, so when a good book came along – usually from someone I
al-ready knew as a supplier or customer - I tried to get it into my customers’ hands. Given the space a book stock absorbed, the extra work
in packing, and low profit margins, I never saw books as a profit center, but as a way of increasing coin sales. The market has changed
quite a bit since then but there are still a few dealers out there making a living solely from numismatic books. You have to deal in the
whole range, including U.S. and Mediterranean ancients, antiquarian and in-print, and sell both retail and by auction. Nobody can handle
just Asian, or just European series books; the undergirding of such a business still has to be the coins or banknotes themselves. Amazon,
eBay, and huge increases in postal rates have impacted my own book business and I am gradually phasing it out. My website listings are
evolving from sales offers to a bibliography.
CG: Are there any ‘must-have’ books on Chinese numismatics (regardless of the focus)?
SS: There are really two parallel series of works, those for Chinese readers and those for Western (English) readers. The series is also
divided into traditional categories, such as Ancients, modern copper, modern silver, and various sidelights including tokens and
chop-marks, each with its own standard works in each language. There are good references in each series, but no standards, which is why my
coin listings generally have two to four catalog references in the descriptions.
CG: Is there anything else of interest you would like to mention that I haven’t asked in a question above?
SS: One observation that gets back to my own collecting, is that when I start in on a series with no catalog, I need a numeric
reference, if only to organize my own collection or stock; so I have to invent one. For chopmarks, I took the inventory of my first big
collection purchase (can’t now recall whose), which of course was in alphabetical order by country of base coin, added types I thought
likely to turn up with chops, and threw in gaps between countries. So if collectors who keep old envelopes wonder what “CC-V116a” or the
like means, it’s my made-up stock code for a particular base coin with chops.
I’d like to recommend Chinese contemporary (circulating) forgeries as a collecting subject. After all, chopmarked coins exist only in
the context of such forgeries, though more so of Spanish series than Chinese. As with chopmarks, Chinese collectors disdain them, and they
are inexpensive. Such sidelight pieces make a collection distinctive and, along with mint errors, can shed light on economic conditions and
minting practices of the period. Some are amusing in their own right, and the best of them are challenging to distinguish from genuine
coins. I’ve put a few of these up on zeno, along with pieces I’m genuinely unsure of. Anyone can collect straight stuff, it just takes
money, but it’s the sidelights that have always delighted and challenged me as a collector and a dealer.
For more information on the Chopmark Collectors Club, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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