Monday, January 23, 2012

Shutty's One Coin is Never Enough

Michael S. Shutty Jr., One Coin is Never Enough. Paperback, 251 pages, $25.

In this book Shutty discusses his collecting practices (Buffalo nickels and large cents). Shutty is a psychologist and he explains various experts' psychological theories of collecting. He is fond of breaking the collecting experience into the various categories used by psychologists, producing transition diagrams such as one which purport to show collectors cycling from "Courtship" to "Hunting" to "Acquisition" to "Integration" and later to a post-collecting "Displacement" phase.

I was hoping for stories of great successful and unsuccessful collectors modeled after Nicholas A. Basbanes' descriptions of book collectors in A Gentle Madness. These are not to be found; Shutty almost exclusively discusses himself and his personal collection. Even when discussing Sheldon large cent varieties Shutty doesn't reveal that Sheldon's coin addiction left behind a trail of thefts that destroyed the legacy of the once-respected psychology professor -- a story so delicious I couldn't resist linking to it in this micro review.

I felt like Shutty spent a lot of time explaining coin collecting, perhaps targeting his explanations to his psychologist colleagues.

The first 14 chapters use examples exclusively from American coin collecting. World coin collecting is given a chapter. Ancient coins are not discussed, nor the collecting of historical medals.

I found the book interesting but not as interesting as a books on coins. I don't know if that says something about me or something about Shutty's book. There is a lot to be said for Shutty's attempts to map aspects of coin collecting upon multiple psychological theories rather than selecting one framework and attempting to pigeonhole all of collecting upon it. Still, sometimes Shutty's explanations seems overly complex.

We collect simply because we like coins more than other people. Even Shutty's favorite example, a Chain Cent slug he paid $1000 for, was purchased because it seemed like a good deal to Shutty. The simplest theory I know to explain why Shutty and I enjoy our coins is that the side-by-side comparisons we do while looking for coins somehow make us vastly more appreciative of them. Psychologist Seth Roberts calls this the Willat effect. Roberts believes connoisseurs are made this way, at least in food and drink domains such as wine via wine tastings. What I've noticed is that the same thing happens visually with coins. What really got me collecting again after a 20 year break was looking at several hundred hemidrachms of Parion over three months on eBay trying to find the most beautiful $50 example. After that I was hooked.


teegee said...

Basbanes is hard to live up to, but I must say I am grateful to be spared the temptation to order Shutty on line. Why, even re-reading Bruce McNall seems preferable.

Voz Earl said...

Wow, the bit about W. H. Sheldon is fascinating.