American coins

Three Lessons about Love I Learned from Coin-Collecting

I used to collect coins.  No, I wasn’t in love with my coin collection.  That wasn’t the lesson!

But I did learn three lessons about love from collecting coins.  I am sharing them with you so you don't have to bother to form a coin collection.

Lesson 1.  Patience.

There are lots of coins out there; you can’t collect them all. You can’t afford to collect them all.  And sometimes, there is one particular dream coin you have in mind—for me, it was what is called a Seated Liberty Silver Dollar—and you realize you can just have one.  But which one?

The temptation is to go for the first decent one you see.  The late Herbert Simon, a Nobel-Prize winning psychologist and economist at Carnegie-Mellon University, called this satisficing—you choose the first thing you find that is just good enough.  It’s not necessarily great. It just is a above your threshold of acceptability.

Of course, it is a mistake to satisfice in love. You don’t want to go for the person potential partner you meet who is just good enough. You need to wait for the right person.

But that waiting can take a long time. And of course, you may never find the perfect silver dollar or the perfect mate.

It’s actually worse than that. You never will know if you found the perfect silver dollar or mate because there is always a chance that the next one will be better.

At some point, you have to do better than satisficing but worse than optimizing.  But to get to that point, you need a lot of patience.

Patience is important for another reason. In these days of the novel coronavirus, you likely are spending much more time than before with your partner and, if you have one, with your family.

For anyone, too much physical proximity can produce feelings of claustrophobia, like you can’t breathe.  I know.  I’ve always been claustrophobic.

You need patience during this time period, perhaps more than ever before, because so many of us feel imprisoned by the four walls and the circumstances in which we live.

Lesson 2.  The Perfect Can Be the Enemy of the Great

Coins are graded on a scale from 1 to 70.  A coin graded 1 is classified as in “poor” condition.  A coin graded 70 is “perfectly preserved”—it is like it was when it just was made by the mint (at least in theory).

There are some coins that are 70s because they literally did just come from the mint. But they are not worth much because there are millions of them available.  There is nothing really special about them except their condition.

Serious collectors want coins that are in great condition but that also are rare and special.  Those coins are really hard to come by.

Here’s the rub.  Most of the rare coins I owned were at various levels in the 60s.  If the coin is rare, the difference even between a 64 and a 65 can mean a large difference in price.

I owned an MS 66 seated liberty silver dollar.  For that particular coin, 66 is a truly high state of preservation. It was truly a beautiful coin.  It also was expensive.

I remember sitting and admiring it. And then I noticed a scratch on the front that I had always seen but not paid much attention to.

Of course, it had a scratch—actually more than one—because it was not a perfect coin.  Truly rare coins virtually never come in perfect states of preservation (70-level).

The more I looked at the coin, the more I noticed that darn scratch.  Eventually, I didn’t even want to look at the coin because all I could see was the scratch.

Was I being ridiculous?  Of course, I was.  There just are no perfect Seated Liberty silver dollars to be had. But, for me, the perfect had become the enemy of the great, even though the perfect did not really exist.

In relationships, the perfect also can be the enemy of the great, especially during the confinement of the coronavirus period, when everything looks just a little too familiar and there seems to be no sign of any imminent escape from home confinement.

We more and more can focus on the analogue of that scratch—our partner’s or our children’s imperfections.  Of course, now we can see them so much better, because, with home confinement, we see them continuously, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and for all we know, month after month.

Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the great.  If you are in a “66 relationship,” or a “60 relationship” or even a “50 relationship,” focus on the positive.

It is the only thing that will get you through this period and through life.

That’s not to say that you should ignore the negatives.

But recognize that, especially during periods of stress, the smallest imperfections, and even the moderate ones, seem much worse than in normal times.

Lesson 3.  Aging, whether physical or of relationships, can be beautiful.

Many of the older and more beautiful coins—in the days when countries, including the United States, made truly beautiful coins—were made in large part of silver or of copper.

Silver and copper have one important property in common—they tarnish.  Chemically, they oxidize, but in common parlance, they rust!

There was a time when collectors viewed signs of oxidation as a big negative for the coin.  So, people chemically treated or polished the coins to get rid of rust.

Today, those treated coins are worth relatively little.  The reason is that their preservation is artificial.

Most collectors today want coins that are original, not treated with chemical cleaners and special polishing cloths.

In any case, these treatments only hide the imperfections of the coins.  They do not make the coins “new.”

With coins, oxidation is often called toning.  The illustration accompanying this blogpost shows a beautifully toned Seated Liberty Silver Dollar.  Below it is an equally lovely silver trade dollar.



These coins have their value enhanced by their beautiful toning, or to put it another way, their beautiful oxidation.  Other coins tone poorly and lose value because of their toning. Look at the ugly Peace Dollar below.  It is in a high state of preservation (65), but the toning detracts from its value:



Relationships are like coins in this way.  They all “oxidize” to greater or lesser extent.

Unless you seal a silver (or copper) coin in an airtight hard plastic container, it will oxidize.

Relationships always exist in the real world. They “oxidize.”  But they can do so in a beautiful way or an ugly way.

How your relationship ages is up to you and your partner.  You can make the most of it, or the worst of it.  Which do you choose?

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