Money. Is there anything else that inspires such a love-hate relationship in us?
We never have enough of it. It's probably responsible for the breakup of more marriages than meddling mothers-in-law. But oh, what a great feeling when you reach into your pocket and find a forgotten $20 bill.
Of course, we don't feel quite so passionately about our humble quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. They're chump change - something to drop on the table along with the car keys at the end of the day, or stick in a glass jar to collect dust.
But H. Robert Campbell of Salt Lake City, one of the nation's foremost numismatists (coin collectors), wants to change the way we feel about our coins. Campbell, president of the 30,000-member American Numismatic Association, thinks they're long overdue for a face lift - and he's not alone. We spoke with him just after a hearing on Capitol Hill last week in which assembled politicians and other experts bemoaned the general ugliness of America's coins.
Do you agree with Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm that our coins look "crummy?"
I wouldn't have used that word. I'd say they're "dead-heads." Tombstones. The profiles are classic for the time period when they came out, but they certainly don't represent our country well today.
Who would you like to see on a coin?
They did a poll and Martin Luther King Jr. was No. 1, and Ronald Reagan was 2. People also wanted Elvis Presley, John Wayne, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. I think there are better artistic types of things out there than putting presidents on coins. If I had a choice, I'd love to have the buffalo nickel come back, maybe with a different design. ... It represented America, the West, the frontier. It was America's only true coin - not a design adaptation of European coins.
Are we moving toward a society in which paper money and coins are becoming irrelevant?
I was recently at a symposium in Ottawa, and that was the question. No doubt, the Internet is changing the way consumers spend money. But I don't believe we'll ever get to the point where it replaces cash in our society. There's just something about the feel of money - people love having it in their hand. Knowing there's no record behind it, no strings attached to it. ... Hey, guess who just sat next to me? Thomas Rogers, the designer of the new Sacagawea dollar coin. Hi, Tom.
What's your favorite U.S. coin?
I'd say the Thomas Rogers coin.
How did you first become interested in coins?
My father passed away when I was 4 1/2 , and he had this small coin collection my mom kept in a metal cabinet. I was particularly interested in this little white box with coins from all around the world, in different shapes and sizes. Some of the writing I couldn't read because it wasn't in English. I kind of took over my father's collection, and it brought me closer to him.
Sometimes, I'd walk to this coin shop owned by this guy named Wally, who took a liking to me. He'd write down three questions [about coins] and I'd have to figure out the answers. I thought it was a prerequisite to buy a coin. But Wally was grooming me to take over the shop, which I did. ...
Coins can take you on an adventure you can never believe. [My father's] little white box had a Pony Express 75th anniversary - and that one coin led me to collect other Pony Express metals. Now I have the largest Pony Express metal collection in the United States, probably the world. I have one that's one of only three known out there - the second is in the U.S. Mint, the other is in Eisenhower's personal library. It's the hunt. That's what coin collectors live for.
Do you collect anything else?
Soda pop bottles from the 1870s, '80s and '90s. They're handmade and very bulky looking. I also sell whisky bottles in my store, but I'm a Mormon, so I didn't feel very good about bringing home a bunch of whisky bottles for my kids to see.
How many coins do you have in your pocket right now?
Let's see. I've got three quarters, two nickels, two dimes and a penny. So I'm ready for bear. That's a Western term. Means I'm ready for anything.