Advice for Long-Term Collectors

There is no doubt that we are currently experiencing a very good coin market. Many areas have increased exponentially in price in the last three to five years with the top end of the market now out of reach for most collectors. And this has created a market that has proven very frustrating to long-term collectors. Let’s say that you are a collector who has focused on early gold for the last decade. In the past, your biggest worry was probably finding coins. If you collected, say, early half eagles, you were able to find the more common issues pretty easily and had steeled yourself to waiting quietly for your chance to buy the rare issues.

But in this very strong market, there is an “X” factor. New, well-heeled collectors have come into the upper echelon of many series and made life difficult for more established collectors. The early half eagle collector who had been waiting three years to buy an 1827 in nice Uncirculated all of a sudden has a number of loose cannons to compete against who may take the attitude “I don’t care what it sells for, I want it.”

This has to be frustrating. I was speaking to a collector the other day whose area of specialization has gone crazy (price-wise) seemingly overnight. He had been able to pretty much have his way in his series for a few years but now he’s frustrated because the coins he needs are either going to sell for more than he can afford or these new Mega Collectors are going to be offered the coins privately before he is.

As I told him, this isn’t necessarily a totally bad problem to have. In theory, the rare coins he already owns should be worth more money. But he’s frustrated because he doesn’t want to sell; he’d rather complete his chosen set and then worry about what to do with it.

This tale of woe got me to thinking: what are some gold series right now that a collector whose isn’t a Zillionaire could still be the Master of His Domain and collect very high quality coins without having to pay insane prices?

One series that comes to mind is business strike Type Three gold dollars. I personally love the series and if I were a collector looking for a challenge, I’d work on a date set of Philadelphia issues from 1856 through 1889. All of these can be obtained in Uncirculated and a wide variety of collecting budgets can be accommodated. One of the real beauties of these coins is that nearly all of the dates exist in Gem Uncirculated and if you haven’t seen an MS66 or MS67 gold dollar from the 1860’s or 1870’s, you are in for an aesthetic treat.

Another series that I think would be very challenging but a lot of fun would be the San Francisco quarter eagles struck from 1856 through 1878 (I’m not including the extremely rare 1854-S in this set since I’m assuming that most collectors are not going to be able to spring for the six-figure price that it would take to procure an example). The rarest collectible issues in this series are the 1862-S and 1863-S. Neither is incredibly hard to find in nice AU grades but if this set were going to be assembled in Uncirculated, both issues are extremely rare. What really intrigues me about these coins is the fact that they are genuinely rare in Uncirculated and they seem like pretty good values in comparison to the southern branch mint coins. I’m not so certain that they will ever become popular but the good news is that if you decide to work on a high grade set, you are not likely to be confronted by the dreaded Zillionaire Collector Who Has To Have It.

If a collector with a decent-sized budget wants to have his way in the Three Dollar gold series, he has an opportunity right now to buy some pretty interesting coins. I’ve seen some interesting dates in the MS63 and MS64 range sell for approximately 20-30% less than what they were bringing a few years ago and I’ve found the grading standards of these coins to be—of late—pretty tight in comparison to a few years ago. I would contend that the Three Dollar series is more popular right now than generally believed but it is not the Darling of Telemarketers that it was for a brief and shining moment in 2005-2006.

One other area that the prudent gold coin collector could do some serious damage in right now is No Motto half eagles and eagles from Philadelphia. You don’t see a ton of these on the market but when you do they generally do not incite Auction Frenzy like some of the Seated Liberty silver coins from this era. I have bought some really interesting No Motto Philadelphia eagles from the 1840’s and 1850’s in the last 90 days for less than $20,000 and even some very pleasing pieces in the $2,500-5,000 range. I’ll let you in on a little secret: these are some of the final gold coins of this era that have not been destroyed by coin doctors and if you like pretty, original pieces you are far likely to see a great looking 1847 Philadelphia half eagle than one from the branch mints.

So if you are being driven crazy by Insane Zillionaire Collectors who are making the top end of your series go nuts don’t despair. I’m guessing that 90% of these guys will go away in a few years and your series will go back to less frothy days when they leave. In the meantime, look at this as a good time to take a break, find a new series and once again become The Man.