You’re a serious coin collector. You’ve done all the “right” things. You’ve learned how to grade. You’ve become a knowledgeable specialist. You’ve worked exclusively with one or two exceptional dealers. Your collection is well on the way to being complete but you aren’t ready to sell it. What can you do in the interim to add value to it? I would suggest that proper “branding” of your collection might be the single smartest thing you can do once you’ve learned the right ways to assemble said set.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, sign, symbol or design or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
Brands play a huge role in our lives whether we choose to admit it or not. You don’t tend to buy a pair of sneakers because of their style or their supposed level of performance; you buy them because you are a Nike person or an Adidas person and you choose to display this symbol to other people; whether to seem “cool” or “informed” or for whatever other reason(s) motivate you. In the case of Nike, you might buy a pair because LeBron James endorses them. What if this was the case with coins?
A small but select group of collectors have figured out that branding, in the era of the Internet, is a way to add considerable prestige and value to their collection. What do I mean by this? Think of certain areas in the numismatic market and certain specific collectors come to mind. Lincoln Cents? Stewart Blay is the Man. Bust Half Dollars? That’s Dale Friend’s Domain. Saints? Steve Duckor is the King.
These three collectors have a number of things in common. First and foremost, they are true “collectors” in the best sense of the word. They are not guys who have barged into the numismatic arena like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla, recklessly bought and then exploded like a supernova with their remains soon consigned to a major auction. No, these are three guys who have been in their respective markets for a long, long time. In most cases, they are specialists who have maintained a fairly narrow focus which has, in turn, allowed them to be formidable buyers. They all know their strengths and limitations and they all have a trusted advisor (or two) to help them make important decisions.
What impresses me most about all three of these collectors are they ways that have branded their collections. I’m not certain that any of them sat down years ago and outlined a cunning master plan to do this; what I think has happened is that all are recognized as good guys and dealers who have clout when it comes to branding have been happy to help them. Plus it hasn’t hurt any of them that they own some really, really nice coins.
Before I discuss some of my own ideas about how to brand a collection, let me state that numismatic branding only works if you’ve got a product that merits branding. If you have a complete set of Saints and the coins aren’t very nice, it really doesn’t matter how well they are branded; they are still a schlocky set of Saints. It also matters what sort of coins you are attempting to brand. It’s still easier to brand the third or fourth finest set of Dahlonega gold coins than the best set of Sacagawea dollars.
So, here are a few ideas of how to brand your collection.
1. Become identified as an expert within your particular field. Even though Messrs. Blay, Friend and Duckor have never written a book on their respective fields, they are recognized as experts. Remember the old TV commercial that said “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen?” Well, when Stewart Blay talks about Lincoln Cents or when Dale Friend talks about Bust Halves, their fellow collectors pay attention. These guys have put their money where their mouths are and ponied up for some incredible coins at auction or on the bourse floor. None of these guys have made a big deal about becoming an expert but, in their own quiet ways, their opinions have become extremely important in their respective fields.
Something that none of these collectors has done (yet) that I might suggest: either write the definitive book on their field of expertise or work with a knowledgeable dealer/researcher. Not that Blay, Friend or Duckor’s coins need any help but if they were the plate coins for the new standard references on Lincoln Cents or Barber half dollars or Saints this would add even greater mystique to them, in my opinion.
2. Selectively display your collection (but maintain an aura of mystery...) One of the smartest things that Stewart Blay and Dale Friend have done is to display their collection, through the auspices of the PCGS Collector’s Club, at major coin shows. To be honest with you, the Lincoln Cent series is not of great interest to me and I can count on one hand the number of Lincolns that I have bought and sold in two decades of being a professional numismatist. That said I was excited to view the Blay collection when it finally was exhibited last year. Part of the reason was that Blay had cultivated an aura of mystery about his coins over the years. Everyone said how great they were but no one seemed to have actually seen more than a few at a time. When the coins did become available for viewing, this added to their mystique; it was one of the few collections that really lived up to its hype!
Even if you choose to never display your coins in person, you can display them virtually. Let’s say you have put together a great set of Liberty Head quarter eagles. How about buying the domain name www.libertyquartereagles.com and putting together a website that becomes the “go to” source for information and images on this series?
Another thing to consider is, from time to time, displaying a few of your coins. Every year or two, Brent Pogue selectively displays a few of the magnificent coins in his collection. He never shows more than a few and he doesn’t make a big fuss about them. But after I see them, I go back to my bourse table, look at my inventory and wonder if I shouldn’t take all of my coins and toss them into the closest trash can.
3. Let the grading services help you. Both PCGS and NGC LOVE serious collectors and both need good content for their websites. That’s why they are happy to run interviews with Dale Friend (as PCGS now has on their website) or sponsor Stewart Blay’s display. I can assure you that dealers like myself with a strong web presence would love to have Steve Duckor write a detailed article about how to collect Saints or how to put together a great set of coins. What better way for a collector to brand his collection than to have PCGS or NGC write glowing articles or to feature nice interviews!