TFSB or the Theory of Frontloaded Set Building

In my recent April newsletter I mentioned one of my rare coin theories: EEEES or Easy Explanation Equals Easy Sales. In the spirit of wacky acronyms, here’s another one for you: TFSB or the Theory of Frontloaded Set Building. Assuming that you are collecting coins with the completion of some sort of set as a goal, you are probably building your set the wrong way. Typically, collectors are stingy when it comes to key issues and they tend to overdo more common issues.

Here’s an example of what I mean. When I have the chance to look at a complete set of coins (whether it is a date/mintmark run or a type set) the first thing I do is look at the keys. If someone has a date set of Dahlonega half eagles, I am going to be much more interested in how their 1861-D looks than their 1847-D. In nine cases out of ten I find that the 1861-D is one of the lowest grade coins in the set and generally has poor eye appeal while the more mundane 1847-D is among the nicer coins.

If I were building this set I would do the exact opposite. I would have the 1861-D be among the nicer coins in the set (perhaps even the nicest) and not worry as much about the less rare coins.

One of the reasons I find the Duke’s Creek collection of Dahlonega gold to be interesting is that it was (knowingly) assembled using the TFSB. As an example, in the gold dollar set, the two best coins are the 1855-D and the 1861-D. This makes sense since they are the two rarest. Now think about how the overall impact of the collection would have been if these same two coins were the lowest grade members of the gold dollar date run. Still an impressive set, no doubt, but not nearly as memorable as a set in which the two keys coins are also the two highest ever slabbed by a third-party grading service.

One of the negative impacts of Registry Mania is the tendency for people to get carried away about common coins in uncommon grades. In order to score more registry points, collectors will pay very high premiums for common coins, just to get some needed set value points. Rare gold coins are not really affected by this (yet) but it is possible that Registry Mania could force future collectors to make some purchases that do not adhere to the TFSB. I would caution any set collector to weigh his decisions carefully and to always save his “stretches” for the key date coins that will add panache to a set over the long term.