There is no blueprint as to what makes a successful collector. But I have noticed some characteristics that a number of the most successful collectors share. In order to give this article a cute hook, I’ve named them the “4 C’s.” Catchy or not, these traits are worth a closer look. 1. Courage: It takes guts to be a great collector. To buy the best coins you often have to overpay. In a strong market, great coins are especially expensive. If you are a slave to price guides or are afraid to stretch for important, key issues then you will never assemble a good collection, let alone a great one. Look at all of the important collectors past and present. Many of their canniest purchases were coins that seemed insanely expensive at the time. Guess what…in the long run these decisions often proved to be brilliant. Bottom line—if you want to put together an impressive collection of coins you need to have the courage (and vision) to think big. Let me begin by saying that I personally love Proof gold, especially Liberty Head issues struck prior to 1900. I love the fact that most of these coins have original mintage figures below 100, I love the dazzling appearance that nicer pieces possess and I love the excellent value that many of these coins represent in today’s market.
2. Contacts: With virtually no exceptions, I can’t think of many collectors who have successfully assembled a sophisticated collection without some degree of assistance from a professional. This comment may seem self-serving. In a way it is. But think about this. The typical high-end coin dealer looks at far more coins than the typical collector, reads a lot more about coins than the typical collector and make more decisions regarding buying and selling than a collector does. If you want to assemble a great coin collection, you are going to have to have a few strong dealer connections, whether they are wholesale, retail or in the auction segments of the business. The Proof gold market changed radically in the late 1990’s. After the Bass, Pittman and Childs holdings were sold at auction between 1995 and 2000, there was an exceptional amount of Proof gold on the market. I can remember certain dates in the quarter eagle and half eagle series that were really rare (i.e., with surviving populations of fewer than 20 pieces) having multiple examples available simultaneously. This gave the market a somewhat warped perspective. At the end of 2000, I owned three very nice Proof 1886 quarter eagles at the same time. In the ensuing years I haven’t owned a single example and don’t think I’ve seen more than one or two.
3. Communication: Great collectors do not exist in a vacuum. They read books about coins. They spend time in chatrooms, look at website every day, attend conventions, speak with other collector, join local coin clubs, attend seminars, meet knowledgeable dealers and obsess over the PCGS/NGC population reports. Collectors who spend ten minutes a week on their collections do not expand their knowledge base. Collectors who spend an hour a day getting smarter become more intelligent and their ensuing decisions generally become much more confident.
4. Connoisseurship: If you want to be a great collector, you have to think like one. In the realm of coins, this means avoiding shortcuts in the creation of your collection. If you have to pay more money for a certain Carson City half eagle because of the fact it displays a great strike, then pay the money. If you have selected a series that contains a number of expensive key dates (like New Orleans double eagles) and you don’t feel comfortable spending six figures on these coins, then choose another area of specialty. Being a connoisseur is a state of mind. You can go on vacation and get a room for $45 a night at a motel or you can spend $450 a night for a room with great amenities with a lovely view. (Being a cheapskate doesn’t factor into this equation…) There are no shortcuts to assembling a great collection.