The New Rules: Coin Buying In 2009

The realities of the new coin market are such that I have refined and revised my buying strategies for 2009 and, most probably, beyond. I think my “dealer strategies” can be easily applied to “collector strategies” and they are useful for most people. My first strategy isn’t so much “new” as it is a refinement of an existing strategy. I have always considered myself to be a fussy, critical buyer with what I believe is one of the better eyes around when it comes to originality. Well now I’m even fussier than before. If a coin isn’t all there, I don’t want to buy it; even if it is a special date that I have a soft spot for.

Let me give you an idea of how this strategy works. At the recent FUN show, I saw two comparably high grade examples of the 1856-O half eagle. This is a scarce issue that I really like and it has always been a good seller for me. I generally would have no problem with owning two (or even three) pieces simultaneously. The first example I saw was an NGC AU58. It was priced fairly but it really wasn’t very nice for the grade with little of its originality intact. This is a coin that I might have bought a few months ago, given that it was fairly priced and really rare in this grade. A few hours later I saw an NGC AU53 example of the same date that was choice and fully original. I bought it without hesitation. In this market, it pays to be a fussy buyer. If I were a collector of New Orleans half eagles, I would personally rather have a choice, original AU53 than a not-so-choice and not-so-original AU58. Even though the holder says that one of the coins is five points “better” than the other, my eyes told me that the lower grade coin was aesthetically superior.

My buying guidelines have always been that I want a coin that is in the top 5-10% for the grade with choice, original surfaces, nice color and good eye appeal. I want the sort of coin that will get a sticker when I send it to CAC. In the new coin market of 2009, I am repeating this to myself every time I look at a coin (be it at auction, in another dealer’s inventory or when a collection is sent to me by a specialist-collector). I’m being ultra-careful not to slacken on my quality standards and neither should you.

Another thing that I am focusing on is a lower price point. Some dealers are still able to sell coins priced at $10,000 and up. I find these pretty hard to sell right now unless they are extremely special. Generally speaking, I’d rather have ten interesting $5,000 coins in stock than one not-as-interesting $50,000 coin.

There are exceptions to this. Obviously, if I want to participate in the early gold market, I’m not going to go very far if I limit myself to $5,000 coins. And I would without a doubt be a buyer of a $25,000, $50,000 or even $100,000 early gold coin if it met the following parameters: really choice, really original, really rare and really saleable. But expensive “product” is an area of the market that has already begun a significant downwards correction and I think such coins could go a lot lower in the coming months.

How does this apply to you? If you are a high-end collector who purchases expensive coins I am certainly not telling you to stop (in fact, I’d be thrilled to sell you all the expensive coins you’d like right now...just call me on the phone to discuss this!). What I am saying is that the expensive coin market has shifted from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. You might be able to buy a coin that was $35,000 a few months ago for $30,000 today; maybe even a hair cheaper. If this is your price point, though, I think it is more important than ever to be hyper-critical about every potential new purchase you contemplate making.

Which brings me to another point: buying the right coins. When the market is on an unstoppable upwards course, you can make sloppy decisions and the greater fool theory will inevitable rescue you. How many collectors made poor buying decisions in 2005 or 2006 and were saved by putting lemons in an auction and having their mistakes become lemonade? This is unlikely to happen in 2009, 2010 and beyond. You want to be really careful with what you buy. Collectors with short attention spans are going to find it hard to get rid of pieces that they lose interest in after a few months because something else has captured their fancy. My suggestion is to buy every coin like you are going to keep it for five or ten years.

Another decision that I am going to try to rigorously adhere to in 2009 involves over-expanding my numismatic horizons. In years past, I dabbled in areas that I really didn’t know that well because they “seemed cool” or I “thought they were good value.” In 2009, I am going to stick with what I know best. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop buying bust silver coins or rare date Seated quarters and half dollars. I like these coins and I know these areas of the market well enough not to make dramatic mistakes. But I am definitely establishing a stronger “comfort level” this year and will likely coinslap myself anytime I am tempted to stray from it.

One last strategy I am zealously adhering to seems like a no-brainer but I think it’s important enough to bear repeating. I am going to try very hard to have an inventory that is full of popular “bread and butter” coins like nice 1854-O three dollar gold pieces and 1839-O quarter eagles. These aren’t necessarily the rarest coins but they are very popular and have multiple levels of demand. Liquidity is a key factor for collectors and dealers alike in the New Market.

Are there coins that I haven’t really specialized in the past that I will be buying more of in 2009? I anticipate buying and selling more No Motto Philadelphia half eagles and eagles in the AU55 to MS63 range because I think they are great values. I’ll probably buy more non-New Orleans Type One double eagles because this is an active market and a number of the dates are still undervalued, in my opinion. And I think I’ll start moving back into the Three Dollar gold piece market again because I like these coins at current levels.