How a Coin Gets Bad Karma--And How It Can Regain Its Mojo

I recently sold an interesting coin (details to follow) and the entire process, which was reasonably quick  and painless for both myself and the buyer, got me to thinking: can a coin get bad karma and if it does what does it take for it to regain its mojo? The coin in question has to remain anonymous but it was a very rare silver piece, dated in the 1820's, which was both a condition rarity and an absolute rarity. The trouble with the coin was that a few factors had combined to give it a bad reputation within the specialist community. Was this reputation deserved? Partially; but not really because of the coin itself, more because of a number of external factors. The collector who bought the coin from me saw through its bad karma to realize that, at its new price level, it would be a great addition to his set. And I have to say, I think it was a pretty savvy move on his part.

So how exactly does a coin get bad karma?

I can think of at least five ways and I'm sure that other dealers/collectors can double the size of this list.

1. A Coin Is Perceived To Be Overgraded.

Grading is subjective but there are some big-ticket coins in third-party holders which have acquired a reputation for being overgraded. I can think of a certain 1804 dollar whose grade has inflated many times over the years. I'm not certain that the concept of "grade" applies to a seven-figure rarity like an 1804 dollar but the perception that it is more-than-fully graded has circled this coin for years and it might scare off a few potential buyers.

Why would a coin be overgraded by one of the services? It could have been part of a fresh deal that excited the graders and the final grades were on the high side. It could have been the "right" coin submitted at the "right" time and it acquired a grade during the submission process that probably would never be equaled again if it were to be re-submitted. Or perhaps it was doctored and a substance which was applied to the surfaces changed the appearance and the coin is now overgraded. There are many coins in holders which simply don't look properly graded (even though they might be) and their slab is an albatross.

If the coin in question has a value of $100 and the perceived grade is off by a point, it isn't saddled with bad karma. If the coin is worth $10,000 or $100,000 or $1,000,000 than the perception of whether or not the grade is accurate is very important. In the case of the coin I sold, the grade was probably off by just a point. But with an expensive coin, a point can equal tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

2. A Coin is Overexposed.

This is not something new. While doing pedigree research on branch mint gold coins, I have found specific pieces which appeared in four or five Thomas Elder sales during a five year period in the 1920's or five Stack's sales within five years during the 1970's. The problem was Tom Elder's sales weren't on-line and the PCGS auction archives doesn't list all the Stack's sales from the 1960's and 1970's as they do with today's auctions.

For a number of reasons, a coin can be overexposed and become tired. It might go unsold in three consecutive Heritage or Stacks Bowers auctions before it finds the right buyer. Or, it might bounce around between three or four major dealers and be advertised on different websites. An internet-related phenomena is when the same coin appears on five different dealer"s websites over an extended period. It's only one coin but to the new collector, it looks tired.

In the upper end of the coin market, the perception of freshness is incredibly important. For many of the top buyers, be they dealers or collectors, if a coin is not perceived as being fresh, its can become extremely hard to sell; even if the coin is accurately graded and reasonably fairly priced. For these buyers, nothing can kill a sale faster than finding out that not only are they not getting first shot but the coin recently went unsold in two consecutive Heritage auctions.

3. A Coin is Overpriced.

As a buyer of high end, rare coins I am sometimes offered pieces which are so insanely priced that they almost immediately are Bad Karma Candidates. I'm not talking a $50,000 coin which s priced at $55,000; I'm talking about a $50,000 which is priced at $100,000 or more. This sounds hard to believe but it happens more often than you think.

I'd like to think I'm a pretty savvy buyer and the owner of a great coin is certainly entitled to take an epic shot at me when he is pricing it. I try not to take this personally and I try not to hold it against the coin if it mysteriously is offered to me again later at a show for a number which is more in line with what I'm thinking.

Collectors tend to be more emotional and if a $50,000 coin which is priced to them at $100,000 might no longer be worth $50,000 if it is reoffered under different conditions.

4. The Coin Has an Evil Owner.

As a dealer, I find myself buying coins from people who I don't really care for. They may be Red Sox fans or they might have political views that don't mesh with me.  But collectors are able to be a little more discriminatory.

Funny story. The upper-end Dahlonega gold market is small and when a new player enters the market, the other big fish tend to approach the new player with suspicion. Around 20+ years ago, a new Dahlonega collector burst on the scene and he was, to put it kindly, lavish with his spending and harsh with his criticism of other people's coins. After he had pissed off one of my other Dahlonega clients for the third or fourth time, I got a call which basically told me to "never, ever offer me a coin again which Collector X has owned, even if it's a great deal."

Today, in this internet-driven world of numismatics, I think this is still the case. Don't you have a nemesis who you dislike and whose coins you don't want despoiling your collection?

5. Bad Pedigree

I've written a number of articles about coins with good pedigrees. But there are coins with bad pedigrees.

I'm not going to slam any specific collections here; that's not a cool thing to do. In my many years of specializing in branch mint gold, I've come across collections which had bad reputations. They may have been filled with overgraded coins or they might have had a number of recolored/doctored pieces. Perhaps they were assembled by a dealer with a bad reputation and the perception, deserved or not, was that the collection became a burial ground for some unfortunate individual.

So, there you have some of the ways a coin can acquire bad karma. How can a good coin shed this bad energy and get back its mojo?

1. Time Heals Most Wounds

Most dealers and some collectors have great memories. But its funny how some coins which were perceived as being overgraded ten years suddenly don't look so bad today. Stories about a "bad" coin can be forgotten or conveniently lost/overlooked and the Bad Karma 1847-D quarter eagle of the late 1990's becomes a decent coin in the market environment of 2013. Trust me, it happens more than you think...

2. Coins Are De-Pedigreed and Re-Holdered.

You take a coin with a bad pedigree in a scratchy holder and make a few changes...send it to the grading service of your choice, remove the pedigree and put it in a spiffy new pronged holder. Voilà, new coin. Well, maybe not a "new" coin but one whose bad karma might suddenly go away.

3. The Right Owner Buys the Coin.

I saw plenty of sketchy coins in the Bass sales but once you slapped that Bass pedigree on the coin and put it into a PCGS holder, I didn't mind that Bass bought the coin from a dealer I know was a sleaze ball or that it was in six Stack's sales between 1968 and 1973.

4. Downgrade the Coin. 

You see a coin in an MS67 holder that pretty amazing but your perception is that its just an MS66 at best. If you run the numbers and it makes financial sense, why not send it to PCGS or NGC and downgrade it a point? Sounds crazy, I know, but it is a trend which is rapidly gaining traction amongst smart dealers and collectors.

5. Keep the Coin Off the Market For a Generation.

Every collector makes mistakes. But as I said in #1 above, time heals most wounds. I guarantee you that Bass, Norweb and Eliasberg made plenty of mistakes but they overcame them by holding the coins they bought for many years.

 

Do you think a coin can get bad karma? If you do, how can it get back its mojo? Add your comments below or contact me by email at dwn@ont.com.

         

 

 

 

 

 

What Gives a Coin the "Wow" Factor?

At shows or while viewing auctions, I look at a lot of coins. Most leave no impression, some make me pause for a moment before I resume looking at more coins and a small number get me to stop everything else I'm doing (I'm a notorious multitasker), exclaim "wow" and get my thoughts immediately oriented towards "how do I buy this coin and what will I have to pay for it." There are not alot of coins with this "wow" factor but I find that nearly all the coins that excite me have one or more things in common. What are some of the things that make a coin special for me and how do they affect my decision to purchase them?

1.  Great Scarcity.  I deliberately didn't say "great rarity." Obviously, if I'm looking at lots in a Heritage sale and I see an 1854-S quarter eagle which looks like it was run over by a train, I'm still going to stop, look at it carefully and probably figure a bid. But I'm more likely to be impressed by a coin with great relative scarcity within a series. In other words, if I see a real Uncirculated 1870 quarter eagle (a date which is almost never available in true Mint State), I'm likely to be "wowed." This isn't necessarily an expensive coin but I'm more likely to be stopped in my tracks by a CAC-quality MS62 1870 quarter eagle than I am a far more expensive but far more often seen issue.

As you become more familiar with a series, you learn what dates are seen with regularity (even if they are perceived to be "rare") and which just don't turn up very much. As an example, I was at a show recently and was offered a Proof example of a date which I hadn't remembered seeing in some time. I did a quick search through auction records and noted that this date became available at a rate of about once every four or five years. The coin itself wasn't a Gem but it had a decent appearance and it was priced fairly. I was happy to buy it for my inventory.

  2.  Great Eye Appeal.  Eye appeal is best defined as a combination of factors (strike, luster, color, preservation of the surfaces) which combine to make a coin attractive. Most savvy buyers have one or two hot buttons which, if they are pressed, have a greater impact. For me, these tend to be thick, frosty luster and deep, rich even coloration.

Luster is the reflection of light from the surface of a coin. When a coin is worn, dipped, cleaned or processed, the luster is impaired and the eye appeal is impacted. As I look through coins at shows and at auction, few have nice original luster and, as a result, when a coin with "booming" original mint frost is available, it tends to look great.

But part of a weakness for luster is also knowing the series which you collect. As an example, 1847-C quarter eagles are sometimes seen with thick, frosty luster and higher grade pieces can have really good eye appeal as a result. An issue such as an 1848-C quarter eagle is not known for good luster and I can't recall having seen more than two or three coins which had a "wow" factor as a result of good luster.

I can love a coin if it isn't sharply struck or if it shows an average number of non-detracting bagmarks but I have a hard time with coins that have bland, washed-out color. To me a coin with no definable color has no character and this sort of "blah" appearance is hard for me to embrace.

As with what I mentioned above for luster, the same is true with color: as you learn your area of specialization, you learn what color(s) a coin should show. As an example, the proper color for an early date Dahlonega half eagle is much different than that for a date from the mid-1850's. But when coins have been processed, they tend to look alike; meaning an 1841-D half eagle will look virtually the same as an 1858-D. And this is why that when I see an 1841-D with the "right" shade of green-gold color, I get excited and it gives me the wow factor.

3.  Great Pedigrees.  I'll come right out and admit it: I'm a sucker for a great pedigree. A few weeks ago, I started to read the auction descriptions for the Eric P. Newman coins which are going to be sold in a few weeks by Heritage at the 2013 CSNS auction. The coins were impressive, the grades were impressive. What excited me most about this deal, though, was the pedigrees which many of the coins have. As an example, the star in this first group of Newman coins is an 1852 Humbert $10 graded MS68 by NGC. Not only has Mr. Newman owned this coin since the 1920's, it came from the famous Zabreskie sale of 1907 and, even more impressively, has a direct pedigree that goes back to Augustus Humbert's estate. In other words, this coin belonged to the man who struck it. How cool is that?

Not every pedigree means that much to me. There are a few which have personal significance and I will stretch to buy nice coins from these collections even if they are a bit "out of the box" for me.  Amongst sales from my lifetime,  the ones which impact me the most are Bass, Eliasberg, Milas, Norweb, James Stack, Duke's Creek, Green Pond and Dingler.  Just about any coin from a Chapman Brothers sale (with a verifiable pedigree) would have a high wow factor for me as would coins from "name" collections sold prior to 1945.

4.  Great Historical Significance.  As a child, my interest in coins was predicated on my love of history. As an adult, this has, if anything, intensified. A coin with Wild West association is of interest to me and that's why a nice CC double eagle from the 1870's has more of a wow factor for me than a nice CC double eagle from the 1890's. Others historic eras which send a shiver down my numismatic spine? Certainly the Civil War and, a bit less so, World War 1. I'd also give high wow marks to San Francisco gold coins from the 1850's and antebellum New Orleans issues from the 1840's.

Numismatic significance goes hand-in-hand with historic significance. Sure, I'm a coin weenie but I will admit that factors like a coin being a first-year-of-issue or a one-year type excite me.

Another dimension which can increase the wow factor of a coin for me is its age. An eagle dated 1799 just seems Older" (and therefore cooler) than one dated 1800 or 1801 and this tends to get my attention when I'm looking at coins. I think this is the case with most collectors. A nice coin dated in the 1790's has more appeal than just about any other American issue, regardless of denomination.

5.  Great Backstory.  I'm a sucker for a coin with a great backstory. Let me give you an example.

Perhaps you've seen the small red presentation boxes which people used to give gold coins in as Christmas gifts. They were typically for gold dollars and quarter eagles and they were reasonably common from the 1880's until the 1920's. On a few occasions, I've had people email photos of otherwise-common Liberty Head or Indian Head quarter eagles which are housed in these boxes. Sometimes, the boxes are inscribed and sometimes they come with letters which feature ornate notes from a grandmother to her grandson/granddaughter. I like the sentimental value that these have and because of the backstory, I will always buy them and sell the peripherals alongside the coins to add to the wow factor.

A few months ago, Heritage sold a Gem gold dollar from the 1880's (I think it was either an 1885 or an 1887) which came in a lovely little presentation box with a beautiful, ornate inscription inside of it. I didn't buy it but the dealer who did (hint, he's tall, from Oklahoma and his last name rhymes with Barter...) is someone who is as easily swayed by a coin's backstory as I am.

 

What is it about a coin that gives you the "wow" factor? I'd love for you to share this with me and invite you to add a comment to this blog. Are you interested in acquiring coins for you collecting which have a strong wow factor? if so, please contact me via email at dwn@ont.com.

 

The PCGS Set Registry for 19th Century Gold Collectors: Part One

This week the DWN Blog welcomes guest blogger Robert Kanterman.

I'd like to thank long-time DWN client and personal friend Robert "RYK" Kanterman for writing this excellent study on some of the potential avenues for the PCGS Set Registry which are available to collectors of 19th (and early 20th century) gold coinage. Robert's suggestions are followed by some of my own observations/comments. Please note that my comments appear in italics throughout this blog.

As a collector, I am always look for new ways to enjoy coin collecting, new directions to explore, and ideas to share with others who are similarly searching for collecting themes, especially when they are interested in collecting gold coins. In this two-part blog, I will discuss some gold coin collecting ideas offered by PCGS's very successful registry program, some of which are probably unknown to many gold coin collectors.

I will not be discussing the Indian gold series or Saint Gaudens double eagles, but will instead focus on 19th century gold and especially Liberty head series, 1838 through 1908. I am also going to focus on sets that do NOT require the purchase of coins that cost more than my first car (a 1984 Honda Accord - $9,700 in 1984; no 70-CC $20, or even 70-CC $10 or the like).

I will disclose that I have no financial affiliation with DWN or PCGS and that I have active registry sets in some of those that I will be discussing.

I.  Charlotte Basic Type Set: a gold dollar, quarter eagle, and half eagle. This trio can be completed in XF condition, with nice original coins, for much less than the price of my 1984 Honda. If you have deeper pockets or want to go further, expand to the three gold dollar types, two quarter eagle types, and three (or four) half eagle types.

I agree with RYK and think that the simple three coin denominational set from Charlotte is a great place to begin with branch mint gold collecting. For less than $10,000 you can purchase nice AU examples of the three denominations. To "spice up" the set, look for scarcer dates. As an example, instead of the 1851-C for your gold dollar, choose a scarcer but still affordable issue such as the 1853-C.

II. Liberty Head $5 Gold Date Set, Circulation Strikes (1839-1908). The set includes one half eagle from each date (any mint) of this very long series, none of which are real stoppers, unlike the $10 and $20 series. That said, there are a total of 70 coins, and this can take a long time to assemble and significant resources, especially if you demand AU or higher condition examples for the better dates. The 1862-65 and 1875 dates are going to be the toughest.

I'm a huge fan of Liberty Head half eagles and I especially like the pre-1880 dates. To me, the one flaw with RYK's choice of this set is the fact that while the earlier dates of this denomination are interesting, the later dates are sort of monotonous.  You can get around this, to a degree, by focusing on the CC or O mints in the 1880's and 1890's slots but this still leaves you with the task of buying a lot of generic issues for your set. If it existed, I'd rather work on a No Motto date set of half eagles with one from each year, 1839-1866.

III. Liberty Head $5 Gold Mintmark Type Set (1839-1908). Sticking with the popular Liberty $5 series, the Liberty $5 gold coin is the only coin in the US series that was struck at all seven operating US Mints (Philadelphia, New Orleans, Charlotte, Dahlonega, San Francisco, Carson City, and Denver). This set therefore requires inclusion of one coin from each of these seven mints and was a popular collecting challenge in the pre-certification era. It was a stock product for Capital holders, long before anyone heard of PCGS.

I do not completely agree with the weighting (for example why is Philadelphia worth twice Denver?), but it is an enjoyable collecting challenge that can be completed in a variety of grade and price points. To maximize your resources, pick the 1893-O $5, the ubiquitous 1891-CC $5, 1899 and 1901-S $5's, and the 1907-D $5. To make it more interesting and challenging, pick No Motto San Francisco, Philadelphia and New Orleans $5's, a Carson City $5 pre-1879, and the 1906-D $5.

Ah...the seven mint set of Liberty Head half eagles. This may be dating myself but I used to assemble a lot of these in the pre-PCGS/NGC days and sell them, in Capital plastic holders, to marketers. I agree with RYK's suggestions regarding "spicing up" your seven coin set with more interesting dates. You might not be able to afford a nice pre-1880 CC half eagle but don't settle for an 1891-CC; buy a coin like a nice AU55 1882-CC or an 1890-CC in MS61 to MS62

IV. Classic Head $5 Gold (1834-1838). This popular series has a significant following, with some choosing to pursue the minor McCloskey varieties. The basic set, however, has 8 coins - 5 reasonably easy to find and three that are more difficult: 1834 Crosslet 4, 1838-C, and 1838-D. If you stick to EF coins, you can stay under our budgetary requirements. If you wish to compete, you will have to go AU and higher. What I like about this set is that you get a popular Redbook variety (the Crosslet 4) and two great first year southern mint coins.

I'm a huge fan of Classic Head half eagles (and quarter eagles as well). To me, these coins bridge the gap between early gold and the more modern Liberty Head issues and they have a "handmade" charm which the latter issues don't show. As RYK pointed out, the 1834 Crosslet 4 and the 1838-C/1838-D issues can be stoppers for the collector on a tight budget but affordable examples do exist so they are not an unrealistic goal. If you are strict about not buying any coins which are more expensive than RYK's Honda Accord, you might have a problem with the 1838-C and the 1838-D in higher grades as properly graded AU and better coins are probably going to exceed Accord Value.

I can also see collecting Classic Head gold by die variety. A list of all the varieties can be downloaded from the Heritage website and many of these can be cherrypicked from dealers (including myself) who don't take the time to identify the scarce and rare varieties. Collecting gold by die variety has never been popular but if any series were to become the standard for gold coins, it would likely become the Classic Head half eagles.

V. Complete Liberty Head Gold Type Set (1838-1907). I am not sure who came up with this idea, but I really like it! This set requires one coin of each type of the Liberty head gold era. As someone who is prejudiced against smaller coins (sorry, SD!), only requiring two mini coins (Type 1 gold dollar and any Liberty quarter eagle) allows the collector to focus on the bigger coins (three $10's and three $20's). The stopper is the "Type 1" or "Covered Ear" No Motto $10 from 1838 and 1839. I recommend having some fun and sprinkling the set with branch mint gold, if you can. With the exception of the stopper, every coin can be purchased in XF or better condition for under $2,500.

This set seems a little gimmicky to me but, that said, I'm in favor of any sort of set that turns "accumulators" of coins into "collectors."  The stopper which RYK refers to (the 1838-1839 $10) isn't hard to locate and a nice EF40 to EF45 1839 Head of 1838 eagle is affordable and available. And I really like the idea of sprinkling some branch mint coins in this set.

VI. 20th Century Gold Liberty Head sets (1900-1907/8, quarter eagles through double eagles). I am not sure if Doug is going to like this one, and that is why I placed it at the end. Let's tackle each one individually. The quarter eagle set (1900-1907) contains eight coins, all Philadelphia Mint, and probably will not keep the interest long of anyone who has read this far into the blog.

  • The half eagle set (1900-1908) contains 18 coins,  including many common coins, some surprisingly uncommon, and one relative stopper (1904-S). The set could be completed with AU and/or lower MS coins for around $12,000 or less, though better coins will certainly cost more.
  • The eagle set (1900-1907) includes 21 coins with three relative stoppers (1900-S "the silent stopper"--if you don't believe me, I challenge you to find one, 1906-O and 1907-S). This set affords you the opportunity to buy coins from four mints (Philly, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco), and even the more common coins can be expensive in higher grades.
  • Last, but not least, is the $20 Lib 20th century set (1900-1907), a total of 18 coins, that range in difficulty, from the most ubiquitous Liberty head gold coin of all, the 1904 $20 to the challenging about AU 1902 and 1905 $20's. Because each coin contains nearly an ounce of gold, the basal value of even the most common coins will approach $2000.

RYK was right about me not really being a fan of these sets. For every interesting issue like the 1900-S eagle (yes, it is a tough coin in Uncirculated,  by the way) there are five which are little more than generics and I think your money is spent better on really scarce or rare issues. For the price of, say, a 1905 double eagle in AU, you could buy a much more interesting (and rare) coin which will perform better and give you more pleasure in the long run (at least in my opinion...)

There you have it, six (or nine) collecting ideas for those interested in starting a US gold collection or those already collecting who wish to move in a new direction.

Part Two will discuss some collecting ideas not in the PCGS registry that I would like to see taken up by PCGS and some collecting ideas offered by the NGC registry. As always, contact Doug at DWN@ont.com, if you would like to talk coins and add some of the coins discussed here to your collections (new or old). Contact me at ryk@blackandgoldcoins.com if you just want to talk coins.

 

How NOT to Assemble a Great Collection

     While looking through thousands and thousands of coins recently in the 2013 Heritage FUN sale, I took a brief pause and read the preface to the catalog, where collectors are introduced and given the opportunity to write briefly about their collections. Some of these collectors, like John Adams, are incredibly sophisticated and operate within narrow specializations in which they are probably more knowledgeable than all but a tiny handful of dealers. Other collectors are clearly products of the Internet era of coin collecting and they make mistake after mistake. This got me to thinking...how does the mindset of a confirmed I Can Do This By Myself  collector work and why, in my opinion, does it often spell disaster?      In the spirit of these thoughts, let's take a look at how NOT to build a great--or even a good to very good--collection of coins. The spirit of this article may be snarky but I think there a lot of good points that are raised.

     1.  Choose a Complex Series.

     If you are going to collect a series like American Silver Eagles, you can be an I Can Do This Myself type of collector who lives on the plains of Montana, never goes to a coin show and seldom even visits a local brick and mortar coin store. And I wouldn't limit this simplicity factor to modern coins. I think you can build a reasonably complex set like Red and Brown Two Cent Pieces or PR64 to PR65 Barber Dimes going it alone.

     There are series that are complex either because of they way that they were produced (many Colonials as an example) or because they can be "messsed with" or misrepresented so easily (red copper coins or 20th century Proof gold as just two examples). These are not series that lend themselves to rugged individualism and I'm not certain that I've ever seen or heard of a savant who learned the ins and outs of a really complex series totally on his own.

     Despite this, many beginning collectors outsmart themselves and choose a series that is far more complex than they realize. They don't know that the preferred look for Southern gold coins is dark and dirty; not bright and grainy. They never learn that there are different levels of "redness" on Indian Cents and Lincoln Cents and that a red MS65 example of a certain date can be worth anywhere from $2,500 to $7,500.

     So what exactly am I saying here? Do I mean that all beginning collectors should start with PR69 American Silver Eagles and gradually work their way towards Dahlonega half eagles? Absolutely not. What I'm suggesting is that if you do choose a series that is complicated (and I can make the case that virtually all pre-1964 American coins have some degree of mystery that can not be unlocked in a few weeks) you need a mentor and/or a good dealer to work with.

     Or better yet, outsmart yourself and pick a series you don't really understand. You'll be on your way to NOT assembling a great set...

     2.  Go it Alone; Don't Have an Expert Dealer Working With You.

     Some collectors look at dealers as a necessary evil. They don't like dealers, don't trust dealers and work with them because they have to. (I feel the same way about lawyers but the last time I was involved in a legal issue, I was happy to hire a great lawyer and not read "Law for Dummies" and represent myself). This attitude is unfortunate as there are many good dealers.

     I'm a student of coin collectors and the coin market as well as coins themselves and in the modern era of numismatics (let's call this 1945 and onwards) there have been many great collectors but few "mavericks" who have bypassed the typical collector/dealer relationship. Some collectors like John Pittman were able to buy great coins at auction without a dealer's guidannce but even Pittman had a few dealers with who he had a good working relationship. One wonders how Pittman would view the current generation of sight-unseen Internet buyers, especially those who buy sophisticated, expensive coins without a trained set of eyes working with them.

     (If your answer to this is "much of what Pittman bought was sight unseen through mail bids at auctions he never attended" I would agree with this to an extent. Big difference: today, a slight variable in a coin's appearance can equate to tens of thousands of dollars--which was not the case in the 1940's or 1950's. Also, many of the coins sold today have been doctored while during Pittman's heyday, original coins were, more often than not, the norm in the market).

    Well-connected, educated dealers are of little value to collectors who are NOT assembling a great collection.

     3.  Buy Only Online Based On Images

     I've made this point a dozen times in other articles but I think it is tremendously important and it bears repeating. Again. Collections that are built by collectors who buy coins through auction based solely on images are destined to be full of problem coins. Auction sales are sight-unseen and most of the images that I see online are not sufficient to make important decisions, especially on high grade coins. (NOTE: I feel differently about circulated coins as it seems possible to get a clear enough image of an EF or AU piece that I would personally feel OK bidding on it although not necessarily aggressively).

     Buying a coin off a dealer's website is different as you have a return privilege.

     If you do buy sight-unseen at auction, try to at least establish a rapport with a friendly, knowledgable person at the firm and ask his opinion on the coin(s) that interest you.

     Or just buy based on the images since you do NOT want to assemble a great collection...

    4.  Don't Learn What Original Surfaces Look Like.

     If no one ever takes the time to teach you what an original coin looks like, you are not going to have any reference point in determining originality. I was lucky enough to learn about originality back when there were still a decent number of non-processed coins in the marketplace. This is not the case today. To learn this today requires a real effort and real connections in the market.

     I had an interesting conversation about originality the other day with a collector of Proof gold. He told me that when he was  less experienced, he returned a few high grade Proofs because they were "dirty." He was so used to seeing bright, shiny Proof gold that when he finally had a chance to add a few totally original coins he returned them to the dealer who sent them. But this collector was smart enough to ask his mentor why the coins were tarnished and what made them desirable. Then he learned: the "dirty" coins had a nagtural haze and had yet to be dipped. These were the "good" coins he needed to be buying.

     As I looked through the Heritage 2013 sale, I saw gold coin after gold coin that had been stripped including at least two high six-figure collections that didn't contain more than a handful of coins that were original. The owners of these coins never were able to determine what constituted an "original" (or even a semi-original) coin and never had the foresight to ask a knowledgable expert.

     Keep buying bright and shiny coins--they are the cornerstone to NOT assembling a great set!

     5.  Race Through Your Collection.

     I just sold a very significant gold dollar to a collector who has been working on his set for close to two decades. As we concluded the transaction, I commended him for his patience and got to thinking about how the old-school method of slowly assembling a collection has changed along with the way that collectors build sets and acquire individual coins.

     A few days later, as I viewed the Heritage FUN sale, I noticed that a few of the major collections had been assembled in two to five years. And these were not sets that ordinarily could be assembled quickly. Clearly, shortcuts were taken...and they showed.

     Great collections are the result of opportunity. Let me give you an example. A month ago, I began selling a superb collection of gold dollars. I gave first shot to a dedicated, persistent collector who I knew was not only going to buy a number of coins, he was going to appreciate them and (hopefully) sell them back to me a number of years down the road. Here's a collector who was probably expecting to buy two or three coins for his set this year and suddenly he was given the opporunity to buy no less than eight coins that he needed and knew he was unlikely to find again in many years of searching.  Was his purchase of eight coins at one time an example of "racing" through his set? Clearly not; it was, instead, a moment of great opportunity.

     This is an example of "positive opportunity." There are examples of negative opportunity where collectors bury themselves in a mound of problem coins in a short period of time. And there are clearly scenarios where well-meaning collectors have chosen the wrong dealer(s) and proceeded to be bombarded with crappy coins.

      Try to assemble your collection as quickly as possible; that's how NOT to assemble a set!

     6.  Overpay for Mediocre Coins and Underbid for Nice Coins.

     In the aforemtioned Heritage FUN sale, it was interesting to note on coins which pedigrees were given, what the (ex)owner paid for them. It served to reinforce an old belief of mine: misguided collectors tend to pay too much for mediocre coins and they never get to buy really nice coins as they a) either lacks the dealer connections to be offered them or b) won't "pay up" for high end pieces.

     I also note a tendency for this kind of collector to "overbuy" the common dates in a set and "underbuy" the rarities. An example: if you collect New Orleans quarter eagles, the coins you should be stretching on (i.e., buying the absolute best possibe pieces you can afford) are the keys such as the 1845-O and the dates with multiple levels of demand such  as the 1839-O. The dates that you shouldn't overbuy (i.e., buying a common date in an uncommon grade) are the 1843-O Small Date and the 1854-O).

     How can you "overpay" for most of your coins? If you are exclusively an auction buyer, I think that's easy: you can misinterpret the auction prices realized data that firms such as Heritage provide.

     Let's say you are looking at prices for a certain Type One double eagle in AU58 and the last three results are $4,500, $4,650 and $7,750. Another example comes up for sale and you figure "hey, the last coin sold for $7,750, I'm fine paying $6,250 for it." If you do not really analyze the $7,750 sale you might not know that the coin was a) in an old holder and undergraded or b) was from a shipwreck and it brought a strong premium as such. Suddenly, your bid 0f $6,250 is way too high, given that the two pertinent results are actually $4.500 and $4,650.

     Nobody actually makes that mistake, right? Uh, think again. They do. And mistakes such as this are ways that you DON'T build a great collection.

     7.  Sell Your Collection As Soon As You Finish It.

     In this New World of Coin Collecting another collector trait that seems suddenly accepted is to sell your collection literally as soon as it is done. In the red hot market of 2006-2008, you could get away with this and sometimes even have a nice score. But in the current market, I don't think the collector is doing himself a service by blowing out his collection.

     Today's market is all about "fresh coins" and it's easy for a knowledgeable collector with a computer to figure out that the coins you just consigned to auction were all bought out of other auctions in the last two or three years. This will hurt the potential resale of your coins, even if they are above-average coins.

     We were blessed with the longest bull market in numismatic history in the 2000's and collectors who were too new to remember the bear markets of 1980's and 1990's are sometimes not entirely realistic with their financial expectations regarding coins. Generally, it takes a full cycle--or two--for coins to realize their full potential.

     Buy coins quickly and sell coins quickly....exactly how NOT to assemble a great collection.

     To me, the ideal collector uses the concepts of collecting that were in vogue in 1913 and marries them with the technology that is in place in 2013. This is how you assemble a great collection.

An Interesting Collecting Idea

As I was getting ready to post a coin that will be for sale in today's DWN E-Special (an 1846-D/D half eagle in PCGS VG8), it dawned on me that this piece could be the impetus for an interesting specialized collection: a grading set of Dahlonega half eagles. This set would consist of one Dahlonega half eagle of each grade between AG3 and AU58. In total, this is seventeen different coins. Figuring an average cost of around $2500 per coin, you'd be looking at something like $42,500 for a set.

The coins in the set would encompass the following circulated grades:

About Good 3 Good 4, Good 6 Very Good 8, Very Good 10 Fine 12, Fine 15 Very Fine 20, Very Fine 25, Very Fine 30, Very Fine 35 Extremely Fine 40, Extremely Fine 45 About Uncirculated 50, About Uncirculated 53, About Uncirculated 55, About Uncirculated 58

In theory, this set could be expanded by another few coins, if coins with plus or star grade modifiers were available. I would leave this up to the discretion of the collector.

Why would this be a good set for a collector? Would it be hard to assemble and how long would it take to complete? What are some of the pitfalls that the collector might encounter in working on this set? And what are a few bells and whistles that could be added to make it even more interesting?

Some readers of this blog are going to think that a grading set of Dahlonega half eagles is a hokey idea and would wonder why any collector would waste time or money on it. I disagree.

I like this set for a number of reasons. The first and most important is that it will teach a collecor how to grade circulated half eagles. I am often asked the question "how can I learn to grade coins" and the best answer I can give a collector is that you learn from what you buy. Being able to tell the difference between an EF45 and an AU53 half eagle is an important skill for the collector.

Having third-party graded coins available is, of course, going to make it easier to do this kind of set. In the pre-third party grading days, it would have been nearly impossible to assemble a set that had all the various circulated grades as there would have been so little agreement on the grades among collectors (and dealers).

Would this set be hard to assemble and how long would it take? One of the fun things about choosing an interesting collection is that by its very nature its impossible to race through. This is especially true if the collector is picky and wants coins that are not only accurately graded but which are choice and original with good color and eye appeal. My guess is that a set of seventeen different graded Dahlonega half eagles could take a few years to assemble. It will teach a collector patience and it will teach them how to search for the "right" and "wrong" coin.

Ironically, the higher grade coins in the set are probably easier to find than the lower graded ones. Dahlonega half eagles didn't typically see that much ciruclation and undamaged, naturally worn coins that grade below VF35 or so are not easy to find. Coins that grade AG3, G4, G6 and VG8 are likely to be be very hard to find, especially if eye appeal is an important factor.

My guess is that the collector will encounter some anomalies as he works on the set. As an example, a coin in a VF20 holder might actually be nicer in appearance than a coin graded VF25 or even VF30. Some funny situations might occur when a collector buys, say, a VF25 1845-D half eagle which is nice but a bit overgraded and attempts to downgrade it to a VF20 in order to get it into the set(!)

To make the set even more of a challenge, it might be fun to have all the coins graded by one service (either PCGS or NGC). And finding them all nice enough that they will eventually be approved by CAC would make the set even harder.

Would it be possible to do this set with one specific date of Dahlonega half eagle? I guess this is possible but it might not be realistic. I haven't checked the PCGS or NGC population reports but I'm sure some dates don't have any coins slabbed in the lower grades and many have just one or two in AG3 or G4, making the search for these sort of the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I have a few "bells and whistles" suggestions for collectors thinking about this set. First, choose a "look" you like for your coins and try to remain as consistent as possible throughout the course of buying. Remember that some Dahlonega half eagles come with reddish-gold or orange-gold hues while others come with green-gold color. Remember, as well, that some dates are virtually impossible to find in lower grades. As an example, the half eagles from 1855 through 1861 didn't tend to circulate as extensively as the coins from the early to mid-1840's. It is highly unlikely that you will find an 1858-D in VG10, so focus on dates that are more realistic. As you reach the end of the set, don't get silly trying to fill holes. Just because you need a very low grade coin, as an example, don't pay a big "low ball" premium for an AG3 or a G4.

I have a great idea for a collector who wants to work on this set and who is internet savvy. Buy the domain name www.gradingdahlonegahalfeagles.com and put together a website that shows examples of each coin in each grade and which explains how Dahlonega half eagles are graded. A bit nerdy, yes, but it sounds kind of fun to me.

In my opinion, this collection is best looked at as a secondary pursuit. It might work great for someone who collects something like early half eagles by date and who is at the point in his collection when he is lucky to find one or two coins a year. It is a fun collection that is not absurdly challenging, not too expensive and really educational.

For more suggestions on how to assemble a Dahlonega half eagle grading set or other collections in general, please feel free to contact me at dwn@ont.com

The Numismatic Versus: Comparing Coin Collecting Methods

Cats versus dogs. Coke versus Pepsi. Good versus evil. You get my point: two camps competing for your heart, your affection or your soul. Its not that far-fetched to stretch this analogy out to some of the basic issues in coin collecting. No, its not the Satanic Verses; its the Numismatic Versus. OK, to be a bit more serious: there are basic issues in numismatics that split collectors down the middle. There is no real right or wrong when it comes to collecting and I am a big advocate of doing what "feels right" for the collector. That said, I think my 30+ years of experience as a dealer qualify me to render an opinion on some of these issues and that's what I'd like to do here.

1. Specialist Collecting versus Type Collecting

I have many customers who are specialists and many who are focused more in a "generalist" fashion. I respect both camps.

A specialist picks a small area of collecting and focuses on this. Dahlonega quarter eagles. New Orleans half eagles. First year and last year of issue coins. All of these are great choices for the specialist.

What I like about specialist collecting is that by having a more narrow focus, the collector can become knowledgeable more easily. As I have written before, if your collecting focus revolves around 25 half eagles from one mint, you are far more likely to learn this series as well as the typical dealer than if you are trying to learn about all the half eagles produced during the 19th century.

But there is something to be said for a more general approach. I love the concept of collecting by type. I love the fact that a type collector buys something different every time he pulls the trigger.

2. Condition Rarity versus Absolute Rarity

A coin that is a "condition rarity" is one whose primary value is based around its grade. An example of this would be an 1887-S eagle in MS65. Such a coin is extremely rare and it would sell for five-figures if available. But the same date in MS60 is extremely common and it sells for essentially no date premium.

A coin that is an "absolute rarity" is one that is rare in all grades and is desirable whether it is quite worn or superb. An example of this would be an 1862-S eagle. This is a low mintage issue with a very low survival rate to its Civil War date of issuance. This coin is desirable if it grades Very Fine or if it grades Uncirculated.

What a collector should always ask himself is "would the coin that I am buying have value if third party grading were to suddenly end?" A coin like an 1887-S eagle in MS65 might not carry a great premium if third-party grading ceased to exist. A coin like an 1862-S eagle in EF45 would still be considered desirable no matter what dictates the future of grading.

The best coins are the ones that combine absolute and grade rarity. If a coin like an 1862-S eagle in Mint State were to be discovered in Europe (I have never seen one close to Uncirculated) it would be very desirable as it combined both types of rarity in one neat package.

3. Business Strikes versus Proofs

Business strikes are coins that were made for circulation. Proofs are coins that were specially made for collectors and VIP's. The coin weenie in me likes business strikes more than Proofs because of the fact that these were coins that were used as coins are supposed to be used.

But the coin snob in me likes Proofs as well. There is no getting around the fact that a Gem Proof Liberty Head double eagle is incredibly impressive. And you have to like the Proof issues that were struck in such tiny quantities during the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's.

I tend to be a more selective buyer when it comes to proofs than business strikes. I vastly favor very rare Proofs (example: an 1878 gold dollar) than a not-so-rare Proof in a mega-grade (example: a 1904 quarter eagle in PR67 Cameo).

Can a collector buy business strikes and Proofs simultaneously? I don't see why not. In certain series, like Type Three Liberty Head double eagles, there are Proof-only issues that are collected side-by-side with business strikes. Like owning a dog and a cat at the same time, I say "yes!" to the collector who buys interesting Proofs and business strikes together.

4. Gold versus Silver versus Copper

You are reading this article on a website whose URL is raregoldcoins.com so you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure which of these three coinage metals I favor.

But let me at least explain why I do.

Gold is a precious metal with strong demand around the world. Egyptian Pharaohs were buried with spectacular gold ornaments. The last time I checked, there were no silver or copper trinkets in the pyramids.

Try to explain to a wealthy Chinese collector why he should spend $100,000 on an Indian Cent. Not easy, right? But don't you think this same individual would more likely "get" the concept of an Uncirculated 1871-CC double eagle at $75,000?

Copper coins are great and I personally collect Liberty Seated silver coins and love them. However, as far as being a dealer goes, I'm pro-gold and more so now than ever.

5. 19th Century versus 20th Century

When I began specializing in United States gold coinage back in the early 1980's, I decided to focus on 19th century coins because they were more affordable and because they seemed like better value. Three decades later I still believe this.

Now don't get me wrong. I think 20th century coins are great. I think St. Gaudens double eagles and Indian Head eagles are the most beautiful regular issue coins that the U.S. Mint ever produced. And the incuse designs of the Indian quarter eagle and half eagle series really appeal to me. But 20th century gold tends to be the ultimate in condition rarity and, as I discussed in #2 above, I have always been more of an absolute rarity kinda guy.

I look at 20th century gold as the Contemporary Art of the numismatic world. Its fairly regularly available, its pretty macho to collect, the market is fluid due to collectors coming and going rapidly and the value levels don't always make sense.

I personally like 19th century gold better as I view it as a more cerebral area to collect. It's clearly not as pretty (there is no doubt that Gobrecht and Longacre couldn't hold a candle to St. Gaudens as far as artistic talent is concerned) and it more monotonous as it goes on and on (and on). But if you have a budget of, say, $5,000 to $10,000 per coin, you can be a big player in 19th century gold while still being pretty much a nobody in the 20th century arena.

What are your takes on the Numismatic Versus that I compared and contrasted above? Email me at dwn@ont.com and let me know what you think.

Smart Collecting 101: Avoiding the Churn

When talking to collectors, I often find myself giving them advice as to what makes a "good collector." I thought it would be interesting to share some of my thoughts and observations in a series of blogs entitled "Smart Collecting 101." These will run, from time to time, over the next few months. One of the mistakes that many collectors make is allowing themselves to be "churned;" either by their dealer/adviser or by themselves. Churning is an expression that means too much buying and selling from an account (or in this case a collection) by a salesperson in order to generate profits for the company and commissions for the broker.

Many of the big marketing firms in the coin business (and some of the better known boutique retail firms) are notorious churners. They will sell a collector a coin and then, a few months later, encourage him to upgrade it.

What many new (and even old) collectors fail to realize is that there are hidden transaction costs involved in any numismatic transaction. Most collectors who deal with the larger marketing firms are paying at least 20% over cost and in many cases more. Now this isn't meant to imply that a 20% or 30% markup is unfair; it's not. But what the collector needs to understand is that the market has to rise at least 20-30% in a short period of time in order to break even on a transaction.

And this fails to take into account another hidden cost: selling. A firm that churns isn't expecting to take back a coin at a price level in which they can break even. Typically, though, they will mask this in a cunning way.

Let's say a dealer sells a coin for $10,000 and his cost is $8,500. And let's say that the current wholesale value for the coin is still around $8,500. What a clever salesperson might do to churn a client is to tell him that his coin is now worth $12,000 or $2,000 over the collector's cost. The salesperson has a coin in stock that represents an upgrade. It's worth $15,000 on a wholesale basis. He charges $19,000. He knows he will lose money on the trade-in but he is selling the new coin for enough of a profit that he is still able to generate a healthy profit. There is nothing really "wrong" with this but what it means is that the collector now has a new $15,000 coin that he is way upside-down on as opposed to an old $10,000 coin that he is only slightly upside down.

Not all churning is the result of sleazy or even "aggressive" dealers. Much of it is self-imposed by collectors.

One of the pieces of advice I try to give to new collectors is that they should "but the right coin the first time." What this means is that instead of impulsively rushing through a set of, say, Dahlonega quarter eagles an then upgrading their mistakes as they go along, they should take their time and buy the coin they will want in their set for the long term the first time.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. You might have bought a great AU55 1854-D quarter eagle that has pretty natural color and surfaces as well as a great strike. But a few years later, a really superb MS61 becomes available; a coin with an even better strike, a nice pedigree and fantastic coloration. In this case, an upgrade might be a very smart move.

My feeling is that there are clearly times when an upgrade does make sense. Obviously, it is sensible if there is not much of an increase in price. As an example, if you bought a coin in your set for $2,000 and you are able to significantly improve it for $3,000, that's a no-brainer. Or, you might have a coin that you paid $5,000 for a number of years ago that's worth $9,000 today. An upgrade costs you $11,000; you can roll your profit into the new coin and downcost it to $7,000. (Yes, that's how coin dealers think...)

Sometimes, new collectors start a set tentatively and are not ready to spend $10,000 or $20,000 per coin; say on the aforementioned Dahlonega quarter eagles. Their comfort level to begin with is $2,000 or $3,000. This is understandable but my advice in this situation is to not rush headlong into the set. I have seen many great collectors start with small steps and grow into buyers of serious Condition Census-level pieces after they become more sure of themselves and more comfortable with the dealer they are working with.

Even if you are not working on a specific set, you can still get caught-up in the World of Churn. I've talked to a number of collectors over the years who have had their entire "portfolio" changed around by their expert adviser a number of times. And some of the changes that they made were ill-advised to say the least. As an example, I recall talking to a man who had owned some fantastic coins like a Gem Proof Stella, a high grade High Relief and a sensational 1907 Wire Edge eagle. He had bought them at a low point in the coin market, held them for a few years and was in a great long-term position. The salesman at the firm he was working traded him out of these great coins not once but three times over the course of five years and had taken what would have been a small but superb group worth around $1 million and turned it into a bunch of mediocre, overgraded swill that would have been hard to liquidate at half that amount.

I think one of the best signs of a good, reputable dealer is the individual who tells you "no" from time to time. This is a dealer who is interested in a good long-term relationship but will tell you that a coin he has in stock that is a small upgrade over the one you currently own just isn't worth spending a few thousand dollars on. Desperate dealers always say "yes." Stable, dependable dealers sometimes say "no."

In closing, I'd like to ask you, as a collector, for some suggestions about topics for future editions of Smart Collecting 101. What questions do you about collecting that you'd like answered? Feel free to email me at dwn@ont.com with your questions, comments, etc.

Reconnecting With Collecting

Even though I am a dealer who has a reputation as being very pro-collector, I hadn’t actually collected anything numismatic (with the exception of 19th century books and catalogs) for a number of years. Being a dealer and a collector simultaneously is very difficult and I certainly did not ever want to find myself in a situation where I was debating whether to sell a new purchase or to keep it for my collection. This changed around two years ago when I let myself get talked into collecting National Bank Notes. A dealer friend of mine had been an avid collector of Nationals from his home state for a number of years and his enthusiasm was contagious. I started to dabble and, before I knew it, I was hooked. Two years later, I am a confirmed Natty-holic.

So what have I learned in my reconnection with collecting and what sort of advice can I give to you, the collector? Following are a few ideas. Please note that although I am collecting paper money, I think the gist of what I am saying is applicable to coins as well.

Specialization Works For Me

I’m the sort of collector who would rather be very knowledgeable in a few areas than semi-knowledgeable in many. That’s why I decided to focus on just one specific state for my National Currency collection. I feel the same way about coins. I’ve written this a jillion times before but I am strong believer in the adage that being strongly focused as a collector makes you stronger at assembling a really great collection. Now, I don’t necessarily believe in being ultra-specialized. I could care less about varieties that are impossible to see without strong magnification and I am, in my own way, as much of a type collector within my specialization as I am a date collector. But every time I get bored and think that I should expand my collection to include another state or two, I realize that this is a bad idea and that I’d rather have a great specialized collection that a random group of interesting pieces.

 

 

Eye Appeal is Everything

If an object isn’t aesthetically appealing to me I don’t want it in my collection, no matter how rare it is. I’ve already been faced with situations where I have had the chance to purchase a very rare but very ugly note. In every one of these situations, I’ve chosen to pass on the note. Even though I plan on assembling a set that includes at least one piece from every town that issued notes, I am not yet in the mindset that I’ll buy something that’s ugly just because it is very rare. I would assume that, as my collection progresses, I will have to buy some pieces that are duds from the standpoint of appearance. But these will probably be among the last items I purchase and they will be made with a degree of regret. I have also reached the conclusion that, at this point in my collecting career, I would rather have a really pretty duplicate example of an interesting note (or coin) than a single example of a rare but unattractive issue.

Having an Expert In My Corner

While my level of expertise has clearly improved greatly since I’ve started my collection, I will be the first to admit that I am not yet an expert. While I think I have a pretty good eye, I am not yet sophisticated enough to detect very good alterations to notes. That’s why I’ve elected to have a really smart dealer be my representative at auctions. In my opinion, paying him 5% for his expertise is one of the best deals I can imagine. I’m certain he’s already saved me from myself at least a few times and he’s also encouraged me to be more aggressive on items that I should probably be buying but was figuring too cheaply. As a beginner, it’s really hard to collect without someone assisting you and I, for one, can heartily recommend establishing a good working relationship with one or two experts in your chosen specialization.

Older Is Better

In the field of paper money, you can neatly divide the body of all notes issued into two parts: large size and small size. When I first collected, I focused on small size notes. They were cheaper and more available. But as I looked at more notes and became more sophisticated, I gravitated towards large size notes. Using a very basic analogy, I came to see the division in notes as the equivalent of early coins (basically pre-1900) versus modern coins (post-1900). When I was a coin collector, I always preferred older coins and, in fact, never purchased any pieces struck after 1890. At this point in my collecting career I am willing to spend more money on older notes and to have fewer pieces in my collection. That said, I will buy small size notes but they have to have a very strong “coolness factor” for me to give them consideration.

Establishing a Comfort Zone

While I am very comfortable buying notes in the $500-5,000 range for my collection, I still do not feel comfortable enough to buy very expensive notes. A few months ago I was given the opportunity to purchase a small group of very rare (and expensive) notes that would have unquestionably taken my collection to the next level. But they were priced at levels that exceeded my comfort zone and I decided to pass on them. In retrospect, I wish that I had purchased at least one or two of them but, to be frank, I’m just not quite comfortable enough with my new collection to spend this amount of money. In another year or two, I probably will. And I think this is good advice for any collector. Establish a comfort zone for the first few years you collect and don’t exceed it until you feel that you are ready to do so.

 

 

Use the Best Resources Available to You

When I first started collecting coins as a child, information was hard to come by. You had to guess at how rare coins were and pricing was essentially a crapshoot. Today, there is a staggering amount of great information available to collectors in almost all areas. I quickly learned that for National bank notes, I had amazing resources available. To learn more about the notes, I bought Don Kelley’s incredible reference book. To get an idea of rarity, I purchased Kelley’s census information. And for pricing, I referred to the CAA/Heritage auction archives and Sandy Bashover’s Track and Price software. For coins, there is comparable—if not superior—price and rarity information available for nearly every series. In my opinion, the accessibility of this information has made collecting more fun than ever.

Make Some Collecting Friendships

Collecting tends to be a solitary pursuit but I’ve found that one of the real benefits from buying any sort of object is the friendships that you make in the pursuit phase. I have two close dealer friends who both happen to be collectors of National bank notes. Whenever a new auction catalog arrives in the mail, I know I can count on getting emails from both of my friends about the notes in the sale that they think I will be interested; just like I send them emails about the notes from their states that I think they will be bidding on. And after the sale is over, we inevitably compare our success from the sale. What’s really funny about this is that the three of us almost never talk about coins, even though we are all extremely successful in this arena. But when we meet up for dinner at a coin show, the talk inevitably turns to our collections. To me, this is an extremely satisfying part of collecting; maybe THE most, in fact.

Think Long Term

When I buy a note, I don’t worry about flipping it for a quick profit. I’m assembling my collection over the long term and hope to have at least fifteen to twenty years worth of effort into it before I even consider selling it. That’s not to say that I won’t at some time in the future analyze my holdings and make a decision to weed out the duplicates and the duds. But I’ve found that buying for the long term makes collecting alot more fun. I’m using funds that I don’t have to worry about for more pressing needs and I look at my collection as a long-term asset that is going to provide my family and I with some nice income when I’m old and no longer interested in it.

As I mentioned above, I’ve really enjoyed my foray back into collecting. I think it’s made me a better dealer and I’m looking forward to expanding my collections in the coming years. And who knows—maybe I’ll even start to buy coins again!