The purpose of this article is to provide basic guidelines and direction to help you build a satisfying coin collection.
Numismatics, or coin collecting is primarily a hobby. In fact, what once was the Hobby of Kings, has evolved into a hobby, which by some estimates, includes more than 100,000,000 people. Enjoyment and enthusiasm are the most important factors in building a collection.
People continually ask me and many of my professional colleagues and fellow hobbyists, “What should I collect?” I urge people to examine numismatics thoroughly, to investigate the economics involved in forming a given collection and choose to build a collection which would generate the most personal enthusiasm.
What do I collect? I have no personal collections, but I take a great deal of pride, satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment assisting in the development of clients’ collections, some of which have been great, but all of which have been important. I can safely say that there is no bad collection. If someone enjoys it, then it has meaning and is a positive experience.
Another important aspect for your collection is FOCUS. Unless you are incredibly wealthy, it is a must to focus on a collection or collections. Define your collection. Numismatics is very personal. There is no one collection which must be completed. Choose yours and define the parameters. Have a reachable goal. It is very disheartening to a new collector to be working on ten different series of coins and to have many holes throughout the collection. Keep your focus so that you may finish a project before starting on a new one. Additionally, avoid keeping duplicates. These just use up necessary capital to help fund new acquisitions.
Along these lines, I would like to publicly address the major institutions in the United States and perhaps the world. Divest yourselves of your duplicates. The Smithsonian Institution houses our national collection. The collection has needs to augment as well as upgrade. The collection also has probably over a million duplicates. The great collections housed in the American Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association all have needs for improvement and addition. All three of these, and I am sure many others share the same scenario. That is, important collections with many duplicates, with a desire to improve those collections and the crippling reality that they do not have the funding to do it while waiting and hoping for new bequests. I am certain that previous donors to those collections would want to see them flourish and would not object to the divestiture of duplicates to enhance the overall collection which they had already supported. I know that I have digressed, but it serves to illustrate the importance in disposing of duplicates to better enhance a collection.
An additional suggestion is to avoid multiple transactions for the same coin. Simply as part of your investigation into numismatics, make sure you are happy with the appearance of what you have chosen. Avoid the philosophy of filling a hole in the collection and upgrading it later. It costs money to trade in coins on a better example. Wait and obtain a better example without having to take a loss on what you are improving. Dealers need to make a living and each time you buy or sell, the dealer is making a profit. Investigate and buy the coin you are happiest with. Happiness equals enjoyment.
Grading is the one aspect of coin collecting which receives the most commentary. Grading was developed and has evolved as a way to value an item. Do not get hung up on it. In reality, it is not that important. You have selected a series and have examined specimens to see how they look. You have discovered how much money these coins cost before you have started. Now, the easy part, buy only the coins which look the way you want them to look AND fit into your budget. Because of your initial investigation, there should not be very many, if any, surprises. Do not let someone else tell you what to enjoy. If you like it and can afford it, add it to your collection.
Coin collecting has many enjoyable aspects, including the dealers and other collectors with whom to share information and mutual interests.
As a new collector, your initial transactions will probably be with coin dealers. Many dealers operate retail stores which you can visit and examine the displays. Almost all of these dealers want to encourage you with your collections and will try to help answer many of your questions. Dealers do need to make a living so do not abuse their willingness to help you. If they can not help you one time, try another time. Almost anyone will help you if you are patient and polite. If the dealer is unwilling to help you on several different occasions, simply find one who will. There are thousands of dealers who understand collectors and collections and want you to succeed. The vast majority of numismatic professionals were all collectors themselves at one time. In the internet age there are many resources and dealers who want to help you be successful with your collection. It is simply good business.
In addition, there are your fellow collectors and the many diverse specialty clubs and societies which connect hobbyists with similar interests. Simple investigation will enable you to find these groups. Almost all areas have coin clubs. Find one and join it. The American Numismatic Association, headquartered in Colorado Springs, offers an incredible value for very modest dues. The ANA has a dominant presence on the internet and offers many resources. The site offers links to a multitude of numismatic organizations.
Coin shows and conventions add an additional opportunity for your numismatic pursuits. These vary from a small one day show with twenty dealers to mammoth coin conventions lasting many days with several hundred dealers, organizations, and governments displaying as well as offering educational seminars and club meetings. Many, if not most, of these are free to enter and enjoy. Take advantage of the opportunity and attend as part of your initial investigation and your continuing enjoyment of this hobby.
As previously mentioned, there are many museums with numismatics to share. Visit them and if you have questions, jot them down. Somebody will be able to help you eventually. The curators are not always available and the guards may not be equipped to help you.
There is an incredible amount of information available concerning numismatics including thousands of books available to help identify coins, notes, tokens and medals. There are also many periodicals available covering all of numismatics. And then there is the internet.
I have always felt that you can not make a collector. Collectors are born with a desire to complete a historically based project. Numismatics offer a tangible link to the past, often at a very modest cost.
The most financially successful people in numismatics have been serious, long term collectors. The collections have often been generational or even multi-generational. A collection is not a short term financial tool for capital growth. The successful numismatist derives much satisfaction and enjoyment, all of which is tax-free! The successful numismatist has great enthusiasm for his or her hobby.
In as much as you are reading this, I suspect that coin collecting is in your blood. Hopefully these thoughts have been helpful. Go forth and enjoy!