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Coin Collecting – Historic Relevancy On A Budget – What Tier Coin Collector Are You?


Collector types and their various opinions on the present market.

By Jim Bisognani for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation….

As fall gives way all too rapidly to the next season, I find myself reveling in the fact that our grand hobby has no particular time of year which supersedes another in the level of activity. However, I think that the fall-winter season is a favorite for many veteran collectors; I include myself in this category.

I recently had the opportunity to hobnob with a numismatic acquaintance who in turn introduced me to a few of his friends that were interested in getting tips on collecting coins. One had inherited a small collection of Indian Head cents and a few Morgan silver dollars from his dad and really just wanted to resume where his father left off and sought out some direction and guidance as to the best plan to continue the campaign.

The other fellow was a serious history buff and educator and wanted to build a historic and meaningful US collection encompassing early Federal to mid-20th century — “Historic relevancy on an educator’s budget” as he put it.

After talking to these two it struck me how different numismatics is since I was a youngster. Well, actually a lot of things have changed, yet as far as coins are concerned, the hobby has definitely become highly specialized. Today, there are numismatic dealers that make their livelihoods catering to clientele for a specific series—Morgan dollars, Lincoln cents, Large cents, Bust Type, US Gold Type, Branch Mint specialists such as Carson City coins, modern type, Registry collectors and a multitude of others. It struck me: there are so many dealer specialties, yet for the average coin collector, their type or tier pales in comparison.

For most of us the excitement of collecting the little metal discs came to us at an early age and for many it is a passion which has stayed with us our entire lives. Some of the traits of these various levels are included in the following narrative, but certainly aren’t limited to my characterizations.

Our great hobby of numismatics does have several distinct collecting tiers for our esteemed members.

First,the average or entry level collector. They may spend a few hundred dollars or more per year on coins. For many in this entry category, the fun is acquisition on a budget. eBay is a great ally here. The coins targeted may be US or foreign, there may be a theme or commitment to a series but what is collected here is generally what the individual is attracted to aesthetically. Most importantly, this is for fun, it is enjoyable and affordable. Usually the spouse will ensure that what is collected remains within the prescribed budget.

Second, the more rounded or advanced collector. This compatriot is intent on building complete sets of various US series and is ultimately looking to attain the best quality coins and upgrade whenever possible. Resources for this character are limited. However, this coindexter enjoys research and spends ample time scouring auction records and price histories. This collector is a student of the hobby itself, truly the backbone of the numismatic enterprise.

Third, the serious numismatist. Possessing the advanced collectors’ attributes, this lucky stiff also has the wherewithal to purchase many rare certified coins…the coins which the underlings drool about and only hope to someday attain. Generally this type of aficionado will travel to several major shows or more each year and will participate in online and major auction house sales.

Fourth, is really the elite collector. These collectors or investors have solid resources and usually exponential disposable income to allocate to the enterprise. Many of these aptly named elite are professionals: doctors, attorneys, business owners, etc. Considering most of these individuals don’t have the leisure time to devote to the hobby many commission major dealers to scour auction catalogs and work for them behind the scenes, entrusting them to obtain the best quality certified coins that appear at public auction. Interestingly, the collecting acumen and expertise level of this group embraces all three previous tiers.

While some in this category are very serious and want to learn about the hobby of kings, others are content to have the trusted dealer build their portfolio and could care less about the top-tier NGC Registry set assembled on their behalf as it is just another investment, albeit a tangible one.

However, I’ve seen many folks who at first thought of certified coins as another speculation; but then became totally hooked on numismatics once they could feel and see the scope of their grand collection…the super collector is born!

Collectors encompassing the aforementioned tiers have shared their opinions with me on the present market. It would be interesting to guess which commentary is attributed to which tier!

One collector from the Bluegrass State of Kentucky advised, “The coin market is slow right now, it’s definitely a buyers’ market. The key in making money in numismatics is buying it right and I feel that time is now.”

A hobbyist from the Sunshine State relayed to me that Proof type is the weakest area of the market right now. “I especially like Liberty Seated quarters and half dollars and Barber coins of the same denominations. These beautiful silver coins have mintages generally speaking between 500 and less than a thousand coins and the prices haven’t moved even for high-grade or CAC-stickered coins. These are great deals.”

Another hobbyist that I spoke to rationalized that he doesn’t believe there are any parameters as to what constitutes a collector coin. “Whether I paid ten cents or $10,000 for the coin, I enjoy each equally. Sure, I’d like to see the $10,000 coin go up in value but if it drops 50 percent, I am still going to enjoy the coin. Conversely, if the coin I spent a dime for is worth 50 cents, I am not going to dwell on it and wish I had bought several hundred when they were a dime.”

Bob, hailing from Arizona, opined, “I feel the market is flat right now for a lot of US series. The reason? I think too much time is being devoted to the esoteric ultra-rare and high profile coins. Sure, many of them have been off the market umpteen decades but I feel this is stifling growth and activity in so many other areas. We haven’t seen an assertive uptick in Greysheet bids, major auctions, eBay etc. for some time now.”

Rick from Sacramento said that he feels the US Mint has had some great issues recently and loves the Presidential Coin and Chronicles sets. “A lot of stuff is being hyped by multiple sellers and let’s face it if there is enough to go around it can’t be a great value.” Rick said he really likes and has been buying the 2015 Presidential Chronicles sets. “The Mint comes out with a great package and sets low product limits and these sets in my opinion are at a good level, I’ll buy them all day long.” This collector feels that they are a great historic investment and he’s happy to buy one and sell another. The Golden State hobbyist advised that he will be online at noon October 27 picking up a President Johnson Chronicles set, “A big drop in the production limit of the Kennedy Chronicles set of 50,000, the limit is only 25,000 sets for LBJ, I think it will be a sleeper.”

Major sales always make noise in the marketplace. I have reported on and voiced my opinion on several thousand or more in my lifetime. Yet for many average collectors, the grandiose platitudes generated for six-figure coins and above are not targeting them and they embrace it. The consumers here are, for the most part, the established numismatists, the elite collectors, and the investors. For dealers, there is ongoing edification based on market analysis, interpretation of their particular market niche and how it affects their customer base.

The herculean results for the Pogue Collection and the Gardner Collection Part IV that met the hammer in New York recently shouldn’t be minimalized. The latter featured over one thousand lots for the collecting public to wage battle over in the Big Apple. Perhaps not a surprise given the quality conscious collecting habits of Mr. Gardner, the most plentiful graded coins in this sale were for MS and PF 66! Certainly not your average certified coin grades, but there was something in this sale for collectors on every budget!

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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