Coin Collecting Strategies – Time To Buy Or Time To Wait?


By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation….

Recent sales present an incredible buying opportunity for collectors as many of the coins being sold have been off the market for a generation.

Yesterday afternoon I spent several hours reviewing auction lots for the Heritage Auctions Platinum Night scheduled for Thursday night. The sale contains 600+ lots, with an average value upwards of $25,000 or more. There are several coins that will surely bring seven figures. The sale also has an interesting diversity, with rarities ranging from great copper coins to unbelievable gold coins.

1880_coil_garrettThere are at least 10 Four Dollar “Stella’s” up for auction, including what many consider being the finest known 1880 Coiled Hair example. The coin is an incredible NGC PF 67 with beautiful golden toning and nearly perfect surfaces. It is the ultimate example of this intriguing denomination. Nearly every professional and lots of serious collectors are anxious to see how this coin and all the others fare when crossing the auction block this week.

The rare coin market has been relatively soft in recent weeks and many are concerned with the large number of great coins being offered. This includes everything from the Newman, Partrick, Kendall, Gardner, Pogue and this week’s Central States auction. A few great coins have succumbed to the stress of so much material being offered at once.

A couple of years ago, Choice New England Shillings sold for around $350,000. These great coins rarely showed up for sale until recently. The just offered Partrick and Kendall sales featured 6 to 8 examples within a few months. Nice examples sold for under $200,000. This is probably an extreme, as these are thinly traded rarities, and never in the history of numismatics have so many been offered in such a short time.

The preponderance of material being offered now begs the question—is it time to buy?

As strange as this large number of mega sales all at once seems, it is not without precedence. In the late 1990s several incredible collections were offered to market in a short period. These include the Bass, Trompeter, Eliasberg, and Childs collections to name a few. The rare coin market was awash in great coins. During this time, one of my clients decided to assemble a complete set of Proof gold dollars 1854-1889. This task includes dozens of super rare coins, many with mintages under 50 coins. It would be nearly impossible to assemble this set without so many great collections being offered at once. My client built an incredible set and it is still the #1 NGC Registry set!

In my opinion, shrewd collectors should see these recent sales in the same light as my previous client did 20 years ago—an incredible buying opportunity. Many of the coins that are being sold have been off the market for a “generation”. Once many of these coins sell, it will probably be decades before they are offered again. Prices will also be favorable as there are probably more coins being sold at once than is healthy under normal circumstances. There will be some headline grabbers, but there is a good chance that some really great coins will be available at the best prices in years.

My advice is to carefully examine as many of these great sales as possible. You may not end up buying much, but the numismatic experience will be invaluable. This advice goes to both dealers and collectors. There is no better way to learn about coins than to see them in person.

It is also quite interesting to attend the sales to see who is buying and what individual coins are bringing. This is especially important in today’s quality conscious environment. Many rare coins of the same grade will sell for substantially different prices. It’s a good idea to understand why.

The above scenarios discuss high end rare coins, but there are also plenty of less expensive coins being offered in many of these recent sales. Much of this material has not been adversely affected by price pressure the way the mega rarities have. The biggest challenge is to find the right coin at the right price.

Building sets of rare coins is still the most basic instinct for most collectors. Anyone who has attempted just about any collection understands that the thrill is in the chase. For now, the chase has never been easier, and my advice–take advantage of it while you can!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to [email protected].

About Jeff Garrett

Jeff Garrett, founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, is considered one of the nation’s top experts in U.S. coinage — and knowledge lies at the foundation of Jeff’s numismatic career. With more than 35 years of experience, he is one of the top experts in numismatics. The “experts’ expert,” Jeff has personally bought and sold nearly every U.S. coin ever issued. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t call on Jeff Garrett for numismatic advice. This includes many of the nation’s largest coin dealers, publishers, museums and institutions.

In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Jeff Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries. His combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals — between Mid-American in Kentucky and Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida — total more than $25 million.

Jeff Garrett has authored many of today’s most popular numismatic books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues100 Greatest U.S. Coins; and United States Coinage: A Study By Type. He is also the price editor for The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins.

Jeff was also one of the original coin graders for the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He is today considered one of the country’s best coin graders and was the winner of the 2005 PCGS World Series of Grading. Today, he serves as a consultant to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest coin grading company.

Jeff plays an important role at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Department and serves as consultant to the museum on funding, exhibits, conservation and research. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff and many others, rare U.S. coins are once again on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. We urge everyone who visits Washington, D.C., to view this fabulous display.

Jeff has been a member of the prestigious Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. In 2009 and 2011, Jeff ran successfully for a seat on the Board of Governors for the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the leading numismatic club in the world. He plans to run for ANA vice president in 2013.


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  1. The softness in the rare coin market can be correlated to the relatively low prices of gold and silver, which have been in a funk for a while now as the dollar has been riding high. As the price of precious metals improve, so will the coin market.

  2. With regard to sales like Garrett, Eliasberg, Norweb, Pittman, Newman, Pogue and Gardner, it is what to buy, not when to buy. When extreme rarities are offered, it may be your only chance to purchase such a piece so you have to take that into account and, generally speaking, those coins did well over time

    By the same token, it may not make sense to pay a premium on let’s say a capped bust half dime just because it is from one of these collections. Generally speaking, the generic coins in these collections, even if in high grade, did not perform as well when sold after the “Name” sale.


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