Being in a rush when buying or selling coins will lead to poor results.
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from collectors is about how long to hold before selling. This seems like a simple question, but the answer can be much more involved. Nearly all collectors pursue numismatics because they enjoy it, but most are also concerned about the investment aspect as well.
How long you are willing to hold your coins is a major element in being a successful collector.
Over the years I have seen every type of collector when it comes to how long they hold coins. On one extreme there are the collectors who never sell. That will be a decision for their heirs when they pass. John Jay Pittman was a great example of this. He collected coins for decades starting in the 1940s. He never sold coins to travel the world, buy fancy cars, or build his dream home. He may have traded a few coins over the years, but for the most part his collection remained intact until he died in 1996. He truly loved his coins, but upon his death, his heirs auctioned the collection for over $30 million almost immediately.
The famed collector Eric P. Newman also played the long game, accumulating most of his fabulous collection in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. He decided to sell and donate most of the proceeds to charities of his choosing. Not a bad strategy, but most collectors won’t celebrate their 100th birthday like Eric did a few years ago! His collection earned over $55 million when certified by NGC and sold by Heritage from 2013-2014.
For obvious reasons, holding coins for 40-50 years is almost always a great investment. Most collectors however, have a much shorter time horizon.
On the other end of the spectrum I have had customers who bought coins with an extreme case of ADD (attention deficit disorder). One week they want to buy every coin in a series and a short time later move on to something else. They love the hunt, but when done or facing a few holes in the collection that are difficult to fill, they are ready to move on. This is usually a terrible way to buy coins. Most retail collectors who buy rare coins have to pay at least 10-30% above wholesale to acquire them. This spread is hard to overcome when selling too soon.
The concept can be understood by examining recent auction records for coins purchased from old time collections, and then resold at auction less than 24 months later. The 1828 Quarter, now graded NGC MS 67, that Newman purchased in the 1940s for $50 is a great example.
For most collectors, a holding period of at least 5-10 years is recommended for the best performance. In fact, this amount of time is usually required to form a nice collection of most series. Finding the right coin at the right price is critical if you hope to be a successful collector/investor. As I have preached many times in my articles, numismatic education and patience are very important.
Patience is also required for many collectors who choose out of favor and underpriced areas of the market. For decades tokens, medals, and many non-traditional numismatic items sold for a pittance in relation to their importance. The sale of the John Jay Ford collection by Stack’s Bowers changed that forever. His collection, that contained very few examples of Federal coinage, sold for over $35 million in a series of blockbuster auction sales.
World coins are another example of patience being an incredible asset. Twenty-five years ago, many Chinese coins were practically free. With the development of the Chinese economy, these coins have soared in value and desirability.
Many collectors now wonder which country will provide a similar scenario in the future. Maybe South American coins will be next!
Many parts of the United States coin market have been flat for decades. This includes most Type coins, silver and gold commemoratives and many others. Someday these will also have their day, but in the meantime collectors will need patience. Selling too soon can be painful.
In summary, building a well thought out collection of coins or paper money takes lots of time and patience. For the best performance, wait until the area of the market you have chosen to collect has its day in the sun. Being in a rush when buying or selling will lead to poor results. In my opinion, buying and selling with a short time horizon is more about speculation than collecting. Given enough time, most collectors will enjoy the journey and be well rewarded in the process.
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 Issues; 100 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. and he is currently the ANA President.
at 80 still enjoy collecting for over50 yrs
I’ve collected for decades and – though most of my US coins are common dates – their nice condition should result in a profit when I sell.
As for what foreign coins may be the next China, I think it will be Panama. Not the stuff made by the Franklin Mint in the 1960s-1980s, but the regular issue coins from the 1930s-1950s. They were made by the US Mint, the designs are handsome, the mintages are relatively small, and uncirculated – and even almost uncirculated – coins are legitimately rare. I’ve seen an increase in interest and prices in the last two years, especially on the silver dollar-size one balboa.
Right there with you. Been collecting since a teenager, now hitting 69. Do it because I enjoy it. My sets are not the highest grades, but they are complete, that’s what I was striving for. Pennies from 1857 complete, Nickels from 1883 (no 1913 sorry) to now, complete. Dimes, quarters, halves to now, complete. Coin dollars from 1878 to now, complete. Working on a set of shield nickels now, 2/3 done. I know it won’t be worth a fortune when I finish, but I don’t do it for the money. I do it because it brings me joy. Hopefully when I go and the wife or kids sell the collection, it will leave them with something. In the meantime, it brings me pleasure and that’s what is important to me.
This is a very good article and has helped me in learning what type coins I need as a new investor. Like other I made a big mistake buying the wrong coins, Proofs instead of coins for investments. I have silver proofs, ATB, American Liberty 225th Anniversary Gold Coin and 1.8 4 coin gold proof set. They are nice to look at but not what I wanted. I am one of those bad investors even though I tried to read everything I got my hands on. Thanks for the article
I started late. I listen to those retailers that said buy coins, not bars. Others say buy graded not either. The bottom line I learned was that each retailer has their own niche in the way they want to hook you in buying from them. Some of the language used is confusing and should be corrected. Example uncirculated, if it is sold to a retailer it is circulated. I had to learn that a Burnished coin is what the mint call uncirculated. I was told that later.