Coin Collecting Advice – Numismatic Specialties Are Like Gold in Your Pocket

By Richard Schwary – California Numismatic Investment ……

collectingWhen someone asks what type of rare coins I collect, and what suggestions might be valuable to another person, my advice is almost always the same: The foundation of collecting or investing in numismatics should be based on your personal preferences, so take the time to investigate the many possibilities before you write the check. You will soon find that one of the great keys to a successful rare coin collecting is to look for an area which you find interesting. And in this search the old advice which Dave Bowers made famous but was around even before my PNG friend was simply “buy the book before the coin”.

This cautious approach to collecting is especially important if you are new to rare coins because you might mistakenly believe that if you don’t act quickly you will miss an important purchase. This of course is a first step towards disaster as there are always great numismatic opportunities right around the corner and looking for the right one is part of the fun.

I also want to add a corollary to this foundation that was given to me from a famous dealer who unfortunately is no longer with us. His name was Jerry Cohen and like some of the best old school dealers he was eager to share fascinating rare coin stories. My education with Jerry began at the old Ambassador Show, which was held for many years in Los Angeles. He always smiled and told me nicely to slow down and develop perception before making a purchase as I would run out of money long before dealers run out of coins.

So what does all this have to do with rare coin specialties? Because numismatics is such a broad and encompassing field the knowledge needed to be called proficient in all areas is impossible to attain in one lifetime. So narrowing your search makes building your collection or investment easier and can be profitable in the bargain because it helps eliminate mistakes.

collectingA good illustration and important parallel to this rule can be seen nicely in the development of grading skills which might be overlooked today because of the modern services. This is unfortunate because grading causes the individual to focus carefully and therefore understand the coin more quickly and while many older players cried foul when leaning to grade the process is educational and fun. Common advice when learning to grade coins is to memorize the detail rules and specialize in one series until you get your feet on the ground. This sage wisdom is important because the variables between series and coin types introduce exceptions to the rule which can be confusing even for professionals.

Specialization in collecting or investing is likewise important because it too narrows your focus and so makes decisions easier to understand. Specialization also allows for a more rapid growth in knowledge and you can practice these new found facts by asking dealers questions they might not be able to answer. But always be polite and share your secrets because just as you are trying to learn most good dealers realize that knowledge is acquired over a lifetime and some of my greatest insights have come from specialized collectors on a mission.

Like I said rare coin books are the best place to begin and they lead to authors which are specialists and the reason the book was written in the first place. The reason a coin show is one good place to start is because specialists usually carry a selection of their specialty for display and sale. So if you show genuine interest the great ones will talk at length on a subject which has been a passion for them throughout their career. You see their particular love of a specific numismatic area is what set specialists apart and what makes them all a treasure both to collectors and the rare coin industry alike.

So how do you meet specialists in the various numismatic fields? As always a coin show is a good place to begin but before you get carried away with the coins ask around and find out which dealers specialize in books and supplies. They are usually at the back of the show and their display is like gold in your pocket because they will have hundreds of fascinating books for your pleasure.

Another source is the extensive DVD work done by numismatic video pioneer David Lisot. His recordings of the famous ANA Numismatic Theater, which are informal and fun presentations, should not be missed and are just the beginning of valuable information. One day David’s cataloged work will be considered a numismatic treasure.

Common specialty areas in numismatics can be most anything of interest like commemoratives, large cents, early gold, type coins, paper money, ancients, better date silver dollars, low population gold coins, territorial gold coins, modern issues, tokens, errors, or patterns.

You might also be surprised to find that a specialty dealer can be defined by price range. Some dealers are expert in inexpensive coins say a few hundred dollars or less and these can sometimes be the most fun because the learning curve is less serious. Others are mid-range players ($1,000 to $100,000) and still others prefer the higher end rarities which trade quite readily these days in excess of $100,000. Also remember there is now a closely watched group of extreme rarities that amazingly trade for more than $1,000,000 called the “Million Dollar Club” by a few dealers with the talent to turn a phrase. So you can readily see there really is something for everyone with a real interest in numismatics.

There are also special organizations which can help point you in the right direction and whose membership dues are inexpensive and a bargain when you consider the knowledge they make available every day. The benefits of belonging to these groups will last a lifetime as you develop your skills and meet people who share your interests.

The following is only a partial resource list that I will expand and write more about as time permits:

If you are serious about learning, membership in the American Numismatic Association (ANA) is a requirement. As your interest grows the following clubs also offer a wealth of information: Early American Coppers (EAC), or the Token and Medal Society (TAMS), or the Liberty Seated Collectors Club, or the Barber Collectors’ Society, or the National Silver Dollar Roundtable or CONECA (the Combined Organization of Numismatic Error Collectors of America), or the Bust Half Nut Club.

Related Articles


  1. Thanks for the information. I have been collecting coins for about 6 month and am trying to soak up all of the information that I can

  2. A very nice, well balanced survey and report without the usual hype and self-promotion…and well written and edited too! One thing: I notice that Dave Bowers has recently been credited with the “buy the book before the coin” quote. I am surprised that Mr. Bowers has not commented on this…unless I am similarly misinformed was it not Aaron Feldman back in the 1950s who featured the comment in his ads? Thanks again and best wishes to all.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.