Protecting Valuables: Commercial Safe or Bank Safe Deposit Box?

Richard Schwary – California Numismatic Investments

Salt Lake City police investigate coin theft from residence / Burglars steal heavy gun safe containing $500,000-plus in coins: This headline along with the sad story was written by Paul Gilkes of Coin World (August 1, 2011). According to the published account the victims were away from their home only a short while and upon returning found their basement ransacked and the valuable treasure missing. Unfortunately this happens more than we would care to admit in the coin business

So what is the chance this collection will be found and returned to its rightful owners? If they are lucky and the robbers make a few mistakes there is a chance but I’m not hopeful because of the extreme liquidity of rare coins and precious metals.

In the Gilkes story some of the missing material was graded by NGC so this is a beginning and if the thieves were not skilled, or simply stupid, recovery is possible by circulating a detailed list among dealers along with law enforcement information including contact numbers. You would think this is the most obvious first step but until recently making such information available to national law enforcement was not easy. Before the widespread use of the Internet and in my early years as a PNG Board Member I actually mailed a thousand copies of the PNG Dealer Directory to a list of the current Police Chiefs in the US. I also included a cover letter which explained that if numismatic material went missing these dealers might be able to help. I did not get one return answer so in the old days distributing national information about stolen material was limited. Today the Professional Numismatists Guild will post and relay your list to all its dealers and The Numismatic Crime Information Center founded by Doug Davis will also post and distribute stolen coin information.

There are recent and dramatic technical advances by PCGS and NGC which can positively identify your material even out of their original holders but I believe all too often certified coins are simply cracked out of their cases and “put to sleep” in an attempt to create cover. They are then re-submitted to another service and eventually resold into the legitimate trade and go undetected unless the coins are particularly rare.

The PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) presents The Sol Kaplan Award yearly to an individual for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people involved in numismatic crime so it pays to keep your eyes open because it is the little things that lead to a successful conclusion. The fact is that the coin business is relatively small and most major dealers know each other so distribution of information is not difficult if you know which button to push. Anyone can contact Bob Brueggeman (PNG Executive Director) at (951) 587-8300 and suggest the work of a worthy individual for the Sol Kaplan Award. In my book Doug Davis would be a natural recipient because of his work with The Numismatic Crime Information Center.

It is obvious that some robberies are a case of inside information so let’s be careful about how coins are purchased and the resultant paper trail even within your inner circle. Professionals use a Post Office Box to transact business instead of a home address and also try to keep a low profile in other areas especially in today’s social media world.

A robbery can happen at any time but is particularly dangerous when a dealer or collector travels to or from a coin show. It is always a bad idea to leave a brief case in your trunk while stopping for something to eat and when leaving a show I take my badge off before I’m off the floor. Believe it or not sometimes well-organized professional teams get paid a flat rate to watch coin shows carefully for dealers or collectors who might get careless. The stolen material is then turned over to their handlers for evaluation and in some cases is out of the country in a few days.

The nondescript portion of the collection can then be sold to unaware and out of state dealers so the crime cycle is complete.

At this point in our discussion it is easy to see that it is much better to prevent this possibility than to find the horse after you left the gate open. But it is amazing how many people believe their coins and precious metals are safer at home. This misguided idea stems from the notion that big government is somehow out to interfere with your personal belongings

The steps taken by folks to hide their stuff are legendary but can be misguided or even dangerous because of the extreme value of their holdings. In the cited case more than half a million dollars of rare coins and precious metals were stored in a gun safe! I appreciate there are rated gun safes but most I have seen are designed to keep guns safe and not protect valuables so the victims may not have considered how easily some gun safes can be opened.

Most professionals use commercial safes which have been UL approved to withstand certain types of assaults for specific periods of time. Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an independent product safety certification organization and they test better quality safes on all 6 sides and assign a rating based on predetermined criteria.

In my opinion no home safe is a good idea for long term storage because there are too many variables but if you must consider short term storage at home don’t just look on the Internet or visit Walmart. Choose a commercial safe with an appropriate UL rating provided by a professional with a great deal of experience. This higher end safe should then be equipped with a commercial alarm and appropriate insurance. And don’t even consider this option if you are not willing to pay the few thousand dollars it will cost which is money well spent if your collection is valuable. A cheap safe is the worst option because the novice is lulled into a false sense of security. A good safe man can pop a cheap safe in a matter of minutes so don’t fool yourself or risk your money.

If you attend coin shows you may already be familiar with one good provider of quality safes commonly used in this business: Maximum Security Safes ( located at 1415 E. McFadden Suite J Santa Ana, CA 92705. Shep Bryan (800-538-0600) runs the place and I have done business with him for years. He will provide a straight answer to your questions about quality and his expertise is valuable regardless of where you purchase your safe.

The crazy notion that your home is secure as a permanent storage solution is usually touted by the paranoid or people who don’t know any better or coin dealers with an agenda. The end of the world scenario was born during the cold war and has been abused by many for decades to stoke the fear that America is doomed and the banking system can not be trusted. I believe this unreasonable conclusion is dangerous especially to new buyers who may not be experienced with security.

A much better way to keep your valuables completely safe is the common safe deposit box at your local bank. These boxes come in a variety of sizes, are inexpensive for the protection they offer and are better secured than anything you might consider at home. They also provide another priceless advantage: They are not in your home which can lead to a compromising situation in the wrong circumstance.

Banks are federally insured and inspected so insurance companies quote very low rates if your valuables are mostly kept at the bank. By the way, insurance coverage is never paid on a mysterious disappearance and collection of insurance money is virtually impossible if you cannot produce accurate records with receipts of what you purchased, when it was purchased and for what price. So let’s work on our record keeping skills just in case

A final tip might prove helpful. Let’s hope a robbery is not in your future but, just in case, a complete list of what was in the safe will prove magical. This list should include as much detail as possible and will go a long way in helping law enforcement recover your treasure.

Consider this lame description usually offered after the fact: “Well, there was a 1924 $20 gold piece, what else do you need to know?” There were more than 9 million twenties minted in that year so to stand any chance of recognizing your example more information is needed.

Was your coin certified? If so by what service and what are its unique numbers? Was your missing coin in an old holder or new holder? Can you point to any obvious marks which might identify your example from others? If your coin was not certified are you able to include a general description and grade? Does this also include distinctive marks, the type of holder, notes on that holder, type of staples, color of ink, storage boxes and virtually anything (even pictures) which will make your example distinctive among other examples?

Make it a habit to update this important list as you make changes in your holdings and always keep the results in a separate location. Also keep in mind that folks who might need to use this list are not as knowledgeable as you so the less arcane the better.

Like I have said I hope you never have to travel this road but the key to success here is to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments concerning safety which can be added to this post.

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  1. Yeah right- trust your bank and your safe deposit box in a pinch.
    The US government could effectively lock everyone out of their boxes
    and ‘take over’ the gold and silver via a ‘state of emergency’ statement.

    • Federally Insured means that one can collect US dollars on a loss of the content in the safety deposit box. No thanks on the US dollar – especially now.

  2. I agree. I would never keep my loot at any bank. Banks are closing all the time these days. The FDIC is broke because the gov has borrowed funds to finance war in multiple countries. When there’s a bank run because the dollar shits the bed they will lock the doors and disable the atm’s. If you keep your money or precious metals in a bank you will get screwed.

  3. There are so many stories of government seizing safety deposit boxes, its not even funny. The banks are completely in bed with the government (bailouts, anyone?) Keeping stuff at home is not that hard if you know what you are doing.

  4. Plus not trusting the banks the contents are backed up by a US dollar. Would rather have a cow or chicken in repayment it would be worth more. I don’t have to worry becuase I have nothing but if I did no thanks on the saftey deposit boxes.

  5. I’m not in full agreement or disagreement with the comments above, but I have a question for the commenters. Could you post some of the links to the articles about seizure of safety deposit boxes? Thanks for the article! I’ve been trying to decide this subject for many months.

  6. There are many claims, but NO evidence, of government seizing gold coins from _individual_ safe deposit boxes following FDR’s executive order.

    The government did threaten to publish the names of companies who had withdrawn large amounts of gold coins (companies back then paid in cash, not by check, and many were worried about covering payroll)

    The threat of being exposed as ‘unpatriotic’ worked as companies complied, exchanging their gold for paper.

  7. Doing it at home is very easy, but you must know what you are doing AND you must have common sense. If you have everything in a safe, you must use common sense and come to the conclusion that that safe can be carried out of the house. So your next step would be to bolt the safe down. If you go to the next step and say someone could cut the wood floor, bolt to the concrete floor in the basement. If you can put some heavy obstacles in the way, leave only enough room for you walk to it and NO room for the safe to get through. Once your through with that move on to things upstairs. A good heavy door with four metal banisters and a tough thick dead bolt is a start, because they would have to get the door open to get the safe out. There isn’t much you can do with windows except lock them. That is where the alarm system comes in. A well-rated security company will be a big contribution to your security because hopefully if someone does break in, if they trip the alarm, the police will get there in time to stop them. Lastly I would remain armed. If someone breaks in while your home, your coin collection is third on your list of priorities. First is your family and second is yourself. Even if you don’t like guns you should have every strength and advantage over the trespassers as possible. You certainly owe it to your family. And it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway, proper gun safety is a must. You don’t want to lose a toe, an eye, or a family member. Banks are unnecessary, an intelligent and somewhat clever individual can handle it. But in the end your coin collection isn’t worth your life and you can only protect it to a certain extent.

  8. Thank you for a very insightful article. I was also interested to see the various comments made. I would have thought that depositing your coins, especially those that have significant value, would be the first choice. Again however, I am seeing this from a South African perspective. We often advise our collectors to keep their coins in a safety deposit box if they do not have an adequate safe at home. This option also brings down their insurance premiums.

    Thanks again for the post.


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