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The Psychology of Coin Collecting


By Peter Mosiondz, Jr.….
What does psychology have to do with coin collecting?

Collectors have one distinct advantage over non-collectors. The hobby of coin collecting–and it is a hobby, pure and simple, not an “industry” or “market”–adds an extra dimension to the collector’s life, a safe and enjoyable retreat from the stress and pressure of everyday living. The hobby is a tonic that cures the daily ills and tensions. Numismatics is the magic carpet ride.

Some good quiet time with numismatic books, reading, studying or researching some interesting topic can also provide the relaxation and escape one often needs after a tough day at the office or factory.

It’s no wonder then why, when so many psychologists and other medical professionals suggest taking up a hobby, coin and stamp collecting traditionally head the list.

It’s not just sitting at home in an easy chair, being a loner. That’s OK some of the time. The real enjoyment and stress-reducer is in active participation in the hobby–and coin clubs fit the prescription very nicely. Coin collectors tend to want to enjoy their pursuit with a circle of friends. Psychologists call this a “support group”. Down the road I’ll talk about coin shows and conventions and how they replace the cares and woes of daily life. It’s all about having a worthwhile pursuit. Can one imagine any better hobby than numismatics?

One of the characteristics of many collectors, their “psychology” if you will, is that they suffer from the disease of “complete-itis”. Sound familiar? “I must complete this set as soon as possible”, or “Let me buy that complete set now”. There are other examples but these serve the point. To my way of thinking at least, who says that you have to have a complete date set or a complete anything? If so, you are afflicted with complete-itis. In my humble opinion it is more enjoyable to methodically seek one or two examples at any given time in whatever series or denomination that you’ve decided to collect. The important words here are “that you have decided to collect”. Don’t allow your psyche to be swayed by the mind-set of others.

In other words, don’t let them be your coin psychologist. The decision on how and what to collect is strictly your own.

Cycles in the coin hobby are also affected by their psychological movements. For example, one year everyone is scrambling for silver dollars. Next year they fall out of favour and large cents take hold. Then it’s off to something else, only to have the cycles eventually repeat themselves. Believe me, as an “old-timer” in the hobby I’ve seen them come and go, come and go, come and go… Well, you get the point. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by cyclical movements. Those jumping on today’s hot bandwagon will most likely fall off when that same wagon becomes cold.

Another point to remember is that most coin cycles are started by self-styled promoters and their flashy advertisements. The promoted item is usually one in ready supply: proof sets, rolls of coins, modern silver dollars and the like. “I’d rather buy your X at a high price rather than sell you my X at a low price”. The bait has been set. The next ad proclaims that “we are out of X and must buy yours”. The fat is in the fire. This goes on for a week or two and then the sell ad appears stating that “X is available once again but we had to pay top dollar and have adjusted our selling price accordingly”. What you were not told was that this dealer had a large supply of X on hand before the promotion began and wanted to raise the selling price to make more profit. What was it that P.T. Barnum once said about being born every minute?

Beware of rising (cyclical) markets, especially those on a fast track steered by a flashy promoter. Usually what goes up too quickly will tumble down just as quickly if not more so.

The veteran collector of course looks at situations like this from a different perspective than that of the neophyte. This may be termed the psychology of experience. Noted old-time dealer Wayte Raymond once remarked “The best investment in numismatics is knowledge”. We can also offer the sage advice given by noted financier Bernard Baruch. To paraphrase this into numismatics, he said that the time to buy is when other collectors are selling and the time to sell is when the collectors are buying. In essence, many collectors are trapped by a cyclical situation and trip over themselves in an effort to buy before prices go “through the roof”. The seasoned collector has seen this situation many times and knows that now is the time to sell before the price level reaches the top and begins to descend. The new or unwary collector is doomed to be trapped into the follow-the-sheep psychology unless this vital lesson is learned early on.

I’d like to quote another old-timer.

Lee F. Hewitt, former publisher of The Numismatic Scrapbook magazine was fond of saying that “there is no Santa Claus in numismatics”. These are words to consider if you ever feel trapped by someone making an offer that sounds too good to be true. We can call this the “gift horse” psychology. When something sounds too good to be true it invariably is too good to be true. I remember being offered a 1916-D Mercury dime years ago for a price that was well below advertised buying prices for that particular grade. Naturally a light bulb went off in this gray-haired brain. My first thought was why is he offering this to me at a lower price than he can easily obtain elsewhere? Curious, I picked up the phone and was told that he knew of me and wanted to give me a little bit of a price break. By this time I knew I wasn’t going to buy the coin but replied that he should send it along and that if I didn’t purchase it the only loss would be a few dollars to each of us for postage and insurance expenses. You guessed it! The coin featured an added “D” mint mark. I photographed the coin and sent it along to the publisher of the periodical in which the ad appeared. I mentioned this to the so-called dealer. His reply was that anyone can make a mistake. Hmmm.

A final psychology lesson is offered. Have fun and try to share that fun with others.

Until next time, stay well and enjoy your hobby.

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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  1. I see coin collecting as more of a solitary pursuit. I hold the opposite view that collectors tend to want to engage in the hobby alone. I’ve never been to a club but I want to. I see club meetings and other hobby social interaction as supplemental to the joy of numismatics but mostly not necessary. I may be one of the more introverted collectors, but from my observations coin shows, shops, and other interactions are less social than solitary engagements.


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