HomeCollecting StrategiesThe Numismatic Versus: Comparing Coin Collecting Methods

The Numismatic Versus: Comparing Coin Collecting Methods

By Doug WinterRareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
Cats versus dogs. Coke versus Pepsi. Good versus evil. You get my point: two camps competing for your coin collecting heart, your affection, or your soul. It’s not that far-fetched to stretch this analogy out to some of the basic issues in coin collecting. No, it’s not the Satanic Verses; it’s the Numismatic Versus.

OK, to be a bit more serious: there are basic issues in numismatics that split coin collecting down the middle. There is no real right or wrong when it comes to collecting, and I am a big advocate of doing what “feels right” for the collector. That said, I think my 36+ years of experience as a dealer qualify me to render an opinion on some of these issues and that’s what I’d like to do here.

Specialist Coin Collecting vs. Type Collecting

I have many customers who are specialists and many who work more in a “generalist” fashion. I respect both camps.

A specialist picks a small area of collecting and focuses on it. Dahlonega quarter eagles. New Orleans half eagles. First-year and last-year-of-issue coins. All of these are great choices for the specialist.

What I like about specialist collecting is that by having a more narrow focus, the collector can become knowledgeable more easily. As I have written before, if your collecting focus revolves around 25 half eagles from one branch mint, you are far more likely to learn this series as well as the typical dealer than if you try to learn about all the half eagles produced during the 19th century.

But there is something to be said for a more general approach. I love the concept of collecting by type. I love the fact that a type collector buys something different every time he pulls the trigger.

Condition Rarity vs. Absolute Rarity

A coin that is a “condition rarity” is one whose primary value is based around its grade. An example of this would be an 1887-S eagle in MS65. Such a coin is extremely rare and it would sell for five figures if available. But the same date in MS60 is extremely common and it sells for essentially no date premium.

A coin that is an “absolute rarity” is one that is rare in all grades and is desirable whether it is quite worn or superb. An example of this would be an 1862-S eagle. This is a low-mintage issue with a very low survival rate to its Civil War date of issuance. This coin is desirable if it grades Very Fine or if it grades Uncirculated.

What a collector should always ask him or herself is Would the coin that I am buying have value if third-party grading were to suddenly end? A coin like an 1887-S eagle in MS65 might not carry a great premium if third-party grading ceased to exist. A coin like an 1862-S eagle in EF45 would still be considered desirable no matter what dictates the future of grading.

The best coins are the ones that combine absolute and grade rarity. If a coin like an 1862-S eagle in Mint State were to be discovered in Europe (I have never seen one close to Uncirculated) it would be very desirable as it combined both types of rarity in one neat package.

Business Strikes vs. Proofs

Business strikes are coins that were made for circulation. Proofs are coins that were specially made for collectors and VIPs. The coin weenie in me likes business strikes more than Proofs because of the fact that these were coins that were used how coins are supposed to be used.

But the coin snob in me likes Proofs as well. There is no getting around the fact that a Gem Proof Liberty Head double eagle is incredibly impressive. And you have to like the Proof issues that were struck in such tiny quantities during the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s.

I tend to be a more selective buyer when it comes to Proofs than business strikes. I vastly favor very rare Proofs (example: an 1878 gold dollar) than a not-so-rare Proof in a mega-grade (example: a 1904 quarter eagle in PR67 Cameo).

Can a collector buy business strikes and Proofs simultaneously? I don’t see why not. In certain series, like Type Three Liberty Head double eagles, there are Proof-only issues that are collected side-by-side with business strikes. Like owning a dog and a cat at the same time, I say “Yes!” to the collector who buys interesting Proofs and business strikes together.

Gold vs. Silver vs. Copper

I first published this article on a website called raregoldcoins.com, so you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure which of these three coinage metals I favor.

But let me at least explain why I do.

Gold is a precious metal with strong demand around the world. Egyptian pharaohs were buried with spectacular gold ornaments. The last time I checked, there were no silver or copper trinkets in the Great Pyramids.

Try to explain to a wealthy Chinese collector why he should spend $100,000 on an Indian Cent. Not easy, right? But don’t you think this same individual would more likely “get” the concept of an Uncirculated 1871-CC double eagle at $75,000?

Copper coins are great and I personally collect Liberty Seated silver coins and love them. However, as far as being a dealer goes, I’m pro-gold and more so now than ever.

19th Century vs. 20th Century

When I began specializing in United States gold coinage back in the early 1980s, I decided to focus on 19th-century coins because they were more affordable and because they seemed like a better value. Three decades later I still believe this.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think 20th-century coins are great. I think St. Gaudens double eagles and Indian Head eagles are the most beautiful regular issue coins that the United States Mint ever produced. And the incuse designs of the Indian quarter eagle and half eagle series really appeal to me. But 20th-century gold tends to be the ultimate in condition rarity and, as I discussed in #2 above, I have always been more of an absolute rarity kinda guy.

I look at 20th-century gold as the contemporary art of the numismatic world. It’s fairly regularly available, it’s pretty macho to collect, the market is fluid due to collectors coming and going rapidly and the value levels don’t always make sense.

I personally like 19th-century gold better as I view it as a more cerebral area to collect. It’s clearly not as pretty (there is no doubt that Gobrecht and Longacre couldn’t hold a candle to St. Gaudens as far as artistic talent is concerned), and it is more monotonous as it goes on and on (and on). But if you have a budget of, say, $5,000 to $10,000 per coin, you can be a big player in 19th-century gold while still being pretty much a nobody in the 20th-century arena.
Doug Winter Numismatics, specialists in U.S. gold coins

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About Doug Winter

Doug_Winter2Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.

In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.

Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and a recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought-after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality, and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.

Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Red Book”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues.

In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
  • Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
  • Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
  • Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
  • The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
  • Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
  • An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
  • The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
  • A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
  • The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
  • Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis

Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.


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  1. Going to have to disagree. The author definitely has a thick wallet if he’s so enthusiastic about gold coins. I’m well-educated and earn a decent living, but I live about paycheck-to-paycheck like most Americans. And I’d guess most collectors can’t afford to collect gold coins as well. This article will appeal mostly to the rich, not rank-and-file collectors. If there’s any robust future for our hobby, I think copper and silver will have to maintain their appeal, and it would be wise to advocate this. Furthermore, I wouldn’t advocate collecting 19th century coins over 20th century ones because they’re mostly unaffordable as well.

  2. What a collector should always ask him or herself is Would the coin that I am buying have value if third-party grading were to suddenly end?

    There is great wisdom in this statement. Are you collecting coins, or are you collecting a product made from paper, plastic and metal?


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