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Collecting Strategies – You Can’t Rush a Great Collection – John Jay Pittman

Be patient, educate yourself, find opportunities and enjoy the hobby.

The famous collector John Jay Pittman spent several decades collecting coins and rarely, if ever, sold anything. After he passed in the 1990s, his primary residence sold for about $150,000. His coin collection was sold at auction by David Akers for over $30 million. You can easily gather that John Jay Pittman was very passionate about his collection.

Like many serious collectors of his generation, John Jay Pittman became a true student of numismatics. He used his advanced knowledge to great effect. Pittman never bought mega rarities such an 1804 Silver Dollar, and instead focused on coins that he felt were undervalued. John Jay Pittman assembled his collection slowly over many years, looking for opportunities when they arose.

John Jay Pittman charles I CrownRight: This 17th Century English Crown, graded NGC MS 62 and pedigreed to the John Jay Pittman Collection, realized $28,800 in January 2018 at a Heritage Auctions sale.

He was one of just a handful of Americans who traveled to Cairo, Egypt, in 1954 for the King Farouk sale. He mortgaged his above-mentioned house so he would have funds to bid.

It is not surprising that it took so long to build important collections decades ago. Traveling to coin conventions, which were much smaller, often involved complicated transportation. Traveling from coast to coast could involve “planes, trains and automobiles.”

Making a long-distance call was actually quite expensive, and a big deal. There were also far fewer rare coin dealers in the country with an inventory of great coins. It’s a much different world for today’s rare coin collector.

Modern technology has revolutionized how people collect rare coins. Collectors can now buy virtually any rare coin from the comfort of their home. There is also a vast selection of coins to choose from. Regardless of what you collect, assembling a world-class collection has become much easier and can be done much more quickly. This has been proven in recent years by several billionaires who have plunged into the rare coin market.

Besides modern technology, collectors now have an incredible amount of numismatic information at their fingertips. This has leveled the playing field tremendously for collectors who choose to use the many pricing tools available. Collectors of the past, such as John Jay Pittman, would no longer have such a huge advantage over his fellow numismatists.

John Jay PittmanLEFT: This 1876-S Seated Liberty Quarter, graded NGC MS 66 and pedigreed to the John Jay Pittman Collection, realized $1,800 in December 2017 at a Heritage Auctions sale. 

The advent of third-party grading has also been a huge boom to numismatics. There is no doubt that our hobby would be much smaller if it were not for third-party grading. Companies such as NGC give a level of comfort when buying rare coins that is crucial for collectors spending large sums of money. You can be quite certain that the above-mentioned billionaires would not be spending that kind of money for uncertified material.

One of the biggest changes in the rare coin market in recent years has been the longevity of collectors. The average collector now seems to build collections fairly quickly, and then, in a relatively short time, liquidate their holdings. This is seldom a wise investment strategy for anything, particularly for something in the collectibles field. Building a rare coin collection quickly, and then trying to sell too soon can be a disappointing and costly experience.

It is much better to adopt the collecting styles of collectors from past generations like John Jay Pittman. Start by studying the area of the market you have chosen to collect. There are many more tools available, and you should take full advantage of them.

Do not rush and buy coins as if it were a foot race. Modern collectors need to be much more patient, as they are bombarded with material from all directions. “Patience” when building a collection is one of the most important pieces of advice for any collector.

Buying coins over a longer period of time like John Jay Pittman will also help collectors avoid market peaks. Its common human nature to hop on the latest bandwagon and buy what is “hot.” By purchasing coins over a longer time period, you can cost average, and then take advantage of market drops. The rare coin market has been cyclical for decades, and that is probably not going to change any time soon.

In today’s modern society, we are inundated with information and competition for our attention. For many, social media now takes up a large part of their day. This is especially true for young people. We now live in a much faster-paced world. Coin collectors are not immune to this, and many feel this has been a detriment for our hobby.

I actually believe the opposite. The Information Age has been a boom to numismatics. The many tools mentioned above give collectors the best chance they have ever had to get great value for the money they spend. Social media will also become an important tool for our hobby going forward. The connectivity with hobbyists at all levels will help to grow numismatics in the future.

Collector longevity is an important issue, and our hobby needs to do a better job of building collectors for life. We can ill afford to have collectors discover the hobby, and then lose interest a few years later. Modern collectors should adopt some of the habits of great collectors of the past: Learn as much as possible, buy over time, build relationships, and take time to enjoy the hobby.

I have been collecting coins and currency for almost 50 years, and it has provided me with a lifetime of enjoyment. You can do the same, if you take your time.

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Jeff Garrett bio

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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