By James Cucchi
What makes a collection valuable and how does that shape the way in which we collect?
To answer this question, likely one on the minds of many numismatists at one time or another, we have to consider what the word “value” really means. There are certainly many ways to define value, and the definition is different for each collector.
Most conventionally, one could say that value is the amount of money that an item can command on the marketplace, as expressed by retail, wholesale, or auction prices. These prices stem from a community consensus of the item’s worth as determined by the individual opinions of stakeholders, namely those possessing the item or those wanting, or potentially wanting, to possess it.
Another way to determine value is to base it on non-material concerns, namely sentimentality or the joy that owning or acquiring an object brings. For example, one’s first coin – perhaps given to a burgeoning collector by his grandfather at a young age – may have great value to that individual, even if the coin is only a worn 1900 Indian Head cent. This more personalized measure of value is determined individually, and thus while that Indian cent might be priceless to the collector whom it inspired at a young age, it would be worth very little to one lacking that sentimental connection. This non-material way of defining value is probably foremost in the minds of most collectors – differentiated here from investors – when they take stock of their holdings.
From the above discussion, one can see that value is clearly subjective. Even retail, wholesale, and auction prices are subjective. As a result of this inherent subjectivity in value, each collector naturally develops his own internal set of valuations for different numismatic items that are the product of a number of factors. Such factors might include commonly accepted pricing standards (such as the Redbook), personal opinions (such as a belief that silver is currently undervalued), personal preference (such as a love and affinity for Morgan dollars), and emotional considerations (such as the fondness one might feel towards one’s first coin).
The valuations that come out of taking all of these diverse factors into account may be for the most part similar between informed collectors, but are all but guaranteed to differ, perhaps drastically, in some places due to the sheer number of facets that can define value and the fact that these very factors that go into defining value differ considerably between individuals.
So how do these differences in valuation affect the value of a coin collection and the way in which we as individuals collect? Well, for one it means that each collector should seek to maximize their own personal value gained from the hobby and not get caught up in, and confined by, others’ definitions of value. In the end numismatics is about enjoying the ownership of the historic and fascinating objects that are coins above all else. If, for example, a particular collector would derive more value, namely in the form of personal satisfaction, from owning a particular 1933 wheat cent than he does from the 1933 double eagle he currently possesses (or the millions of dollars it would doubtlessly bring at auction), would we be right in condemning such a trade? (Note: If the current owner of the legal 1933 double eagle is interested in exchanging it for a 1933 wheat cent, he is highly encouraged to contact the author of this article)
While the above is obviously an extreme example, it illustrates my point that collecting should be about personal value and not conforming to community accepted standards or norms just for the sake of doing so or because it is the “right” way to collect. Because collectors value coins differently, so they should naturally be expected to collect differently. It is only by seeking one’s own collecting path that true personal value in a collection can be acquired.
James Cucchi is from Boston, Mass.
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