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Viewpoint: Not everyone can have a rarity

By Michael S. Shutty Jr.

Amidst all the complaints about how the mint distributed the American Eagle 25th anniversary coin sets, collectors have forgotten what rarity is all about. The bottom line is that not everyone can possess a rare coin.

As with any highly desired object, the distribution will be uneven. The coveted 1909-S VDB cent is a classic rarity that provides an instructive example. A lucky few have this slot filled in their folder while many more stare wishfully at the gaping hole in their folders; meanwhile, dealers and speculators have small accumulations that they offer for high prices. And yes, there are a few who are threatening to leave the hobby because they think it is unfair to charge such big dollars. This state of affairs is how it has always been in collecting.

We are lucky that the American Eagle series has a new rarity. It is about time that the mint “juiced up” the series and made things interesting. A mintage of 100,000 for a modern coin that is heavily collected is good for everyone! It is good for those who did not get one despite their forethought and perseverance. Otherwise the series would be just another run of common dates.

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We all know that rare coins go to those who are either lucky or smart. Yet, we tend to emphasize the latter quality while discounting the former. After all, it is the knowledgeable numismatist that is best prepared to spot a rarity.
It is said that collecting is more democratic this way – that is to say, anyone who puts in a little time and effort can gain an advantage in making good acquisitions. Unfortunately, (bad) luck has been the spoiler from the start.

Smart collectors – those that were paying attention – knew immediately that the low mintage of 100,000 sets was phenomenal! They also knew that many pursuers would be denied. As predicted, many smart collectors were rejected. Some of them have raged in the pages of NN, threatening to quit collecting American Eagles altogether! Yes folks, life is unfair.

Some have lamented that they began collecting the series from the start, as if to say that they are more deserving. Others cry out that they wanted to buy some for their grandchildren, as if to proclaim that they are collecting for a greater good. Even more shout out that collecting has become too expensive, adding that they work nine-to-five and have to scrape their pennies together to purchase even the most common Eagle.

Let me repeat: Life is not fair. I want a 1909-S VDB! I have been collecting since I was nine, and I still do not have one. I have read about them; I have learned to grade them; I am a true numismatist who would care for this cent like a museum curator. Yet, some dealers have four or five of them languishing in their showcases. They do not love them, and they want too much money for them. Do I deserve a break here? Should I get mad and throw my half-filled folder of Lincolns out the window?

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Of course not – I aspire to possess the 1909-S VDB. And I am saving for it: One penny at a time. I fantasize about the glorious day when I punch this coin into my folder. The Lincoln cent series would be monotonous without a storied rarity like this. I know that others have found them, inherited them, and bought them cheaply – oh, if only I could go back a few decades! Yet, I know that my glorious day is on the horizon. I am a true collector. It is in my blood. This means that I will find a way to get one. Or else, I will get the rest and let the vacancy remind me of how I strived and accomplished much along the way.

It is true that smart collectors do not always get to complete their sets. Sometimes it is enough to have taken the journey and know what is missing and why. As for the missing 2011 reverse proof American Eagles, they are available for the true collectors. Get one while you can! Anyone who quits the hobby in disgust – I hate to break it to you – is not a true collector! No one stops collecting except speculators. Besides, there are so many exciting coins out there. The rest of us are excited to have another rarity to chase after. Acquisition is sweetest for those who “suffer the hunt” and dream of the big day – sure we like to be lucky sometimes, but luck and rarity are infrequent events.

This Viewpoint was written by Michael S. Shutty Jr., a hobbyist and author of “One Coin is Never Enough,” which is available at shopnumismaster.com. Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to david.harper@fwmedia.com.

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