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What will 2011 bring to collectors?

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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I’ve been writing this column during six decades: the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and the ’10s. From the start, it’s a column that has covered the coin market, but starting about 1971 or 1972, I wrote “the Unmasking of a Seer” in which I talked a lot about prognostication and the seer business.

In real life, I practice law– and for more than 34 years have had a personal interest in coinage law and the law of collecting and investing – and as you might guess, I have a couple of books in that field, too.  The legal books are mostly published by Thomson-West, and for the most part are online, an Internet publication intended for lawyers.

That doesn’t make them small – “Proof of Value of Coin Collection,” which is a how-to book in the West series (it came out in 2007) covers most of the topics that are involved in evaluating a collection. It includes grading, appraisals, proof and how disputes get resolved (and how you prove your point to a court of law). That book is about 300 pages and runs over 100,000 words.

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Quite besides law, I am active in local politics, serving as a sort of county supervisor (we call them freeholders in New  Jersey), and I’ve taken to writing legal books about some of the cases that come across my desk. (I’ve done six of them in the last three or four years, and if you want to know about rent control or civil rights law, some of my books are considered cutting edge.

I’m getting reflective because this July, I will reach my 60th birthday, and while I have no thoughts of slowing down, I am becoming more aware that there’s a new generation out there – after all, I finished my service as American Numismatic Association president in 1995 (over 15 years ago) and began serving the ANA as its legislative counsel in 1978 (more than 30 years ago).

At the Florida United Numismatists show (held in Tampa in January), I noted many older friends and a number of younger people – collectors and dealers– who have no idea what a seer is (it’s sort of a swami with a turban who measures success in long-term calls) – or, in this case, what the seer is really about.

It was not that long ago that I used my columns to talk about my kids growing up.  My oldest, Scott, is now 28 and an Army combat engineer in the reserves.  My middle child, Elyse just turned 26 and is pursuing a master’s degree in NYU in New York. And my youngest, Pam who will be 24 in May, is a paralegal thinking about going to law school, on her dime.

None of my kids collects coins (though all are ANA life members – I signed them up as soon as I was satisfied that the cost (then $750) would cover their membership). My wife, Kathy, has a mild interest in error coins, especially state quarters, which keeps Fred Weinberg happy, and lets me continue my collection. She also appreciates the many coin books I have in my library (and which I still actively compete for).
But it gives me a perspective that I did not have in 1965, or for that matter when I wrote “Planning your rare coin retirement” in 1998. For the first time, I am actually looking towards retirement (not any time soon) but that tempers some of my predictions and has made me more cautious in what I recommend others buy.

 OK. A reminder that this is just my opinion. I make mistakes (some of them doozies) and may do what I say or something precisely the opposite. Take a look first at last year’s predictions, grade them (I will, too) and then we’ll look at some from a number of years in the past. It’s something I think you’ll find enjoyable (think memory lane) – and maybe profitable.

If it were baseball, a .566 batting average would be to die for; not so much in the seer business. But take a look at some of the predictions from year’s past.

 The thing about being a seer is that your entire portfolio of predictions is a public record. You’ve seen some of the successful predictions since 1988 (those are easily accessible on my computer), but there is always a downside: the predictions that, well, didn’t make out quite so well.

The 1881-S Morgan silver dollar in MS-65 is my bete noir. I’ve been predicting it will rise for years. I did the same thing with Indian Head cents in uncirculated condition. The sheer commonness of the 1881-S is what makes its price so important. There are so many of them: PCGS shows over 45,000 in MS-65 in early January 2011.

I also have had a soft spot for Indian Head cents of 1900-1909, probably because my start in coin collecting began 50 years ago when I found a 1906 cent in pocket change in very good condition. (It was worth 25 cents back then – but turning a cent into a quarter was a pretty good investment.)

Uncirculated Indians ran about $9 in 1960; today, Dennis Baker’s NumisMedia prices it at $96 to $525, depending on whether its red, brown, or some other combination (MS-65). Still, there are some statistics; the very good coin (1906 with three letters of Liberty showing) is valued by Dennis Baker’s NumisMedia at $2.  (Coin Market at a Glance shows it at $2.10).

The compounded return of that 1906 cent that was found in pocket change turns out to be about 11.2 percent compounded annually [formula: @rate(current price, original price, # of years)]. Not a bad rate of return over a 50-year period of time; in fact, a lot better than most acquisitions for profit.

 I used the same percentage for the house my parents sold in 1960 for $19,990 in Baldwin, L.I., when they moved to Rockville Centre (where I lived before I started college; it would have to grow to $3.7 million). (The house is worth about $550,000 today, a 7 percent steady rate of return).

So, with all this in mind, let’s get to the predictions of the Seer for 2011.

There are a dozen solid predictions. I’ll be in this space next year to chew on the results and either have a laugh at my guesses, or kick my heels up. In between, this column will do some serious talking on a bunch of topics that include the predictions. See ya round.

More Coin Collecting Resources:

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