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Can’t collectors get anything right?

The trouble with collectors is most of us do not behave as we are supposed to.
2014 U.S. Coin Digest

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The trouble with collectors is most of us do not behave as we are supposed to. We are supposed to buy the most desirable coins first in the best condition that we can afford, classic coins in other words.

Instead, we tend to put away a hodgepodge of coins. We do this because they happened to be the most accessible to us at the time we acquired them.

I began collecting coins in 1963 in the usual way: I was trying to fill a Whitman album, which at the time was for cents 1941 to date. I did so. If I counted right, there were 66 cents in the set. I paid face value for all of them. None is uncirculated. My investment is 66 cents. Current value is 66 cents. If the government ever allows melting of cents again, I might get double that amount, or $1.32.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every cent I put away in 1963 had a purchasing power of 7.6519 current cents.

My conclusion: I lost money.

Hop ahead to 1969. I was working on Jefferson nickels, which I had started the year before. I paid $12.50 for a BU 1950-D. The BLS says that $12.50 would have a purchasing power of $79.75125, or 6.3801 times the original sum today.

The current price in MS-65 is $25.

My conclusion: I lost money.

I purchased a three-coin BU set of Columbia, S.C., half dollars for $180 because I was mesmerized by the low mintages and the possibilities offered by commemorative half dollars.

I quickly realized that even though I could scrape up the funds to buy the set that I so desperately wanted, I really did not have the means to collect all commemoratives. Today, if I add the MS-65 prices of the PDS coins together, I get a value of $990. That is 5.5 times the original investment, but less than the 6.3801 needed to keep even in purchasing power.

That makes it easier to report that I have not had those coins for more than 35 years as they helped pay my way through college. As I recall, I received more than I paid for them, so I was happy. I did get a degree, so I received value for my money in that way.

I was pulling silver coins out of my change as fast as my paper route budget would allow. Let’s take 1967 as a typical year. Any coin I put aside for face value had silver in it worth $1.293 at the Treasury controlled price ($2.17 an ounce at the high after the market was freed). Any of these that I still have now have a silver value of 16.76 times $1.293, so I made money as the calculator says I need 7.0104 times the original price to break even. Of course, many of those coins also are long gone as life’s bills intervened.

So what should I have done?

I should have purchased the VG 1804 Bust quarter in the Sept. 16, 1963, Connecticut Valley Coin Co. ad in Numismatic News for $125. It is now $6,750, or 54 times its original value. But back then I didn’t know what Bust quarters were. I didn’t have $125, either. Collecting the right way was not an option. It looks like I spent many years not collecting the right way – but I had great fun doing it.

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