Is it possible simply to be a collector anymore, or do you have to be a collector/investor, or worse, an investor these days to be a success in numismatics? Read this week's Viewpoint. I can understand collectors sometimes feeling like tourists in their own land. How else can we feel when coin buying has become the default setting of many gold and silver investors?
Let’s look at the root of the collector identity. Do you still have that curiosity you had as a new collector? I still remember the impulse to fill my Whitman Lincoln cent album as a kid. Many other collectors have similar memories. I don’t mean to imply you still have to be a kid, or a novice to enjoy collecting. You don’t. It is never a good idea to freeze yourself at some earlier stage. But when you see something new in numismatics, do you want to find out more about it and/or collect it? If you find you still retain this innate curiosity, it doesn’t matter what the price of gold is, or what you call it, you are a collector.
Are you internally motivated, that is, do you pursue collecting goals because you think they are neat and not because you see a new headline in Numismatic News? I know that many collectors of American Eagles bought or tried to buy the 25th anniversary Eagle set, but some simply wanted it because they saw it was going to be a hot item and that others were interested in it. This phenomenon is the numismatic version of finding a new restaurant or vacation spot and bragging about it to friends.
Some investors bought the set simply to make money. Are you motivated by money? Well, who isn’t? No collectors do things deliberately to lose money. Money is the yardstick against which we measure our activities. How much is that 1893-S Morgan in XF-40? Is another dealer selling it for $50 less? $1,000 less? If the latter, you might think it is not graded right, or the market has made an unexplained move. These are collector thoughts.
If your interest in the 1893-S is simply to sell it for more in a year’s time, then you are moving into collector/investor and investor territory. However, if you find a nice 1893-S, buy it and then sell it for a profit that is immediately plowed back into other coins in which you are more interested, well, then you are right back firmly in collector territory.
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A collector/investor label might be a more truthful name for all of us. It is a rare person who has every coin he has ever acquired.
For investors, profit is the end in itself. They get more confident as prices rise. They stay only as long as the profits do. Investors can bid up the price of certain coins and create sticker shock for the rest of us. But true collectors still find a way to pursue their interests. They make that skillful 1893-S purchase and finance their collecting goals with the profits, or they try nickel 3-cent pieces, or something that is not affected by investor demand.
Collectors always find a way to collect. They don’t worry about labels and from time to time they wave good-bye to those who like to call themselves investors.