Skip to main content

Errors that get mainstreamed are winners

Errors have been much in the headlines this year. The new Washington Presidential dollar features a plain edge variety that looks like it will become a permanent part of collector lives. I write “looks like” because it is still relatively new and collector habits and traditions build only over long periods of time.

For every truly long-term collectible error that arrives in numismatics, there are dozens, even hundreds, that will never make it past a relatively short existence in online auction listings from people who “have never seen anything like it,” create a fancy nickname for it, but of course, they don’t really know much about this sort of thing you understand.

Buying these flashes in the pan would be a quick way to the poor house if you chased them all. Fortunately, most collectors don’t. Many of the current error buyers will go on to the next fad someday and their heirs will find the hot errors of 2007 in a drawer somewhere. I shudder to think what they will be worth.

If you find yourself attracted to errors, I don’t want to dissuade you from participating in a very interesting field. However, you might consider checking the errors that have stood the test of time. You will have better luck preserving your investment with these coins going forward and they offer you the possibility of solid investment gains.

What coins am I thinking of? Well, look at the 1955 doubled-die cent and the 1972 doubled-die cent. Both have been embraced by the mainstream hobby.

Check out the 1922 plain cent. Whoa. Why do I mention that? Well, it was an error once. Now it is mainstream. The funny part is if collectors knew in 1922 what they know now, this coin would not be considered collectible.

The same thing is true of the 1937-D three-legged Buffalo. It is now a gilt-edge classic collectible that never would have gotten off the ground if today’s knowledge had prevailed when it was issued.

It may be fun to try to pick the next winner online. It may be interesting. But there are too many elements of lottery in it and commercial hype for this to be a sound collecting or investing strategy. To truly pick the winners going forward, look also to the winners of the past.