By Mike Thorne
In recent columns, I’ve been telling you about some of my major regrets in nearly 60 years of coin collecting. At the end of my last column, I had started telling you about coins that I should have bought but didn’t. In this column, I’ll finish what I started last month.
When I think about coins I failed to buy, one that always comes to mind is a 1921-D Mercury dime. A solid Good, I happened upon the piece in a small coin shop in New Orleans. The price, as I recall, was $21, which was a reasonable price at the time. How did I talk myself out of buying this coin? Who knows?
I had another New Orleans coin experience that I quickly regretted. I had seen an ad in The Numismatist about James H. Cohen and Sons, Inc. on Royal Street. In the ad, Cohen invited readers to come by his coin and antique business. There, he promised to sell coins at wholesale to interested parties.
At the time, I was always on the lookout for new sources of wholesale coins for my mail-order business. I had visited Cohen’s shop once before, shortly after I had gotten back into collecting coins, and had found his prices to be high retail. I thought it would be interesting to see if he really would sell coins at wholesale prices.
On my next trip to New Orleans, I paid the shop a visit. At first, all I was offered was what I considered junk, albums of lower-grade, damaged, 19th-century material, such as a partial set of Seated Liberty half dimes.
Eventually, I was told I could look through drawers of chronologically arranged material. I remember one drawer containing rows of silver dollars in craft paper holders, each neatly marked in pencil with its contents. I had expressed an interest in 1921 Peace dollars, and here were literally dozens of circulated examples. Stupidly, I only purchased one. Perhaps I was still thinking like a collector rather than like a dealer.
In the end, I bought maybe $200 worth of coins when I should have bought thousands of dollars worth. Although I probably could have gone back and corrected my oversight, I never did.
Perhaps my worst failure to purchase wholesale coins occurred on a family trip to Houston. I decided one day to see what coin shops I could find in downtown Houston.
One of my nephews was mildly interested in coins at the time, so he and I set out for downtown from his home in Missouri City. We drove for the better part of an hour, and I could see that we still had a long way to go, so I turned off the main road and entered a little subdivision with shopping areas, hoping that I might find something of interest.
Quite by luck, I found a small coin shop near a strip mall. We went in, and I asked if they had anything priced appropriately that I might purchase for my mail-order business. In response, the proprietor handed me a “junk” box filled with 2 by 2s.
Notice that I put junk in quotes. The coins in the box were far from junk. In fact, they were just the sort of items I liked to include on my monthly price lists: better-date Buffalo nickels, nice circulated Mercury dimes, Barbers of all denominations, semi-key Lincolns, etc. And the prices? Well, they were ridiculously low.
To give you an idea of how low they were, one of the coins I can remember buying was a Fine 1915-S Buffalo nickel priced at $1. Of course, this was probably 35 years ago, and the 1915-S was worth a lot less then than it is now, but the $1 price was still ridiculously low.
I think I wound up buying maybe $20 from the box, when I should have asked for a price for the whole lot. After all, it was filled with just the sort of coins I liked to offer on my list, and I would never be able to find them at better prices. How did I talk myself out of these winners? I’m still asking myself that question.
The reason the coins in the box were so inexpensive was that the shop dealt mainly in Latin American, and particularly Mexican, material. Any U.S. coins bought with a collection were sold at wholesale as quickly as possible. Although I managed to pass on most of the coins in the junk box.
It is with regret that I remember the New Orleans ANA convention I attended in 1972. Here’s what happened: I asked a dealer if he had any 1916-S halves in Fine. In response, he pulled out a small sack in which there were half a dozen or more nice pieces. “Your pick for $20,” he said.
What I should have done, of course, was to ask for a price on the whole lot. But, if you’ve read my columns of regrets so far, you know that this is not what I did. At least I chose what I thought was the best one for my $20.
Half dollars also figure prominently in one of my latest regrets. A couple of years ago, I went through a large number of Walking Liberty half dollars that a local man had bought for investment. Although most were exceedingly common, there were some interesting dates and grades.
For example, there were quite a few 1929-Ds that ranged in grade from VG to VF. There were some other better pieces in the 1920s and 1930s and even a couple of 1916-Ss, one of which was AG and the other was what I considered a G-4. All together, I pulled out maybe three rolls of halves that I thought should have some premium.
Along with many other coins from the hoard, I sold the rolls to a large, well-known dealer at the next coin show I attended. When it became apparent that the dealer was pricing almost all the coins in my “better” rolls at bullion prices, I should have taken them back and bought them myself. He priced the G-4 1916-S as an AG and paid $40 for it, by the way. I’m still kicking myself for letting those coins go for the pittance the dealer paid for them.
Bottom line: If you think something is a good buy and you can afford it, buy it. Don’t let your failure to purchase it become one of your regrets.
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