I had a conversation with someone who was in the process of dispersing a collection assembled by a fellow who is now in his 90s and is no longer in charge of his own affairs.
This collector has a profile that marks him as typical. He is a World War II veteran. As a collector his heyday was the 1960s and 1970s. To look at some of the material in his collection for me was like stepping back in time by 40 years or more.
I say he is typical because as a collector he was not buying 1913 Liberty Head nickels or $10,000 Federal Reserve Notes. His purchases were of coins and notes that any one of us active at the time could have purchased and often did.
The coins ended up being worth $27,000 thanks to the fantastic rises in gold and silver bullion prices. That sum might seem large at first, but when you divide it by 22, which is what the current value of any U.S. silver coin minted before 1965 is worth times its face value, the sum expended back in the 1960s and 1970s is reduced to $1,227. There was some gold, so the 22-figure is not exact but is simply to illustrate that virtually any reader of Numismatic News could have put this little treasure together. Like every collector, this one got frustrated or bored or both and changed the focus of his collecting from time to time.
He collected world notes and has some stunning material. One of the ways happenstance plays a role in every collector’s life is that some of these notes are large but not of standard size. Over time, many of these notes get damaged because they are hard to store, but because this fellow kept them stored away for decades, the quality of the notes just leaps out at you. The value he will realize is a great tribute to simply keeping something safe for many years – the basic definition of what any of us collectors are supposed to do but do not necessarily succeed in doing.
This collector bought some of the fad items that once had a high level of interest but nowadays much less. What do I mean? In this case I mean souvenir cards produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Getting your money out of these today is a hopeless dream. But it is a situation that all of us, if we are honest, find ourselves in from time to time.
The great lesson of this collection is not how clever, special or wealthy the collector was. It was simply time. He collected his material and held it through thick and thin for many years.
The result is outstanding. It is something we can all achieve if we will simply do it and not be distracted by the latest hot item. This collection was not a hodgepodge of hot items, but it did include multiple unfinished sets. That feels familiar to me. How about you?
We could all do what this collector did. We still can. The question is have you done this, or are you doing this?
Transaction costs are high in numismatics. A bite of 40 percent is not unusual. But holding on to what you acquire dramatically reduces its affect over many years. It is a lesson all of us collectors need to remember.