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The State of Coin Collecting

by Dominic Cicio

Just glanced at the May 14 issue of Numismatic News and noticed the R.W. Barker letter about the pending liquidation of F&W Media. This took me by surprise but upon pondering the reality I began to think “what is the State of the Coin Collecting Hobby?”

Let us start with demographics. Just an observation but the vast majority of Collectors (NOT Investors) are most probably in the 60 plus age category with many in the 70 plus age bracket. The cycle of life is on the downside for this demographic. In the last month we lost Doris Day and Tim Conway.

Many of the baby boomer collectors started in the 50’s and 60’s when you would come across Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Walking Liberty halves and even an occasional Indian Head penny in change. I remember my first coin being a 1909 vdb.

I was about seven or eight years old and my brother in law, a collector, showed me where to find the vdb. He gave me a used Whitman book and it was the first coin I inserted. I inspected every coin I received in change for years to come, filling as many holes in my Whitman book as I could. For some reason, I remember having an old hardcover Blue book that was published annually.

Not knowing how to grade coins I thought I was going to be rich someday figuring my coins would be worth the median grade. My coin mentor passed in the early 60’s so I never really learned about grading and I only collected coins I received in change. I come from a poor area of Brooklyn, N.Y.  In the early 60’s a friend showed me how to acid date Buffalo nickels.

As a teen, I continued to fill the holes in my Whitman books but would remove the least expensive coin or duplicates as I needed spending money. In 1964 I even had a good number of Kennedy halves but only saved one or two. A half dollar was a good amount of money in 1964.

My teen years were spent on wilder hobbies and my Whitman books were buried in some drawer. As silver left coins so did my interest. They just didn’t have the same feel. Of course, as I got older, I continued to check my change but only tossed Wheaties and silver coins in a drawer. I became an active accumulator without even realizing it.

I started buying from the mint in the late 70’s and early 80’s just to say I had a coin for each year. Then in the 90’s I was monetarily stable so I started to buy silver sets. Actually, the Silver Premier sets have some of the most beautiful coins.

Unfortunately, they never appreciated in value. But on occasion I take a look at them just to enjoy the beauty. Perhaps in 50 years they will appreciate? I always loved the Silver Eagle Proof as well. I even went on the mint subscription list. The cost of buying from the mint will most likely never allow you to make a profit. Except in 1995 and 2008. I still kick myself over making the wrong choices those years.

The 21st century is here and like many retired persons I have a mishmash of coins. I recently wanted to check the actual value of the 5-coin 2011 Proof American Eagle set. NN has it listed for $700. Coin dealer offered $390 which is 30% of or off Grey Sheet. Obviously, they sell for a lot more on eBay. But like many older collectors who have the time, there is a lack of patience and know how.

If you are fortunate enough to have children or grandchildren; make them a deal to sell the coins for you on eBay while you are alive. They may even become collectors or investors as a result. It is a great way to liquidate a collection that you will end up leaving in your estate anyway.

So, “What is the State of the Coin Collecting Hobby?” Aside from the fact that collectors have years of coin collecting memories, both good and bad, it is the memories and dreams of coin collecting that make it worthwhile for many.

Is the hobby of Kings and Queens reverting back to the Elites? If you have a $100,000 plus to invest in a rare coin you will probably make money in the long term. If you are a dealer or investor you will make money because it’s your job. Dealers and investors need to put food on the family table.

Investors, however, need to buy at a minimal markup and sell at spot to make it worthwhile. Unfortunately, the markup from the mint makes selling at spot a losing proposition. That will hurt in the long run. The coins sold by the mint will never be scarce or rare. Besides, modern coins are well preserved direct from the mint. The circulated coins are easily discolored, dirty or just plain rotting away.

For the rest of the accumulators and collectors, it is the joy of holding in your hand a raw coin made of silver or gold. It’s the memory of looking for that 1943 penny or 1909 SVDB penny that has eluded you your entire lifetime. Most older accumulators/collectors are no longer purchasing coins as it is time for them to liquidate. The reality that they will never find that scarce coin has set in. Sure, many can afford to purchase a slabbed 1916D dime or a 1909 SVDB but the purchase is nothing like a find. There is nothing like finding a war nickel in change and putting it aside into an old medicine tube with others found throughout the years.

So after considering all the variables of coin collecting, even as an amateur, the state of the hobby will remain strong. Just some of the methods of how to collect and invest in coins have changed. Slabbing of coins makes it much easier to know what you buy and sell. Of course, for the older collectors/accumulators the new methods limit holding a raw coin. Oh, the feel of a silver or gold coin. Just carry around a bullion Silver Eagle for a week to try it out.

I sure hope Numismatic News stays afloat. Perhaps someone can woo Dave Harper out of retirement? Perhaps the Big Three Slabbing companies will take over the publication?

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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