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Spring Cleaning Your Coin Collection: Part I

 A basic inventory of the items in your collection should be a top priority.

A basic inventory of the items in your collection should be a top priority.

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series that originally appeared in Mike Thorne’s “Basics and Beyond” column in Coins magazine in 2019.

As I write this, it’s the middle of what used to be called winter where I live. Temperatures are mild, we’ve had only a few frosts, and it just doesn’t feel like winter. However, I know that spring will follow, although I suspect that some of the plants in my yard think it’s already spring.

By the time you read this, I suspect it’ll be time for spring cleaning where you live. What I’m going to talk about in this column is spring cleaning your coin collection.

The first item on your cleaning agenda should be your inventory. What? You say you don’t have an inventory? Actually, I would estimate that about 95% of the inherited collections/accumulations I’ve been asked to appraise over the years did not have inventories.

If you’ve purchased, traded for, or otherwise acquired a sizable number of coins, then you definitely need an inventory. Information in this inventory should include a description of the coin (e.g., 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent PCGS XF45, small dark spot at the top of the reverse between the wheat stalks, good strike), who you bought it from and when and where you got it (e.g., Joe Smith at ANA World’s Fair of Money, August 2012, Rosemont, IL), and, most importantly, what you paid for it.

If there’s any of this information you no longer recall, include a reasonable guess. Trust me, even if you were sure you would never forget the circumstances of this purchase, you will be dismayed to find out how much you’ve forgotten.

As an academic psychologist for 40 years, I often taught introductory psychology courses. One of the topics I talked about was learning and memory. For memory, the interference theory of forgetting stands out. It states that previous events (coins you bought before the 1909-S VDB) and subsequent events (coins purchased after the 1909-S VDB) can interfere with your memory of the circumstances surrounding the 1909-S VDB purchase. That’s why you really need to have an inventory that you keep up with as you buy new coins for your collection.

One way to do this is to keep a notebook in which you write the information about each new purchase. If you have a smart phone, you can easily take pictures of both sides of the coin, print them out in capsule form, and paste them next to the information.

Of course, if you’re at all computer literate, there are decidedly better ways to maintain your inventory. One way would be to purchase and use a coin inventory program. I Googled “Coin Inventory Software” and got 7.82 million hits! In other words, there’s no shortage of programs available.

The first two listings were both on eBay. “Coin Collection Inventory” was listed for $19.95 postpaid, and “Stecotec Coin Collector Pro-Inventory Software” could be yours for $34.95, also postpaid. The latter bills itself as “The World’s Best Software for Coin Collectors.”

The inventory program that I use is free with Heritage Auctions membership. To use it, all you have to do is register with Heritage Auctions ( To register, you’ll need to give them your name, mailing address, phone number, and occupation. But that’s it!

For each of the coins you enter into your inventory, you can upload digital photos of the obverse and reverse, your reference number (if you have one), a written description, your value, the purchase price, the date, and where and from whom you acquired it, the quantity if you have more than one, and the certification ID if the coin is certified. There’s also a rather large space for any coin notes you might want to record.

Assuming it’s certified, the Heritage site will add the Numismedia Wholesale and Retail values for your coin. In addition, it will give you the number certified in your coin’s grade and the number of coins receiving higher grades. At the bottom of all these data, you’ll find a link to auction prices realized. Unfortunately, the link takes you to a listing of all the examples sold of the particular coin, not to just the ones sold with the grade of your piece.

I’m not trying to sell you on the coin inventory feature of the Heritage website, and I’m sure that some of the inventory software you can buy is equally useful. However, you certainly can’t beat the price for what you get from Heritage! I called to ask if you had to buy anything from Heritage in order to use their inventory program and was assured that you do not.

Besides coins, Heritage Auctions handles several other collectibles. Examples include currency, art and antiques, comics, and even fine wine. If you have any of these items, you can inventory them on the site also.

As you’ve probably gathered from my discussion, the inventory program provided by Heritage works best if your coins are certified by one of the major services (ANACS, NGC, PCGS). Several years ago, I decided to get virtually all of my coins certified. My main reasons for doing this involve what will happen to my collection when I’m no longer on the scene. In other words, what will my heirs (spouse or children) do with my collection?

If my valuable coins are certified, it should be much easier for my heirs to get appropriate prices for them. Potential buyers will be less likely to say the coins are in lower grades than they really are if PCGS, NGC, or ANACS have set their seals of approval on the holders. Also, quite a few of my coins have the additional cachet of Certified Acceptance Corporation (CAC) green beans. These are applied only to coins CAC considers high end for their grades. CAC stickers have been found to increase prices for coins sold at auction.

In addition, certified coins are encapsulated in holders that are quite desirable for long-term storage. Storage is another factor you need to consider when you’re spring cleaning your collection. I’ll have more to say about this topic in my next column. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and affiliated websites.