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How to be a "Successful" coin collector.

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Here's another of my posts that I initially posted on the PCGS boards yesterday - I hope you don't mind me posting it here also - It might contain some useful information for collectors - Also, in the original post I forgot to say that you should buy and use a good loupe - it's also essential to becoming a successful collector.


Before I say anything on this subject, I probably need to define the term “Successful”. In my mind “successful” does not mean the “Best” coin collection, nor does it mean a “Profitable” coin collection. The reason I say not the “Best” is because that’s subjective - even the “Best” registry set (and I’ve had a couple) may only have the highest “paper” grade inserted into a plastic holder, NOT the “Best” or most eye-appealing coins. Profitability has nothing to do with coin collecting as an avocation, it has everything to with investing - and Coin collecting is not necessarily a good “investment” venue.


Successful means obtaining great pleasure from acquiring and (sometimes) completing a collection of coins that you enjoy owning, and which, when shared with fellow collectors, is appreciated as a worthy accomplishment. It also means that during the process of acquiring coins for your collection that you also acquire an expertise as to what you are collecting that allows you to appreciate the rarity and beauty of what your collection.


I’m sure there are other definitions of “successful” - and often the word “best” is used in those definitions - but you don’t have to have the “best” coins or the “best” collection to be a “successful” coin collector.


1. BEFORE you buy a single coin - buy books dealing with what you want to collect. Read about the coins/series that you want to collect; acquire knowledge about what it is you’re going to spend your money on. That single endeavor will serve you well as you collect.


2. LEARN HOW TO GRADE COINS - you cannot acquire a nice collection of coins if you don’t know how to grade them - If you have a lot of money, you can spend millions on “high” grade coins - but if you don’t know how to grade what you buy, all you’ll own is someone else’s OPINION as to what constitutes a nice (and accurately) graded coin. If whomever sells you your coins is more concerned about the price you’ll pay (i.e. making the sale), you may end up owning very expensive, but over-graded coins. And even relying on a reputable 3rd party grading services will NOT change that because as humans grade the coins, they make mistakes too. The only way to give yourself a reasonable chance of (over the long haul) putting together a collection of nice coins is to know how to accurately grade what it is that you are collecting. There is one caveat to this important rule: If you are simply trying to accumulate an example of various types of coins - say for a display of different types of coins as you might see in a museum that shows various different denominations or different types of world coins, then the grade would not be relevant and it wouldn’t matter what the grade is. However, the vast majority of collectors do not collect coins in this manner, and for the most part, this exception would not apply.


3. Ask dealers and other collectors of the series that you collect LOTS of questions - when you’re a beginner there a few stupid questions, and even advanced collectors enhance their knowledge by asking questions and continuing to learn about coins.


4. Join the ANA - there is a wealth of information available to ANA members. If you can afford it and have the time attend several ANA seminars - they are informative and will help you acquire knowledge of coins and learn to grade coins. If there is a local coin club in your area, join it also and attend the meeting and interact with other club members - another great venue for learning about coins.


5. Attend local coin shows - LOOK at lots and lots of coins BEFORE you buy - contrary to those here who complain about “tire kickers” the way to learn is to look, ask questions and learn BEFORE you buy - soon you will acquire a working knowledge of what it is you’re collecting and you will learn to judge quality with more assurance - if you’ve spent time learning about the series you’re collecting you will also become comfortable with knowing that there are certain coins that are not the “keys” to a series but are scarce and hard to find - in other words, you begin to see that there is more to a series than just the “touted” keys, but there are certain dates that are condition rarities in certain grades and hard to obtain.


6. Develop a cordial relationship with the dealers you meet - they are one of the best resources for obtaining nice coins. There are dealers who are “niche” dealers - they specialize in certain limited series, and there are dealers that buy and sell everything - each have their own pluses and minus as to which coins you should buy from them. You can get wonderful coins from both kinds of dealers - but remember - coin dealers are NOT Santa Clauses - they are very unlikely to sell you a $1000 coin for $500 dollars. However, if you have acquired a specialized knowledge in a particular series you can buy a $1000 coin for $500 by utilizing your knowledge - the Axiom that “Knowledge Is Power” is very true in coin collecting.


7. Attend a major coin show - beyond the local coin shows in your local area. The annual ANA show, FUN, Central States, Long Beach & Baltimore are just a few of the major shows that offer a wide array of numismatic choices for a collector. There are seminars, lots of dealers and many very informative exhibits, not to mention auctions.


8. Attend a major auction. That means taking the time to look at the auction lots, compare the various coins with one another and MAKE NOTES in your auction catalogue - you will see slabbed over-graded coins and you will see slabbed under-graded coins - when you attend the auction itself (you don’t have to bid, it’s a learning experience just to watch), you will see 2 coins with the same grade bring radically different prices. Guess what - that “under-graded” coin brought quite a bit more than the over-graded coin of the same grade. All grades are not equal.


9. Subscribe to one or more National Numismatic publications. Read them - this a wealth of information in them.


10. Make a few “mistakes” - well, you’ll do that anyway - but my point here is not to try and go out and make mistakes, but when you do make a mistake, LEARN from the mistake - that’s how you acquire a good working knowledge of coins - the best advice on this point - IF you’re going to make mistakes - do it on low value coins - until you have a good working knowledge of the coins you collect, DON’T buy 4 and 5 figure coins - (unless you have a 6 or 7 figure income).


11. It bears repeating here: LEARN TO GRADE - because my next point is: Discipline yourself to buy coins that are “high-end” for the assigned grade; and you cannot do that if you don’t know how to grade. Third party grading services, while on the whole are very beneficial to collectors, they are the beginning when it comes to grading - NOT the end - the end is your knowledge in being able to ascertain the high end coins for the assigned grade from the dogs or low end, “meets minimum” coins that are either problem coins or just barely make the grade and will be hard to sell when (and if) you decide to sell your coin collection. A collection of coins with PQ coins with great eye-appeal will bring substantially more than a collection of low quality coins with the exact same grade but which consists of only paper inserts with a number entombed in plastic.


12. Your ultimate goal should be the enjoyment of acquiring both knowledge and nice coins - It is your responsibility as a collector to accomplish that - no dealer, no third party grading service will do it for you. Coin collecting is a participatory endeavor - not a spectator sport.


Have fun - it’s like going to a restaurant and eating a wonderful meal, or better yet, going to a beauty contest and getting to “fondle” the contestants - either way - you can have a lot of fun and not get slapped for your efforts.

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