US Coins

Bowers: Find positives amid coin hobby's challenges

The Joys of Collecting column from the March 6, 2017, monthly issue of Coin World:

There are some things that it seems we all need to accept — logical or illogical:

Counterfeits are a problem. With the Internet, more are being sold than ever before, including common and worn coins. Offerings play to the natural love for bargains. The Industry Council for Tangible Assets and others are working on this. The challenge is not new. The answer is not to buy a coin that has not been reviewed by an expert. When I was a kid, in the 1950s, more than half of the “1916-D” dimes in the marketplace were fake. I and others had to learn about them.

There is no enforcement of ethics or truth in advertising by any organization, although they will answer specific complaints.

To counter this, think twice and look around before buying anything sold as a modern rarity or as an investment. A quick check is to look on eBay to see what the resale market is for such things. 

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Never buy a coin for investment reasons only. Very few people who have bought coins strictly for investment in the past few years can show a profit if they decide to sell. 

The Internet has opened the doors wide to countless new collectors. Sites such as eBay in particular are filled with interesting offers (but be careful). Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. have a world of information on their websites. The Newman Numismatic Portal gives you a million-dollar library free of charge at your fingertips. 

Although Millennials in particular do not have the collecting spirit their parents did, still via the Internet there are many new faces. While perhaps the leading buyers of rarities in auctions are graying — older collectors who have achieved success in a business or profession — there are many others coming up behind. In a recent letter, Ute Wartenberg Kagan, executive director of the American Numismatic Society, said the ANS has lots of new members in their 30s and 40s.

In print there is more information available than ever before. Whitman Publishing alone has issued over 300 titles in the past 15 years!

Further, one can “attend” an auction or convention by staying right at home. Time was for my company’s auctions the gallery would be filled to overflowing, we would bring extra chairs in, and still there would be standing room only. Today Stack’s Bowers Galleries, and the same can be said for Heritage Auctions and other fine firms, can have record-breaking sales with only a few people in the audience, while on the Internet, countless bidders from all over the world participate in the auctions in virtual reality. Also, this is a cure for the extreme inconvenience of traveling anywhere by air, with security red tape and minimal comforts. 

Specialized numismatic societies, which I mentioned last week, are super dynamic. Belonging to Early American Coppers, to the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, to the Civil War Token Society, or another group is like being a member of a private club. A warm welcome awaits you, and having a good time is guaranteed.

In brief, the secret to being a numismatist for life and to enjoying the hobby to its fullest extent is to study and learn — a basic working library is essential. Tap into the art and science of numismatics, and ignore any investment pleas. When buying, consider eye appeal and other factors — cherrypick for quality. Many coins certified as Mint State 63 are nicer than those certified MS-65. Every coin, token, medal, or bank note has a story to tell. Learn it! Each of the items I illustrate this week could be the subject of a coin club program! Go slowly as you learn. Stick with the hobby for several years while doing the above, and you’ll be a reader of my column 10 years from now!

This column, started in 1961, is the longest running in numismatic history. I have enjoyed writing every week. 

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