US Coins

Guest Commentary: New collectors can take steps to hurdle the 'five-year wall'

Hobby stalwart Ken Bressett signs a book during a May 4 presentation in St. Louis, where he discussed the “five-year wall” in coin collecting.

Coin World image.

In his Guest Commentary in the Aug. 19 edition of Coin World, Bill O’Rourke references Ken Bressett’s idea (which Ken voiced in a May 4 presentation at St. Louis’ Newman Money Museum) of a “five-year wall” or “five-year learning curve” in coin collecting at which point collectors begin to become discouraged with or drift away from our hobby. I am currently in my fifth year as a revived collector. So, I wanted to reply with a few thoughts.

First, I feel that we good old-fashioned collectors — folks who value the aesthetic and historic value of coins and who are drawn by some mystical urge to complete sets — don’t experience “a wall” because coin collecting is in our blood. We may drift in and out of the marketplace based on our budget and other life events, but we are always checking our pocket change and looking through our folders dreaming of the chance to fill those remaining few “holes.”

I think the wall that Ken discussed and Bill speaks of in his commentary is much more likely to impact investors than hobbyists. Investors are those folks who can afford genuine high-end rarities and others who are involved in bullion speculating, which to me includes purchasing the odd array of noncirculating U.S. Mint products.

Even so, some hobbyists may feel a “loss of enthusiasm” around the five-year mark as Bill explores.

I offer some suggestions from my own experiences that have helped me avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned in Mr. O’Rourke’s Guest Commentary.

(1) As you will read in any numismatic publication, follow the recommendations to join a local club and become involved. Learning from guys who have been in the hobby for 50+ years provides an almost endless supply of knowledge (if you are patient), and that constant learning helps keep the hobby fresh. Being an officer or assisting in putting on local coin shows helps you feel more engaged and fights off the “wall.” Working with youth groups such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is amazingly stimulating, but I admit it doesn’t suit everyone’s temperament.

(2) Bill discusses the feeling of being taken or not being able to “turn around” some coin purchases for equal or better value. During my first couple of years as an adult collector, I set very strict and very low spending limits ($100 per event) for any show or auction I attended. This way if I met some bad buys, I didn’t feel cheated; I just felt as if I had spent a little extra money to educate myself.

(3) Bill also discusses the issue of “slabbed” coins and the frustration they can cause. Personally, I did not even consider buying slabbed coins until my fourth year as an adult collector. I only purchase slabbed coins that I intend to keep “longer than my lifespan” and I do not expect to make any gain or return on my slabbed coins. I just want them for my collection and for posterity. I hope my great-great-grandchildren will find them as exciting as I did.

So, in summary, make a personal commitment to be a collector, not an investor; be an extremely disciplined buyer; and be actively involved in a local club. You should have years of enjoyment from our great hobby and never hit a “wall” regardless of how many years you have been collecting.

Ken Lepper is the vice president of the Red River Valley Coin Club, based in Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D. He maintains the club’s webpage:

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