US Coins

Selective collecting: What coins are in your ‘Box of 20’?

A French coin cabinet from circa 1580 to 1610 is in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Such cabinets could hold a limited number of coins, and thus could serve to limit the collecting ambitions of their owners.

Image courtesy of author

The concept of selective coin collecting accepts that for most collectors, one’s budget, space, and ability to understand a collecting area in depth are limited.

When was the last time you took the effort to declutter your collection? Decluttering is popular these days, with books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up teaching people how to simplify and organize aspects of their life. 

Decluttering isn’t just for the home: it can also pay dividends for one’s coin collection. 

The concept of a “box of 20” is based on exclusivity, in that it limits the number of coins in one’s collection. It is a minimalist approach to collecting. And, after all, just 20 coins fit in a standard Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corp. box.

In her book, Kondo suggests seeing what items “spark joy” as a key determinant on whether an item should stay or go. The end goal is that you are surrounded by only items that you love. 

It’s a concept that works for collecting: which coins are the ones that bring you the most excitement, whether it be because they are rare, beautiful, or sentimental? 

A key part of successful coin investing is selecting the right coins to invest in, so why not find the ones that “spark joy” and give you pleasure? Likely, the coins that bring you joy will be the same coins that others gravitate to. 

Ask yourself these questions: which coins are essential to my collection, and which coins are simply clutter, distracting from the fantastic coins? The periodic evaluation of a collection to assess strengths and weaknesses is essential to smart collecting. 

Limiting one’s collection to the space available for it has been a time-honored tradition. 

During the Renaissance, affluent collectors commissioned craftsmen to create coin cabinets — ornate boxes that had sliding drawers, with spaces lined with velvet for individual coins. 

These opulent boxes protected the coins within, but also served as a status symbol, home decoration, and limiting tool to keep collections from getting unruly. Cabinet makers, who did not want to limit their business, would create additional cabinets that could stack upon one another, forming double or triple cabinets, should collecting ambitions expand. Today these cabinets are highly collectible by themselves, and are coveted by museums.

Limiting a collection to just 20 coins may seem extreme, but it’s one method of refining a collection so it has room for only the finest. 

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