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    Numismatic Ramblings

    Brad Karoleff is a lifelong coin collector with a specialization in the early coins of the Philadelphia Mint. He is the proprietor of Coins Plus which operates four locations in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio, area.  
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    • What makes a successful collector?

      Nov 26, 2014, 13:24 PM by
      What makes a great collector? Brad Karoleff says it's all about "the enjoyment that the ownership of the item supplies to the collector."

      Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

      Just like many collectors, my disease covers a number of different collectibles. Personally, I find numismatic literature, Rookwood pottery, fountain pens, and other antique items to be almost irresistible. 

      One of my vocations is that of an auctioneer. This brings me into contact with a very diverse group of collectors.  Recently while representing Humler/Nolan Auctions, the premier seller of Rookwood and related pottery located in Cincinnati, Ohio, I was asked what defined a successful collector. I had given this a great deal of thought in the past and I believe the answer can be used no matter the genre of one’s collection.

      What are your thoughts? Is value and profit potential the benchmark for your idea of success. Is it completeness? Is it the fame that it may bring during acquisition or when it comes time to sell? My thoughts are a little different. My definition can cover everyone from a beginning collector just acquiring the first items for his collection or the grizzled veteran purchasing that last piece needed for completion.

      Quite simply I define success in the enjoyment that the ownership of the item supplies to the collector. If every time you look at a particular item in your collection you smile, and think more of the pride of ownership rather than how much you paid or how much the piece is worth, I believe you are a winner. 

      If you as the collector worries obsessively about the money spent on acquisition then it is likely that the money should have been spent elsewhere. As Dr. Sheldon said, “Do not invest more in any luxury, than you feel you can good-humoredly afford to lose.” This is an axiom that many collectors refuse to respect, especially as they transition from a “collector” to “investor," a very dangerous metamorphosis. 

      So, take this test with any of your collections. Look at one of your prize possessions and what is the first thing to come to your mind? Is it the cost or value of the item, or does a smile come to you face knowing you are the temporary custodian of that particular piece of history? There, you have your answer as to whether you are successful. (Or not ... )

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    • Why buying original-surface classic coins can be tricky

      Nov 11, 2014, 13:26 PM by

      ?Note: Read the first part of my breakdown here.

      So, what does all this original-surface stuff mean to today’s numismatist that wants to begin their journey back to the coins from the early mint?  

      First they have to get away from the habit of purchasing coins for their collection based on Grey Sheet bids.  The thought that these older coins are available at listed prices similar to more modern coins is incorrect. At the bid levels, or even Trends and Red Book prices you can only expect to obtain coins that have been subject to some type of alteration. Specialty dealers and collectors have long realized the scarcity and desirability of the few remaining original pieces. The premiums paid for pristine examples can sometimes be multiples of the list prices, much like someone paying a premium for a beautifully toned dollar.

      There is a growing segment of the collecting community wanting one of these elusive original surface coins and are willing to pay for the privilege of owning one. These prices will not show up in any published price list. One must view auction lots and dealer inventories to get an appreciation of what they actually look like and the prices they are bringing. This is more difficult than merely looking at a Grey Sheet, but ultimately worth the effort.

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    • What you need to know before collecting 'classic' U.S. coins

      Nov 3, 2014, 11:33 AM by

      ?Those collectors who specialize in United States coins from the 19th century are very familiar with the two-tiered market that exists for those series. Novice collectors are often confused when they first venture into the rarified air of these antique issues. This is my attempt at easing that transition from “modern” numismatics to the “classic” issues.

      Most collectors begin their numismatic journey with a 20th century series. Lincoln cents were a popular starting point for collectors of my generation. Many adults today may begin with Walking Liberty halves or Morgan dollars. They get used to the availability of these coins in bright uncirculated condition by the hundreds at any major coin show. They quickly learn that a bright white coin certified by any of the major grading services often satisfies their collection. After identifying the look they desire it is not usually too difficult in building their collection.

      The classic issues come with more diversity of character. They were used in commerce to a greater degree with fewer collectors and hoarders having saved multiple examples in uncirculated condition. More than anything else, there is a great diversity in the condition of the SURFACE of the coins. Numismatic abuse; mainly cleaning, have altered many of these wonderful coins. Others have been scratched, dented or otherwise altered to reduce their value and desirability to collectors. What is left in original condition is a miniscule percentage of the surviving examples and, therefore, more valuable than their compromised sisters.

      Many advanced collectors refer to these unaltered examples as “crusty” as they have a “skin” of dirt and patina that they have developed over the last couple of hundred years. I often describe it to customers as comparing it to a bronze statue that has been exposed to the environment for decades. It develops a certain patina that is different from the day it was installed. It is what it is supposed to look like after serving its purpose. Coins are the same way.  After decades of handling and storage they acquire a protective patina of oxidation and dirt. Removing it to expose the underlying surface is normally not a good idea. 

      A coin in original XF or AU condition from the 19th century should have original luster. This luster has usually bonded with the toning and/or patina of the coin. When someone removes this protective covering with an acid dip, or other method of cleaning, the luster goes with the patina. This leaves the collector with a “white” coin with lifeless surfaces, or even worse, a stained coin where the cleaning did not remove all the patina. Many of these “classic” coins were subjected to cleaning during the 1950-1960’s as part of the expanding collecting market. Beginning collectors were made to think that “brighter was better”. The cleanings rendered many of these beautiful coins to less desirable condition for today’s discerning collector.

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    • Coin clubs provide education, companionship

      Sep 22, 2014, 10:00 AM by

      Coin clubs were the indispensable backbone of the hobby in the past, but many have recently fallen on hard times.  Some clubs have ceased to exist and others are drawing smaller crowds to their meetings while others seem to thrive. What is the answer? I’m sure it differs as much as the items that their memberships collect. 

      Some clubs have the traditional club auction at the end of the meeting while others have abandoned these sales. A club near me has a split the pot and a “lucky” member drawing. When you come into the meeting you can purchase a chance to win the pot. A random member number is drawn and if that member is present and purchased a ticket they would win the pot. If the member is not in attendance, or if they did not purchase a ticket, the pot grows. 

      Our local club focuses on educational programs. We have a speaker at each general meeting. Many times the featured speaker is from out of town and offers a fresh face and a change of pace from one of our regular members. Either way, the knowledge of the speaker enriches the membership’s numismatic experience.

      There seems to be many collectors that do not take advantage of the opportunity of attending a coin club for the education and companionship. I often wonder why a collector would be unwilling to venture out to spend some quality time with likeminded individuals. The opportunity to share your numismatic experiences with each other will pay huge dividends. Try it- look up a local coin club on the American Numismatic Association’s website and give it a try. You may become a regular.

    • The Internet and numismatic (mis)information

      Sep 9, 2014, 11:43 AM by
      There is hardly a day that goes by here at the store that I do not hear something like, “but it is listed on the internet at (insert silly value here).” The (re)education process now begins.

      I ask what site they obtained their information from. Usually the answer is “eBay.” My next question is whether they clicked on the “sold” listings or merely looked at what someone was hoping to get from an uneducated buyer. The only meaningful numbers are those that appear in green as sold items.

      The next question entails the condition of their treasure compared to the condition of the piece they referenced with the astronomical price. Normally they have a well circulated and possibly damaged coin that they are comparing to a certified gem sales figure. A little more education on condition helps clarify things—sometimes.

      Often I have to remove some similar items from inventory to compare to their coin and tell them how much I sell the items for across the counter. This usually works, but sometimes things just don’t come together. 

      Once I had a gentleman come in with an 1885 Morgan dollar. He thought it was worth six figures! He had referenced a sale on an 1885 TRADE dollar. I showed him the difference in The Official Red Book to no avail. He still thought his coin was different. I then put 20 other 1885 plain Morgan dollars on the counter offering to sell them to him at much less than $100K! He looked at them and still thought his coin was different and that I was attempting to trick him into selling his coin for a bargain price. Some days you just can’t win.

      Other customers have received “valuable” information from someone on the Internet. I ask them if they know who was responding to their questions. Is it a 15-year-old kid, or someone with over 40 years of experience like me I ask?  Most have no idea of the qualifications of their online “teacher.” A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. One has to verify the source of their information to determine how much weight it may carry.

      The Internet is a wonderful tool when used correctly. Just like a good numismatic reference or friend. 

      Have fun surfing and collecting.


    • My story in numismatics

      Aug 31, 2014, 11:46 AM by

      Welcome to my initial rambling on my new blog. I am taking a leap of faith that someone may be interested in reading about my numismatic experiences, so here it goes.

      A little background may be in order. I began collecting at age 5 with the present of a few Whitman folders for my birthday. I began filling Lincoln cent and Jefferson nickel collections. The Jefferson set was the first to be completed with the purchase of a 1950-D. I had acquired a copy of How to Detect Altered and Counterfeit Coins and Paper Money by Bert Harshe somewhere along the line. It warned me of the altered 1956-D and 1959-D nickels to look like the rare 1950-D. It saved me from purchasing one in an antique store in the small town near where I lived. That hooked me on the value of a numismatic library!

      When I was 10 I began a grass cutting, yard work, snow shoveling business in the neighborhood. Many of my neighbors were elderly and were glad to contract the work out to me. I soon was cutting grass 7 days a week funneling the money into my coin collection.I began a saving program to purchase a 1909-S VDB cent. My father offered to match my savings and when I went to him with my half I think he was both proud and amazed that I was able to actually save that much money. We went shopping all around town and I finally settled on a piece. After purchase we went to other dealers I trusted to see if it was authentic. This was before ANACS began certifying coins. We ended up at Sol Kaplan's office in downtown Cincinnati.It was the only time I met Sol before his death. He came out to see who was bothering his secretary and when hearing of our plight went back into his office and returned with a handful of S-VDB's! He passed judgment that mine was good and dismissed us for more pressing business. My cent collection was now complete!

      My interest in coins soon garnered me a job in the local coinshop. That was 1975 when I was in high school.I was introduced to the collecting of Capped Bust half dollars by die marriage in 1978. By 1981 I was a partner in the shop and I have been dealing in coins in Cincinnati ever since.

      My specialty is silver coins from our first Mint in Philadelphia by die marriage. I deal in the gambit of American numismatics and to some degree in world coins and paper money. We also have fossils, jewelry and small antiques in our stores.I believe in a comprehensive numismatic library and have an extensive personal library as well as a working one in the store as well as numerous titles for sale. We are an "old fashioned" coin store with an actual inventory of collector coins. Anyone passing through Cincinnati is invited to visit us on their trip.

      I have contributed to numerous numismatic books and have been writing articles for club publications for years. I have a quarterly column in Coin World titled Designs of the Times. This will be my first foray into cyber publishing. Hopefully you will find some entertainment in what I have to say in future columns.

      Until then, best numismatic wishes to you all!

      Brad Karoleff