By Douglas LePre, Senior Portfolio Manager at Blanchard and Company
Oh, youre a coin dealer? What should I collect?
This is a question that people have been asking me throughout my career, so I thought with a new year upon us I would try to offer some suggestions as 2016 gets moving. The coin-collecting hobby has been in the news a lot of late with many historic collections hitting the market in the past year, and Blanchard and Company expects new collectors to emerge as a result.
As you may know from my previously published articles, I am a huge proponent of buying the highest degree of rarity that a collector can afford. When building a set or collection the first thing any collector should consider is what mint, region or coin series appeals to them the most? This will vary from person to person, but its important to collect what sings to you!
Throughout my career I have found that everyone has a coin story either a silver coin was found in change or a relative had passed a coin down that had been in their family for many years prior. There are literally thousands of different scenarios, all of which are great motivators for people new to the hobby to start buying coins in a specific series or from a specific mint.
For those readers without a story or natural entry point into collecting other than a desire to learn more, lets look at some areas that make the most sense for starting a new collection. Now, there are a few questions that any new collector should ask before buying anything. All good sets or collections start with a specific direction in mind.
Please note: All coins referred to below should be dated prior to 1900.
1. Do I want to build a high grade set or a mid-grade set?
Generally speaking, the answer to this question is going to help direct you toward a specific portion of the market.
What I mean is, if you want to build a high-grade set, you will have to direct your efforts to an area of the market where you will find many coins in high grade to pick from. Otherwise you could run into a roadblock when it comes to your average cost per coin. Typically you will find a nice selection of high-grade examples when looking at the smaller-denomination coins such as cents, three-cent silver pieces, nickels, and dimes from any series. The reason for a larger selection of high-grade examples is the fact that all of the denominations of coins mentioned were generally produced in very large quantities due to their being fractional currency, and they are smaller and lighter than quarters, half dollars and dollars, and therefore they tend to not suffer the damage that larger coins endure during the minting process. The heavier the coin, the more damage they can cause each other during manufacture and transport. The larger denominations lend themselves more toward mid-grade set building by beginning collectors.
2. Do I build a complete set, a type set, a mint set, a proof set, or a date set?
My suggestion here is to start with a mint set (all of the coins produced at a specific mint). By doing this you will be able to set yourself in a direction and also become more familiar with the production diagnostics associated with each of the mints. Even though each mint produced federally approved coinage, they all had their own diagnostics regarding their production.
A perfect example is this: In the 1920s, Standing Liberty Quarters stuck in Philadelphia were decidedly more fully struck than quarters from the San Francisco mint, so an MS65 Standing Liberty Quarter from the San Francisco mint would have the look and eye appeal of an MS64 counterpart minted in Philadelphia. This was due to the fact that each mint had their own pressman who was charged with the calibration and operation of each locations presses. This is also the reason why some mints produced more lustrous coins than others. Luster is dependent on die spacing, and with five different mint locations, it would be impossible to have completely identical results employing different pressmen at each mint.
3. I want to collect different types of coins; what do I do?
If you dont want to collect just one type of coin, then the best suggestion I have is to build out a date set, which would give you the opportunity to purchase one of each denomination of coin produced in a given year. This is also a great direction to take because there are certain years (1878-85) that will allow you to include two different types of silver dollars if you are building a proof set. Once you have completed building a cent-through-dollar set, you may choose to include the gold coins produced for that year as well. If youre really motivated, you might even include any pattern coins from the year youve chosen!
These are just a few suggestions to get you motivated, and to provide a goal-oriented approach for you when buying. In the long run it will serve you well to have this kind of direction, and it should also prevent you from buying in bulk, having duplicates and in general, from wasting money. In my 30-year career I have seen more than a few people throwing cash in six different directions, only to end up with a box of coins rather than a set or worthwhile collection that has some semblance of order. Remember to take your time, keep a list of what you have versus what you need, buy the best quality you can afford, and always purchase coins certified by PCGS or NGC.