Collectors Stories

Collecting Pitfalls and scams.
Tales for the “Doctoredside”.
Coins: The devil is in the details.
Coins: Treasure chest or trash bin?

Want to add your story and experiences of collecting coins?

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Steve writes.............

Before I get to my experiences as a new/novice collector and give you some advice from my experiences, I’d like to share with you how I became a numismatist.

In 1997 my grandmother gave me her coin collection. Her collection consisted of some very nice circulated pieces that she pulled from bank bags she looked through along with mint purchased sets and commemoratives. At the time I had only a passing interest in coins and upon gaining possession of the collection, I went out and bought a red book to see what some coins where worth. After looking through the collection and pulling out the more expensive coins, I then went through the Whitman albums that where molding and pulled all the coins out and put them away. I was lucky enough to have several old bank safes to put the coins in, so all the coins where locked away.

Fast forward to Feb 2006, and my interest in coins became great enough that I started going to the bank to search rolls of every denomination and put together some sets. It was also at this time my 5 year old daughter gained interest in coins, but that is another story. When I finally became a numismatist, I was separated from my collection by 600 miles. I moved away out of state and left the coins with my parents in the safes. During this time when I visited my parents I would dig out my collection to do a better examination of my collection. I also started to go to some coin shows and frequented the local B&M. At first I knew almost nothing about “collecting” coins. I was a complete novice with a fairly nice collection bumbling around trying to learn things. It is these experiences that I would like share with all who are just getting into collection.

Some of the best things you can do as a beginning collector is get into a club if possible. I was not able to do this due to my area not having one, so I joined a forum sponsored by PCGS/Collectors Universe. I also was lucky enough to have a local B&M whose owner was a nice guy who I would have no problems sending people to. Knowledge is power, and some of the best knowledge is by experienced collectors. Just like computers, you will constantly be learning things in coin collecting. Another thing is to purchase a current Red Book, ANA Grading Standards 6th edition or newer, and the PCGS coin grading and counterfeit detection books. These 3 books where and still are invaluable to me just beginning. Read them often and study. I have reread chapters and sections several times.

Purchase a 5x and 10x quality loupe. Use the 10x for only looking for varieties and errors for the most part. Never start out looking at a coin with the 10x. Look at it with just your eye first, to get an overall feel, and then move to the 5x. If you see possible problems then look at it with the 10x.

DO NOT BUY ON IMPULSE AT FIRST. When starting out, do not dive right in and start purchasing expensive coins, which in my case was anything going for $300+. Stick to some more less expensive coins at first. The reason, at least for me, was the eagerness to add to the collection. The first coin I purchased was from the first show I ever went to. It was a 1925 Lexington/Concord commemorative in PCGS MS63 plastic. I REALLY wanted one of these coins, and I purchased one of the first ones I saw. It’s not a bad coin, but for the money I paid for it, I could have purchased a better coin in the same grade. REMEMBER, not all coins for a given grade are created equal, which is why you should not buy on impulse. Luckily I’m a fast learner and did not purchase too many coins before I figured this out.
Just when you think you know how to grade, go read your books again and examine more coins. I cannot stress this enough. I thought I had a good handle on grading and seeing defects on coins, that I took a dive and purchased a raw Sesquicentennial quarter eagle as an AU. I looked and looked at that coin and did not see any problems with it to stop it from being slabbed by PCGS. I was wrong the coin came back BB’d for cleaning. When I got the coin back, I looked at it again, and seen the tell tale signs on the coin that I missed the first time. Luckily I bought the coin from my local B&M and was able to get my money back from the coin, but at the same time upgraded it from him because he happened to have a PCGS MS63. DO NOT expect this to happen to you, I got EXTREMELY lucky. This example leads me to another point.

DO NOT PURCHASE RAW GOLD. As a new collector stay away from raw gold, stick to top tier TPG gold. Even experienced collectors will only purchase top tier TPG gold because of the heavy counterfeiting, dipping, stripping and every other ugliness that can be done to coins is seen in gold. I have several books on gold coins, and I just recently tried out a raw purchase. I have not sent the coin in yet, but if it comes back as anything but counterfeit, I am not out a lot. This purchase was my test purchase to test my knowledge. I suggest going slow at purchasing raw gold. Purchase as close to melt as possible to minimize your loss if it does not grade. Hopefully it will at least be genuine. You need to be VERY careful when dealing with gold since it grades differently.

Do not get into a rush at purchasing a coin. It takes time to start to learn what a PQ coin really looks like for the grade. Do not get discouraged at your purchases that you later discover aren’t quite up to your new standards, it’s part of the learning experience. This is why you should stick to cheaper coins at first, so your expensive purchased doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth when you look at it later and wished you purchased something else. Odds are, what you are looking for will be available later and will meet your growing standards for years to come.

Examine as many graded coins as possible at shows in person.

Use several different resources to figure out a coins value. Red Book and Coin Values are retail prices. Try to pay less than that. The Greysheet can be useful also, as it lists bid and ask prices that dealers normally trade at. Use only auctions such as Heritage and Ebay. The more data you collect, the better understanding you will have on what it’s worth when you go to buy. Remember, price guides are just that, GUIDES. They are not concrete.

HAVE FUN. Remember coin collection is a hobby and hobbies should be fun. Don’t stress if you cannot find any coins at a show. Hold out for what meets your standards and you will reap the rewards later.

I hope my experiences help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made. Happy collecting!