Starting a Collection

Paragon Numismatics’ Top Ten Rules for Being an A+ Coin Collector

Coin collecting is fun. Coins are not an investment

Collect coins because you enjoy them. Never allow the almighty dollar to influence a buying decision. If you buy coins ONLY as an investment, you’ll end up purchasing the wrong coins for the wrong reason from the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong price. Strict coin investing represents a great way to make a small fortune out of a large fortune.

On the other hand, knowledgeable collectors generally realize positive financial results over a long period of time. Not only do collectors purchase coins that they appreciate and understand, they recognize that quality, rarity, and beauty determine true numismatic value, not price.

Never clean or polish your coins

Do NOT attempt to wash, polish, wipe, clean, or improve your coins. Our obligation as collectors demands that we preserve a coin’s original surfaces (patina). Numismatists prize originality. Just as you would never clean a Renoir oil painting with a wire brush, never clean a coin.

Are there professional conservation techniques to remove contamination or to restore stability? Yes, but leave the process to professionals by never touching your coins. No exceptions.

Educate yourself about numismatics by reading

“Buy the book before the coin” is a time-tested industry mantra. Save your coin-buying money until you know the basics about collecting. Learning before buying seems logical enough, yet millions of people begin their collecting adventures oblivious to numismatic terminology, coin history, or basic grading. Start with the basics, and then acquire coins.

To begin your education, we highly recommend: A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman (commonly referred to as the Red Book thanks to its red cover). This book arms you with information about coin history, the breadth of coin designs, and grading basics. The book’s color photos should make your mouth water, so have fun staring at the pretty pictures. Prices in the Red Book represent high retail values. That is, expect to pay these prices when PURCHASING coins on a full retail basis. Do not expect to realize these prices when selling your coins.

After absorbing basic information contained in the Red Book, contact us for a list of other useful numismatic books.

Use a high quality 7 or 10 power magnifying loupe

Viewing coins using a good magnifier enables you to appreciate a coin’s small details. Never skimp on quality when selecting a magnifying loupe. Most pros and advanced collectors use a seven or ten power jeweler’s loupe. Zeiss and Bausch & Lomb make fine products. I use a Bausch & Lomb Hastings triplet (seven power), and this amply suffices. Magnification above ten-power tends to exaggerate flaws, so keep it simple. Just remember that optical quality determines what you see, not the quantity of magnification.

If you paid less than fifteen dollars for your current magnifier, throw it in the garbage can. Using inferior optics equates to driving down the road at night with your lights off during a snowstorm with a dirty windshield while blindfolded. You WILL hit that deer crossing the road! Viewing coins through low quality optics assures you of missing major flaws, buying the wrong coins, and wasting your money. Therefore, a high quality magnifier represents one of your best numismatic investments. Whether you buy a high quality magnifier from us or from another source, you must own one.

If you need to purchase a good loupe, call us.

Use a lamp with a 100 watt clear bulb in a dark room

This represents the industry standard. Never use natural light (sunlight), frosted, soft white, blue, red, yellow, disco, fluorescent, or gimmicky light bulbs. Although some people use halogen, its intense light stresses my eye. However, halogen is useful for detecting hairline scratches.

A 100 watt clear-glass bulb (mounted in a table lamp that accommodates high wattage bulbs) allows the filament’s pinpoint light source to bounce directly off the coin and reflect to your eye. Only proper illumination reveals a coin’s true luster, color, and surface quality.

To fully appreciate the importance of proper illumination, try the following test. First, view your best coins using your old lights and magnifying glass, and remember what you see. Next, turn off your room’s overhead lights (but turn on a nightlight so you don’t trip on your pet Schnauzer). Now look at your coins under the proper lighting conditions while using a Bausch & Lomb 7x loupe. You won’t believe the difference. High quality coins shine under proper illumination and magnification, while bargain-priced coins…well, you’ll see. Discover reality for yourself by using the right light bulb and magnifier.

The last three points are vital to successful coin collecting. If you use a Red Book, a 100 watt clear bulb, and a seven-power high quality loupe, then you are ahead of over 95% of the collectors in the United States. Three basic tools enable you to make informed buying decisions, learn about numismatics, and see your coins. It’s that simple.

Avoid accumulating modern mint products

For some people, assembling huge quantities of proof and mint sets represents their version of coin collecting. Unfortunately, modern mint products are ahistorical. That is, they exist without having survived the perils of time. Although this perspective contradicts conventional numismatic dogma, we are committed to educating you to become a successful collector. You may not agree with our perspective, but please consider our line of reasoning.

Experienced collectors avoid coins packaged in fancy boxes accompanied by certificates of authenticity. Accumulating mass quantities of plastic boxes constitutes just that—accumulating, not collecting. Numismatics encourages collectors to appreciate and to preserve amazing pieces of American history. Moreover, experienced numismatists gauge the merit of their collection neither by the weight nor by the volume of their holdings. Instead, rarity, historical significance, and beauty define greatness for true collectors.

Unfortunately, modern coins represent mass-produced widgets. With a few notable exceptions, modern mints pound out gigantic annual quantities of proof sets, mint sets, and modern commemoratives. Every set leaves the mint and arrives in your mailbox in perfect condition. Kudos to the mints for maintaining outstanding quality control, but bear in mind that rarity and condition determine numismatic value, not packaging. If huge quantities of perfectly preserved sets survive, then condition and rarity never apply to modern coins. They are doomed.

Never stretch to purchase modern certified coins sporting ultra-high grades (MS or PF-70). Such coins are the darling of the internet and television infomercials. Remember that virtually EVERY coin that emerges from the mint is MS or PF-70. The only reason certain coins have low populations is because knowledgeable collectors and dealers never dream of submitting them for professional grading. Beware.

The bottom line: avoid ANY collectible sold in a nice box with paperwork intended to convince you that an item has meaning. The real McCoy stands on its own and needs no justification to an experienced, knowledgeable collector. Remember: original Rembrandt paintings never come in plastic boxes with certificates of authenticity.

Still, if you love collecting modern mint products, do not let this article dampen your spirits. Simply view modern coins with a grain of salt and limit your purchases to reasonable levels. Collect modern mint products with a sense of humor and with clear perspective about their true essence.

Avoid coins from online auctions, television, etc.

P.T. Barnum was correct: there’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be a statistic! Avoid purchasing coins from television. Remember that only common coins exist in sufficient quantities to mass market. Consequently, most coins sold on television are extremely common. Because the overhead to produce and broadcast a television infomercial boggles the mind, YOU suffer by overpaying for common coins.

Online auctions represent a popular coin source for novice and intermediate collectors. People report that it’s fun to buy coins from online auctions. Perhaps…until you consider the profile of the typical material offered: proof and mint sets, over-graded or dipped-out white coins, ugly toned coins, cleaned coins, modern replicas (counterfeits), mass quantities of bulk junk, and so forth. Many certified coins offered on internet auction sites are so unattractive and undesirable for the grade that any knowledgeable collector would refuse to buy it. If nothing else, online auctions represent a one-way-street prohibiting face-to-face interaction with a real human being.

If someone contacts you over the telephone about purchasing coins, ask them to remove your name from their calling list, and hang up. Likewise, never purchase coins from radio infomercials, direct mail solicitations, or non-numismatic magazines. Most of the aforementioned sources offer over-graded coins at grossly inflated levels. Remember: there is no Santa or Easter Bunny.

With all these scary warnings on the table, what should a collector do? For a breath of fresh air, establish a relationship with a local professional rare coin dealer.

It’s that simple.

Collect coins combining quality, rarity, and beauty

That’s all it takes to form a beautiful collection. Use the right tools, and never be afraid to pay a little more for a great coin. An initial investment in quality yields huge dividends down the road. Acquire the highest grade, rarest coins that your budget allows by concentrating your purchases on a few great coins rather than on several common items. You spend the same amount whether buying one fabulous coin for $100 or five average coins for $20 each, so purchase wisely. Quality and rarity never go out of style.

Buy coins certified by professional grading services

Like it or not, most problem-free, high quality rare coins dated 1933 and earlier are already graded by PCGS and NGC. Over a quarter-century of professional grading matured the market to the point where professionally graded coins ARE the industry standard. With that said, most of the uncertified, seemingly high-grade rare coins remaining on the market are ungraded for a reason --usually because they are cleaned, polished, damaged, scratched, chemically altered, or worse.

If you collect higher quality coins dated prior to 1934, you absolutely MUST purchase only PCGS and NGC graded material. Crack the coins out of the plastic holders if you must, but it’s essential that you purchase certified coins.

Not all certified coins are created equally. Be aware that high-end and low-end specimens exist for any particular issue and grade. Your job is to collect the nicest examples with the best eye-appeal. Since you get what you pay for in life, expect to pay a little more for premium material. Don’t expect to purchase an A+ coin for C- money.

Avoid becoming a price buyer seeking only “good deals”. You will accumulate over-graded, average material with diminished eye-appeal and limited resale potential. The price may be right when you bargain hunt, but expect to be bitterly disappointed when the time comes to sell. If acquiring “good deals” concerns you above all else, numismatics may not be your cup of tea. Save your money and enjoy a memorable vacation to Hawaii instead.

Formulate collecting goals before purchasing coins.

Keep your money in your wallet if you are a beginner. Your initial $100 numismatic investment should be in form of reference books, a good magnifying loupe, a table lamp, and a 100 watt clear light bulb. DO NOT begin wildly purchasing random coins at shows, from television, or through the internet. You will regret your purchases later. Instead, stay the slow, wise course by learning, looking, listening, and preparing.

Use your Red Book to develop a game plan. Decide which coins interest you. Select a denomination or series with beautiful design features. Collect one of each half dollar design type. Select a historically significant year, and collect every coin from that year. The possibilities are limitless!

YOU decide which coins speak to you. Never let anyone else sway your interests just because they don’t agree with your tastes (see, it really is okay to collect proof sets). Still, consider seeking the advice of a professional numismatist or an experienced fellow collector to discuss your collecting goals. Make certain that you set reasonable numismatic goals attainable in your lifetime and within your budget. Avoid false starts.

Collecting coins as outlined above requires discipline, patience, knowledge, and an aesthetic eye for the beautiful. Coins are fun, so never take numismatics too seriously. Your results depend entirely on your view of life and your collecting habits. When in doubt, seek the advice of a competent professional numismatist with decades of experience. Professional guidance enhances your collecting pursuits and builds friendships that transcend numismatics.

For more detailed information about the topics discussed above, contact Andrew Kimmel at Paragon Numismatics. The information presented here is our own original work, so please ask us for permission before reprinting it elsewhere.

We look forward to serving you!