Getting Started

Posted by Jeff Garrett on 4/11/2013

Regardless of how you got started collecting coins, remember that everyone has to start somewhere and should be encouraged.

One of the most frequently asked questions to me is: “How did you get started collecting coins?” They are usually amazed that something that began as a hobby over 40 years ago has become my passion and a vehicle for making a pretty good living. My interest began the old fashioned way and is the same for many collectors of my generation. In the early 1970s there were still lots of wheat back cents in circulation. A family friend gave me a Whitman folder for collecting cents from 1941 to date. I was able to find a majority of the coins in short order. Each week I would take my money earned from mowing lawns to the bank and purchase rolls of Lincoln Cents. The process was repeated each week over the summer until the folder was nearly filled. There was one problem however. I lived in Florida at the time and it was very difficult to locate the San Francisco issues. Those darn “S” mint holes were driving me crazy. I had fallen victim to one of the greatest marketing tools ever invented for coin collecting—people hate those empty holes in their folders! I was no different.

Later that summer I made my first rare coin purchase. I ordered a few of those elusive “S” Mint cents from Littleton Rare Coin Company. Finally, my mission was complete. I then moved on to the first folder of Lincoln Cents and then to Jefferson Nickels, and now 40 years later I still love the thrill of the chase. My tastes and financial ability to collect have both grown over the years, but like everyone, I had to start somewhere. Many coin professionals take for granted that there are customers for their merchandise. You can attend any regional or national coin show and there will be hundreds if not thousands of eager buyers looking for rare coins. It is sometimes easy to forget that collectors are created and rarely just decide one day to start buying rare coins.

Until the introduction of the State Quarter program over a decade ago, there was little interest in collecting coins from pocket change. Each series had become very stale, and most of the silver coins dated before 1965 had been plucked out years ago. Even finding a single Wheat cent became a cause for celebration or curiosity. Precious metal prices had been stagnant for what seemed like decades, and information about coin collecting was limited to a few titles on the newsstand. Finally, this all began to change. The United States government created the State Quarter program which sparked an avalanche of new interest in coin collecting. There are thousands of collectors today who became interested in coins by collecting State Quarters. More importantly, there are significant numbers of adults whose interest was sparked helping their kids collect and were reintroduced to a hobby that many had put aside years ago. Advances in the internet have also had a profound impact on numismatics. Now anyone interested in collecting can access information on a global basis. Collectors are no longer limited to purchase coins from the local coin shop or a numismatic publication. In my opinion, the internet is the most significant factor in the growth of our hobby in the last 10-15 years. Finally, precious metal prices have awakened from their decade’s long slumber. The rise in gold and silver prices has created tremendous attention to numismatics. Individuals seeking safety from inflation and a falling dollar have increasingly turned to gold and silver. Many of these investors have become coin collectors as they learn more about numismatics.

Decades ago I became interested in coins because of Lincoln Cents. Today, many beginners are drawn to the hobby in much different ways. Every night there are several cable TV shows selling coins of some sort. American Silver Eagles are a very popular offering. These coins are attractive to beginners for several reasons. The coins are large, beautiful and contain one ounce of pure silver. The coins have been struck each year since 1986 and are easy to collect. Many have deemed these coins the new “Gateway Coin” for introducing collectors to the hobby. Collecting Silver Eagles might sound unsophisticated to some seasoned collectors, but remember: everyone has to start somewhere. Many don’t realize it, but these cable TV shows do the hobby a great service by introducing a tremendous number of new individuals to rare coins each year.

Precious metals have also created a large number of new collectors in recent years. When a new customer calls me about investing in bullion I will often suggest Liberty Head or St. Gaudens Double Eagles. The coins contain nearly an ounce (.9675) of pure gold, and were minted from 1849 to 1933. These vintage coins can now be purchased for a relatively small premium over the price of new issue bullion gold coins. Many of these investors become interested and want to learn more about these fascinating coins. They quickly discover that there are dozens of dates and mint marks that be collected for a small premium. Anyone who has a chance to see a 1907 High Relief Double Eagle decides they want one if they can afford the price. Some become completely immersed in Double Eagles and there are many serious collectors competing for the finest known examples of the series. There have been several Double Eagles that have sold for millions of dollars.

In the last several years rare coins have also benefited greatly from being viewed as a tangible asset. Investors have become disillusioned with a perceived unfairness of Wall Street and the returns of fixed interest investments have become dismal. Many rare coins have performed great as investments in recent years. People want to have their money at work and rare coins have become that vehicle for large numbers. Many of these investors soon learn about the fascinating history of rare coins and become hooked as collectors. As mentioned earlier there is now an abundance of great research and motivational material available for would be collectors. As I have stated many times, however, I do not encourage individuals to buy rare coins simply as an investment. Rare coins as an investment only can be risky in my opinion. Collecting rare coins, however, is usually a great investment.

Regardless of how you got started, remember that everyone has to start somewhere and should be encouraged. It is in the best interest of anyone who collects or deals in rare coins to see the hobby grow. The next time someone asks about your collection, think about how you can get them started collecting rare coins!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

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