Jim Bisognani: Collecting a Full Series on a Budget

Posted on 11/3/2022

Here's some advice from a collector who built an entire Indian Head Cent collection using extra monthly funds.

It is only early November and the dreaded holiday ad campaigns are already monopolizing the airwaves with nearly as much vigor as the political ads for our country’s midterm elections. Many merchants are pulling out all the stops. The advertising brainchild they are banking on? Black Friday.

By offering a multitude of early Black Friday deals, merchants hope that consumers who still have disposable income in their pockets and will bite on the proclamation: “These early Black Friday deals are as good as — or better — than the actual Black Friday deals.”

Sure, why not? Black Friday doesn’t have to be on Friday or in November. I even noted a mattress merchant offering “Black Friday” deals in late August. (Hey, it was a good deal, and we needed a new mattress). 

There are literally millions of qualified options for the numismatists on your holiday shopping list. While deals can still be had within the numismatic marketplace, remember to research and be cognizant of your individual budget, as our treasured metal discs are playing to an ever-expanding audience. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or well-heeled numismatist, there is something within everyone’s allotted budget.

Working on a Payment Plan

This reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Jack from Boston. It was about four and half years ago that my Bay State friend came up with a rather novel way of financing a complete Indian Head Cent collection.

In Jack’s words: “I finished paying off my car just about three years ago, so I just set aside my previous monthly auto payment of $300 for my coins! Really, my disposable income has been about the same over the last few years; I wish I had more. I have put what I can into high-grade Indian Cents.”

1864 Indian Head Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Jack’s original Indian Head Cent collection ranged in grades from XF to MS 63 RB. It took him about three years to complete it to the tune of $300 per month, which he did back in the early summer of 2018. 

Jack's Next Goal

“Eventually, someday, my goal is to compile a complete Mint State set. For me, this is a great way to collect. This set gives me so much enjoyment, and I know that every year I am able to improve on the overall condition; I will have also made myself a great investment for the future when I finally sell. But that won’t be for about 20 years or more, I hope.”

Since it’s been nearly five years since I last asked Jack about his Indian Head Cent collection, I called him. I was gleefully informed that his Indian Head Cent collection has been elevated to include many MS 64 and 65 coins in Red and Brown and some in full Red.

Jack said, “Yep, I’ve just been plugging away at it. And since the mortgage is paid off, I fed the extra funds to tackle some of the more pricey coins from the late 1860s to ’70s.”

Jack certainly worked hard and has put together a tremendous Indian Head Cent collection, and in much higher grades than he had originally planned.

“I figured, after paying off our mortgage last year, that I could continue to put that extra cash into another US series and some rarer US and world coins,” Jack said. “I figure that we have considerable equity in our home, so this extra cash going into coins seems like a great way to enjoy the hobby at a higher level. Personally, I feel that the money put carefully into coins today will supersede conventional investments down the road; something tangible to leave to my children.”

I reminded Jack that his statement echoed what we had spoken about a little over four years ago. Jack chimed back, “The ‘Triple E!’ I always remembered that!” 

That’s right — I considered this coin collecting strategy as the “Triple E” in numismatics: an Economic, Educational and Emotional success!

I asked my friend what type and series of coins and grades he was looking to acquire.

“Well Jim, right now I am setting aside $1,600 per month as my family budgets for this,” answered Jack. “So I can finally set my sights on some key dates in other series that I have always wanted. My wife Patty is getting involved and does a lot of research. She researches and tracks various auctions. And my two boys have been working on their own circulated Indian Head Cent collections as well.”

He continued, “For us, our next five-year acquisition plan will include coins like an 1864 Small Motto and 1872 Two Cent Pieces, early Carson City Seated Liberty Quarters and keys to the Barber Quarter series. I hope to tackle the 1896-S, maybe even the 1901-S and 1913-S — that is one tough trifecta, man! And a few 20th century keys like the 1916-D Mercury Dime and 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter.”

1872 Two Cent Piece from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Making “Cents” of It

For today’s established coindexter or the new collector who is gung-ho on assembling an Indian Head Cent collection, I can offer the following data. A complete set of 1859-1909 Indian Head Cents in XF would require a monthly outlay of approximately $260 per month for 36 months. Interestingly, from when I first talked to Jack nearly 5 years ago, this represents only a modest 8% increase in cost of acquisition. So if you just paid off a car loan, lease, credit card or whatever in the same payment range, perhaps this could be a disciplined way to build your collection on a “fixed” budget.

1859 Indian Head Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

For those with a larger budget and aspirations, who want to assemble a fabulous choice MS 63 RB Indian Head Cent collection, I can share the following suggested plan. Budgeting for a five-year acquisition plan, the monthly “commitment” would be $515 per month. Considering this figure represents approximately a 12.25% increase since Jack last tackled the task, perhaps it would be wise to add a bit of a buffer amounting to a few extra payments to allow for those pesky market fluctuations.

Regardless of your finances, my fellow and budding coindexters, collecting should be fun and defined goals are great to have.

Enjoy the hobby and the holiday season, my friends, and may you all share economic, educational and emotional success.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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