Collecting with Passion

Posted on 4/5/2018

Assembling a set of Kentucky banknotes was a challenge and a joy for this coin dealer.

Each year for the last few decades, I have bought and sold millions of dollars’ worth of rare coins. I have had the privilege of handling a lot of great numismatic rarities.

Most of these simply pass through my hands and are now only memories. A lot of the coins were sold to what I would call “passionate collectors.” These are individuals who have picked an area of the market to collect and pursued it with zeal. Passionate collecting can be a young person who is desperate to fill their Lincoln Cent album (me 45 years ago), or someone who is willing to spend millions to have the number one set registry of a series.

I believe collecting rare coins can be like a love affair. Your interest can be piqued by a first encounter. Later you learn more, and your interest grows. Slowly you become enamored and, before you know it, you have fallen in love.

I have known dozens of collectors who have fallen in love with a series or area of the market and pursued those coins with absolute passion. Not coincidently, these type of collectors are excellent customers. Cost is never an obstacle for an important acquisition.

I have recently experienced the above cost dilemma when I was able to find the last Kentucky small size National Bank Note to complete my collection. I now have an example from every town and city in Kentucky that issued these interesting bank notes.

$10 bill from The First National Bank of Horse Cave, Kentucky
Click image to enlarge.

A total of 87 towns issued small size Kentucky Nationals. My final acquisition was a $10 bill from The First National Bank of Horse Cave, Kentucky. Only two examples are currently known, and I had been searching for years. When offered the note at the recent Baltimore show, I asked to take the piece to my table for consideration. The price was astoundingly high, but in my heart, I knew I would never give it back.

My journey of collecting small size Kentucky Nationals began about 15 years when I was given a great head start. I brokered what was then the best collection of Kentucky National Bank notes to my great friend, Bill Gale. The collection was astounding, and one of the best collections from any state that had ever been assembled. Bill's interest was primarily focused on the many important large size Kentucky Nationals. He offered me the partial collection of about 40 different small size notes. Having been born in Kentucky and living here for the past 35 years, this sounded like a fun project.

I choose to collect the small size Kentucky Nationals for affordability. The Large Size portion of the collection was nearly a million dollars, and more than I could justify taking out of my business. Bill Gale later sold the Large Size portion of the collection at a Heritage auction, and the catalogue is a standard reference for that part of the market.

Over the next 15 years, I would spread the word among paper money dealers of my interest in Kentucky small sizes. I also checked every auction catalog and price list. At first, the collection grew rapidly. More recently, as the collection grew, it became very hard to find notes needed for my set. In the last few years, I have only acquired a couple of notes.

There are several reasons I have fallen in love with small size Kentucky Nationals. I very much enjoyed the chase of trying to locate an example from every town and city that issued notes. Many of these have charming names, and are literally “one traffic light” hamlets. I also have many friends and relatives from these towns, and I greatly enjoy sharing them at gatherings. I was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, and notes from that town are among my favorites.

Being a value buyer, I also love the relative rarity versus the cost of small size Kentucky Nationals. Many of the notes in my collection are very rare with less than 5 known in all grades. Similar rare coins of the same rarity would be far beyond my collecting budget. The competition for notes can vary, but usually there are just a few collectors bidding when great examples appear at auction. There are exceptions, when notes from interesting name towns show up such the Horse Cave mentioned above.

I also like the fact that collecting rare National Bank notes is not focused on quality the way U.S. coin collecting is in most cases. When there are only 3-5 examples of a note known, you are happy to find one regardless of quality. For the last 10-15 years, I have usually bought notes whether they were graded by PMG or not. Now that my collection is complete, I plan to send the collection to PMG for certification with my name on the pedigree.

Sometime in the near future I also plan to exhibit the collection for others to enjoy. My next big decision is what to collect next.

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Jeff Garrett bio

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