Jeff Garrett: Tips for Collecting During a Crisis

Posted on 5/21/2020

Despite the uncertainty, the current state of affairs can be seen as an incredible buying opportunity.

The last two (nearly three) months have been like no other time in my considerably long career as a rare coin dealer. For me, the biggest change has been the lack of coin shows and travel. I have attended coin shows on an almost weekly basis for over 40 years. The next coin show that I hope to attend will be the 14th Annual Summer FUN Show in Orlando that is currently slated for July 9-11, 2020.

None of us knows what to expect when the first shows finally happen. Lower attendance is probably a given. It will be interesting to see how the show promoters handle crowd restrictions and social distancing requirements. One thing is certain — the new normal will not be normal.

Many in the rare coin business have been extremely concerned about how the recent COVID-19 crisis would affect our hobby. The rare coin market had already been experiencing a downturn before COVID-19, mostly due to supply and demand imbalances. Because of aging demographics, there have been more collections coming into the market than new collectors lining up to purchase them. Rare coin prices had been declining for many popular series such as Morgan Silver Dollars and Classic Commemorative coinage.

The FUN Show as we're used to seeing it, but what will it be like this year?

Despite the possibilities of a drastic crash of the global economy and massive unemployment, the rare coin market has been quite steady for the last two months. One factor is that much of the rare coin market has moved online. This is a trend that started years ago, but has greatly accelerated due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Precious metals have also started to rise in price, with the move to tangible assets clearly being considered by those concerned about massive government spending. In addition, the abovementioned excess supply of rare coins has been mitigated by travel restrictions and closure of shops around the country.

Another interesting positive development for rare coins has been the closure of mints around the world. The lack of production has caused many of the large marketing companies to turn to vintage coinage for sales. Hopefully, many of these buyers will become permanently interested in vintage rare coins.

The rare coin market has been slowed but is still alive and well. Despite the uncertainty, the current state of affairs can be seen as an incredible buying opportunity and not just a reason for concern. More than a few great investors in the past have stated, “Never let a crisis go unused.” Now is a great time to reassess your collecting strategy and to consider what to do going forward.

The following are a few tips on how to handle the rare coin market during the COVID-19 crisis.

  1. DO NOT PANIC – Probably the worst decision would be to dump your rare coin holdings. Anyone who has spent years building a great collection knows the effort required. Long-term collectors almost always do well, and I see no reason for this to change. If you have a nice collection of rare coins, the same fundamental reasons for owning them still apply. Anyone who dumped their stock portfolio in 2008 can tell you that panic selling is usually the worst decision.
  1. LEARN HOW TO SHOP ONLINE – Younger collectors and dealers take this for granted as they have been raised using the internet. For older collectors, effectively shopping online may take some practice and research. The internet opens up a whole new world for those looking to buy rare coins. There is almost too much information, however, and knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Start by doing research about collecting on sites such as NGCcoin.com and Money.org (American Numismatic Association).
  1. START A NUMISMATIC LIBRARY – One of the sagest pieces of advice ever given in numismatics is “buy the book before the coin.” The legendary numismatist Q. David Bowers is credited with coining the phrase. The logic seems simple — the more you know about something, the better your buying decisions. There is actually more to it than that. By exploring the series that you have become interested in, your enjoyment of the hobby will be greatly enhanced. Facts and numbers pale in comparison to the rich history that accompanies many rare coins. Use the extra time COVID-19 has gifted you to explore the hobby more fully. Start with the new 2021 Guide Book of United States Coins (Redbook). Whitman Publishing (Whitman.com) has dozens of interesting rare coin books listed on its website. An investment in numismatic books will be the best money you ever spend on your hobby.

  1. PRUNE YOUR COLLECTION – In a down market, it can be a great idea to re-examine your collection carefully. If you have coins with less than desirable eye-appeal, now might be a good time to sell them. It would also be a good time to sell common issues you may have accumulated. I spoke with a collector recently about his collection. He marveled at how well his rare coins had performed in the last five to 10 years and how poorly his common issues had done. The answer is easy — common coins will always be common and the supply/demand factor will not force prices up like those for rare issues.
  1. LOOK FOR BARGAINS – If you follow the above advice, you will have some money to spend. Look for nice coins that have recently come down in price. Now may be a great time to buy that “key” issue that you have always wanted. The upcoming summer rare coin auctions will be full of great coins, and chances are there will some interesting coins that would complement your collection.
  1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK – I have given this advice many times before, but it is now more valuable than ever. You need to fully understand the series you collect. What may seem like a good price now could be more than current market. You should carefully study auction records, dealer offerings and population reports for the latest information. Prices can be significantly impacted if just a few extra coins have been certified of some issues. This homework will pay off handsomely when it comes time for negotiations or making an auction decision.

The NGC Price Guide is a great resource for researching coin values.

  1. BE MORE SELECTIVE – There is no doubt that the rare coin market has become more quality oriented in the last few years. We all know or should know that most coins of the same grade are not identical. Coins can vary greatly in appearance for the same grade. Some have brilliant white surfaces, while others are completely toned. It’s usually a matter taste, but prices vary depending on the eye-appeal of a coin. You owe it to yourself to understand the differences. The best way to accomplish this is to examine coins being sold in a major auction. You will see lots of coins of the same grade sell for different prices. I still do this myself to understand current market conditions.
  1. BUY A FEW GREAT COINS – Regardless of your interests, now may be a wonderful time to purchase a few great coins. These may be coins that you do not normally collect, but would love to own if the price was right. In the past few months, the top end of the rare coin market has offered astute collectors many opportunities. Great coins have been some of the best performers in recent decades, and once the supply has dried up, prices could rebound sharply. The fifth edition of the 100 Greatest US Coins was just published. I would recommend any coin on that list that you can afford.
  1. NEGOTIATE HARDER – It’s a buyer’s market for most series. Many dealers have restrictions on their business and are willing to negotiate more than in past years. Be sure to shop around for the best possible deals. Paying too much for a rare coin can take years to recover from an investment standpoint.

Hopefully, the above advice will help you better understand the current market and the opportunities it may afford prudent collectors. Patience has been the key for most successful collectors in the past. This strategy worked then and will probably work in the future!

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