Building a World Class Coin Collection

By Rob Lehmann

Rome was not built in a day, and neither is a great coin collection.

Assembling a collection of coins can be an arduous but enjoyable undertaking. And, like any goal that is accomplished incrementally, building your collection will require discipline and planning. I suggest laying the ground work for your coin collection with the following 6 principles in mind:

  1. Choose a series that interests you, but won’t force you to mortgage the farm. Remember, coins, or any other collectible for that matter, are supposed to be fun. Review your target series and ask yourself, “Is this do-able?” There are two factors which obviously are paramount to your answer and hence your choice. These are availability and affordability.Availability is important. Let me illustrate this point. I have always been fascinated by the Barber Quarter and Barber Half series. I feel that both of these series were largely ignored by collectors. Consequently, most Barber quarters and halves circulated without much fanfare. Finding these coins in AG and GOOD is not much of a challenge. However, try to find lightly circulated, problem-free examples, and it’s a whole another story. Now, if you believe the price guides, these coins are not that rare. But, scour a coin show, look at fixed price lists and hit the auctions, and then see what you come up with. My guess is that at 47 years old, my life is not long enough to complete either one of these sets, regardless of budget. Therefore, despite my affection to the contrary, this is probably not a collection that I want to undertake. Use some common sense, and choose a series to collect with availability in mind.
    is the next variable. It is my advice that you set a budget before starting your collection. There is nothing more disheartening or frustrating than to start a collection only to find out that you can’t afford to finish it. As a dealer, I have seen this happen countless times. Take into consideration your discretionary income, the time frame for completion and possible market swings which could affect prices. Know that some coins are going to cost you more than you initially expect. Forecast your investment conservatively, as I can almost guarantee that your collection will come in over budget!
  2. Buy the best that you can afford. For instance, if your budget is $100 per coin, find the best $100 coin that money can buy. This is the real challenge (and fun) in collecting, “the thrill of the chase”. You may go from one end of a coin show bourse floor to the other reviewing 20 examples of the same coin in the same grade. Within reason, buy the best of the 20, even if costs a little bit extra. You sometimes pay too much for the right coin, but you always pay too much for the wrong coin. Your attention for detail and quality in assembling your collection will not only be appreciated by you, but future owners, as well.
  3. Protect and display your collection. Your collection is for you to enjoy. However, by default, your collection can quickly develop into an investment. Proper protection in the form of an album, cabinet or holder is imperative. There are countless great products available in the open market. As collectors, we are nothing more than temporary custodians for our coins. There will be a next owner. A secondary goal of assembling a collection should be to insure that the next owner appreciates the coins as much as you did. And in all likelihood, your coins should also be worth more the second time around. But, much of that depends on proper storage and protection.
  4. Don’t flaunt what you’re doing. Although most collectors enjoy networking and sharing their collector experience with other like-minded individuals, too much of this can actually be detrimental. Again, use some common sense here. You don’t want to be a target at a coin show or in an auction room. If too many people find out what you’re doing, you will be forced to overpay for your coins. Discretion is the better part of valor. Over the years, the great collections, almost without exception, have been assembled quietly and under the radar. Define the network of dealers and collectors that you are comfortable dealing with early on in your endeavor, and try not to divulge too much information outside of this circle.
  5. Use all of the tools and resources at your disposal to build and enhance your collection. Nationwide, there are many great coin dealers. Dealers have exclusive resources and knowledge available to them that come with experience. A coin dealer that you both like and trust will be one of your best allies in completing your collection. Coin shows, when convenient, can also serve as a wonderful tool to acquire coins. Auctions are usually a bit more competitive. But, when searching for that special coin, they can also be invaluable. And with the advent of the internet, information is available at an unprecedented pace, a fact which you obviously are already aware of!
  6. Here is, in my opinion, the most important rule in assembling a collection….and, I saved it for last. Buy the book before you buy the coin! It amazes me how many collectors fail to follow this rule. Information and knowledge are an invaluable tandem. And, there are a host of great numismatic publications to help you in this part of your endeavor. By learning about the coins that you intend to collect, you will save yourself time, aggravation and money. Plus, your collecting experience will be greatly enhanced. I guarantee it!