GETTING STARTED – COLLECTING BASICS
I. “Buy the book, then the coin.”
That simple quote could be the whole chapter but then you might feel cheated. After all, you probably bought this book or at least you’re reading this chapter.
As SAM writes in Chapter __, in the 1950’s, at the beginning of the acceleration of coin collecting which has now blossomed in ways unimaginable back then, many collectors got their start as kids who gained permission to go through a neighborhood store’s cash register. Indian Head Cents, Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Walkers, even occasional Barbers turned up regularly. Morgan silver dollars were being sold for $1100 a BU bag of 1,000. It was an almost magical era for collecting coins that launched the current coin collecting scene.
Knowledge was not an issue for most of us back then, it was the mystery of what would show up next in the corner store’s cash register! But knowledge has become the key to surviving the world of modern coin collecting. Most collectors now purchase their coins from dealers, coin shows and the Internet, either raw or Third Party Grader “holdered” in plastic slabs: in this world of modern coin collecting, knowledge is essential.
Fortunately there is a wealth of “How To” books for collectors or all levels of experience to which this volume is the latest addition. The author’s intent is to shorten the learning curve for all novice and intermediate modern coin collectors, with expanded information for Ike collectors and potential Ike collectors of all levels of experience.
This chapter conveys helpful suggestions from the seven author-collectors who have all learned a lot the hard way. While you may shake your head as you read because you “know” all this already, there is a big difference between knowing and basing your behavior on that knowing. So do yourself a favor and plow through this chapter with an open and trusting mind!
BE PATIENT GETTING STARTED – While it can be a rush to undertake your first coin collection or starting on a new series, don’t be in a rush. Learn as much as you can about the series you intend to collect before you buy a single coin. Join Internet coin chat rooms, visit your local “Brick and Mortar” coin shops and if practical attend a coin show or two and talk to the sellers. And read (did we mention that already?). The more you know before you start spending REAL money the less likely you are to waste money. For most of us, the most painful part of the coin-collecting learning curve is realizing just how easy it was to waste money buying coins before we learned the ropes.
Experienced collectors know beginners face a long learning curve. Caught in the first full flush of excitement, one wants to start buying and it’s just so darn tempting to plunge right in.
Unfortunately, since there is no substitute for knowledge: the coins one buys early are often the coins one later regrets buying. Whether it is ebay, coin shows or even a minority of coin stores, some sellers are set up to take a beginner’s money for over-priced junk that looks good to a beginner who hasn’t learned the ropes. A lot of novice collectors are so badly burned by early buying experiences they leave the hobby and that’s a shame.
The authors want to shorten your learning curve, whether you are a beginner or a more experienced collector. If the key is knowledge and experience, the question is how best to gather knowledge and experience. You can do what most do and learn the hard way through often unpleasant experiences and wasting a lot of money, or you can learn from collectors and dealers who can help shorten your learning curve.
Here are a few steps we suggest for anybody just starting out:
1. Decide on one or at most two series and stick with them. As you gradually master one or two series, much of that knowledge (grading principals, for example) will generalize to other series.
2. Read and chat as much as possible to get a handle on the series before you start spending whatever amount of money is “serious” for you. Join and lurk daily on an excellent coin board like those hosted by PCGS and NGC (Appendix__).
3. Work with several ebay sellers that deal heavily in your chosen series and ask them questions. Do this until you find a seller who is interested in helping you master your chosen series and is not just trying to sell you coins.
4. If you live close to coin stores, visit any and all: admit to being a beginner or just starting out in your chosen series and ask questions. Do this until you find a store owner who shows a genuine interest in your welfare and education and who knows your series well enough to lend a secure hand.
5. If you can get to major coin shows, do so! Just leave your serious money home for the first show or two. Treat the dealers with respect and engage any who have Ikes in their show case. Expect to be rebuffed by some but keep your cool until you get a feel for the competitive, testosterone driven bourse atmosphere where the pros toss valuable holdered coins around with apparent distain, argue freely, exhibit grumpy demeanors but still manage to have a good time, usually. There is an unspoken bourse protocol which you ignore at your peril or at least your level of comfort:
a. Never “barge” in and interrupt a dealer when he is dealing with a customer;
b. Yield if a likely paying customer drops by - do nothing that interferes with the dealer’s dealings with other customers;
c. Understand that a busy dealer may hand you just one Ike at a time to examine;
d. Keep that Ike visible to the dealer at all times;
e. Display your careful handling of raw coins (handle by the edge, do not talk when your face is close to the coin and above all do not throw raw coins around like the dealers throw their holders…).
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU START SPENDING SERIOUS MONEY:
- Can you “go steady” with this series? Will it grow on you?
- Can you handle the costs over time of collecting whatever quality you need to sustain the relationship?
- Is it your passion to add the occasional coin to your collection over time, coins of a certain quality regardless of cost, or can you accept collecting the highest practical grades as determined by your finances?
- Is your passion, a) completing a collection as fast as possible, or b) assembling over time the most attractive coins you can find for whatever price, even if you have holes in your collection for years?
- Do you like “blast white” coins or coins with their natural skin even if somewhat toned?
- Business strikes and proofs?
- The series as defined by the Red Book and the descriptors in coin albums? or are you also interested in integral newer varieties in your series?
- Coins that look good to you regardless of grade or coins of a certain grade?
- Raw, or TPG holdered and certified? If TPG holdered, which TPG? Or will you be content to “buy the coin and not the holder” and wind up with several different styles of plastic holders?
Questions like these can not be answered until you have a decent understanding of the series you want to start collecting. They can not be answered until you have examined a wide array of raw and holdered examples, toned and untoned in all grades in different TPG holders with many side-by-side comparisons and hopefully some mentoring by pros. Ultimately these questions can not be answered until your tastes settle through experience but you can shorten that process by dealing with these issues early on.
Look at it this way: if you feel the joys of childhood from searching through coins you buy at face value from your cooperating local bank and your primary goal is filling the holes in your coin book, heck, have a ball! Start reading if so inclined to learn about your collection, but if you’re not throwing “serious” money at your hobby, just have fun.
Just know that sooner or later you will probably be bitten by a more aggressive collecting urge and you will want to acquire the “tough” coins, too. The temptation to go on buying sprees before you know enough to buy wisely will be strong as excitement mounts over the possibility that you can acquire the tough coins. Few of us make smart decisions early on when unchecked emotions are running high.
II. Some Specific Issues to Consider
Let’s use the Eisenhower Dollar to breakout several specific issues one might wish to consider before starting to buy coins to build a collection. Although the authors will list a number of specific issues separately none of these can be considered in isolation of the others, a very good reason to give yourself plenty of time before spending serious money.
1. THE WHOLE SERIES? JUST CIRCULATION BUSINESS STRIKES? WHAT ABOUT IKE PROOFS? WHAT ABOUT VARIETIES NOT YET IN STANDARD COIN BOOKS AND CATALOGS? ERRORS?
The Eisenhower Dollar series has a uniquely rich assortment of different Ikes. We have the Cupro-Nickel clad circulation Ikes, the business strike silver specimen Ikes, and both clad and silver Ike proofs.
Dansco and other Ike coin books have thirty two labeled holes for all of these Ikes (and even this leaves out certain varieties already integral to the series). Dansco and others also produce books for just the non-proof Ikes and some books and plastic display cases have been marketed for just Ike proofs.
By the way, inexpensive Whitman folding “push-in” hole albums are great for circulated coins but they are death on nicer uncirculated coins: it takes a very firm “push” to force a coin into one of the holes and that often results in thumb prints or scratches on the face of a BU coin. Dansco-type albums are an improvement but proofs and uncirculated coins can be damaged by the sliding plastic tabs. Curious to check this out? Grab a nice BU quarter from pocket change and see just how easy it is to mark it with your thumb nail.
One of the authors started out filling a Dansco 32 hole book but came to love the Silver specimen Ikes (“Blue Ikes”) as by far the best looking non-proof Ikes and the only throw-back to the silver appearance of the magnificent Peace and Morgan dollars. This same author came to love the colorful “Naturally Toned” Ikes, varieties and die-clash errors he has found in original Ike rolls, illustrating that as one gains knowledge, experience and confidence in a given series, one’s personal preferences often change and sharpen. If your budget is limited, it is wise to give your preferences time and exposure to a lot of Ikes before spending serious money so when that time comes you really know what you want for the long haul.
2. RAW OR TPG HOLDERED?
This is a big item. If you are a novice to coins or to a new series, nothing offers you greater protection from making an expensive mistake and nothing physically protects your Ikes as well as a certified plastic holder from PCGS or other leading TPG. Without a doubt, the greatest cost of the learning curve is buying relatively expensive raw coins that turn out to have little or any value because they have any of a number of defects the newcomer has not learned to recognize (subtle rubs, hairlines, altered surface, artificial toning, harsh cleaning, whizzing).
Collecting Ikes in leading TPG holders does add to the cost: a decent uncirculated raw Ike typically runs $2 to $5 to $10 for common dates and mint, while the same Ike in a leading TPG holder will run $15 to $25 to $35, a $10 to $25 differential. An Ike Dansco album filled with 32 average Uncirculated Ikes might cost $200 whereas assembling the same collection in TPG holders could easly run $600.
And there is the question of displaying your collection: the Dansco album does a nice job on that score but there is no obvious or easy solution for the 32 TPG holders. You can buy plastic boxes designed to store holders ($5 each) but all you see from the box is the very top of the holder. You can buy loose-leaf three-ring albums with various styles of plastic sheets that display your holders, typically nine or twelve per page, or, wooden and cardboard mini-cabinets with slide drawers but any of these options might take funds from buying the Ikes to put in them.
If you decide to go with TPG holdered Ikes, learn how the leading TPG’s grade relative to each other (Chapter__) and the relative dollar value the same grade of a given Ike brings in the different TPG’s. The spread of market values among different TPG’s of same-grade Ikes is as large as any modern series and at times larger. And don’t check just the “Grey Sheets” and other published guides: go to ebay and Heritage to see real market price differentials. Learn from chapter __, for example, that at shows you will see prices for Ikes in NGC holders as high as same-grade PCGS holders even though on Ebay NGC holders sell for roughly the price of the next lower PCGS grade or half-way in between at best.
If you decide to collect Ikes in TPG “Brand Y” holders because you like the holder and the same grade Ike sells for less than half the cost of a comparable grade TPG “Brand X” holder, that’s OK, just don’t fool yourself that if/when you sell that holder you will get TPG X prices for it.
3. IF YOU DECIDE TO BUILD A TPG-HOLDERED IKE COLLECTION, ALL THE SAME GRADE? OR “HIGHEST PRACTICAL GRADE”?
This is also an important issue to consider before taking the plunge. Sure, it would be nice to have a matched PCGS MS66 Ike set - the first four Denver Ikes, ’71-D, ’72-D, ’73-D and ’74-D will only set you back about $1,000 for the group but the three 1972 Philadelphia Ikes will set you back over $30,000. A full set of the five Silver Specimen Ikes in PCGS MS66 will cost around $200 but the set of four CuNi-clad circulation 1976 Ikes in PCGS MS66? Roughly $4,000.
A PCGS MS65 set will cost a bit over $5,000 with almost $4,000 for the three 1972 Philly’s.
If you can afford the killer prices of these rare high-grade keys, go for a nice matched set and have fun - you might even be able to buy a complete set from a collector who is moving on.
But if your budget is limited you might want to consider buying the “highest practical grade” of each Ike in your collection.
Being free from collecting a single grade in non-proof Ikes can make it easier to match your set by other criteria that are important to you. Perhaps you like brilliant Ikes that have brightness and luster in hand and you are not bothered by hits and other defects that take close inspection to see? Is blast-white your driving force? Or the opposite, nicely toned, original-skin Ikes?
Remember that TPG certified grades, even PCGS grades, are quite technical: many times a given Ike will receive a lower grade for a specific flaw only an experienced grader will see. Such an Ike can look stronger at normal viewing distance than its certified grade. The key is learning grading (Ch__) and being patient enough to give the nicer-for-grade Ikes time to come to you.
Lastly, if you like Ike proofs, with patience all eleven can be found individually in matched blast-white heavy cameo in PCGS PR69DCAM for a total of around $400 – 500. You can find them cheaper in this grade on ebay but they typically are not the nicest examples and sets are usually not matched.
4. TIME FRAME? STYLE OF COLLECTING?
Are you hell bent for leather (whatever that really means…) to complete your Ike set? Or can you be patient and gradually accumulate the very best Ikes you can find in within your budget? Are you a loner or can you work to find a knowledgeable dealer to work with who can get you exactly the Ikes you’re looking for and be your mentor along that happy journey?
Once you start to burn, can you stay cool and “collected”?
Or are you a “hot reactor”? (a psychological term with the implication of impulsivity – if you see a desirable coin, you HAVE TO HAVE IT…). If so, it becomes more important to seek a mentor on which to lean. By the way, most experienced dealers will find coins for you for a 10% fee and that can be a very wise investment while you are learning the ropes.