Senior activities to keep busy #3 coin collecting

When I was a little tyke about 100 years ago, I was a collector of many things. From bugs to comic books to marbles and baseball cards, I was a hoarder before being a hoarder was cool! Near the top of my pyramid of collectibles and the focus of much of my youthful attention was coin collecting. I loved to search rolls of coins from the bank ever vigilant for the treasures that I knew were out there. A plain penny roll had the possibility of containing the holy grail of pennies – the 1909 S VDB – and I was going to search until I found it.

Coin collecting is all about the chase. In our sights is a handful or so of personally chosen “must have” pieces that we “need” to add to our collection. We become familiar with the history of each and the relative worth in dollars and cents so we are informed shoppers. And we search dealers, the internet, newspapers, where ever we can to locate our quarry. When we finally succeed and add one find to “the collection”, we move on to the next target. Of course, rarely a day goes by that we do not take a peek at our treasure and smile with a pride and satisfaction felt way down in the soles of our feet.

Coin collecting is a passion. It is a pursuit that attracts young and old alike. There are well known guidelines and shared knowledge that can help you join the ranks of hobby coin collecting. With that, coin collecting is the focus of our senior activities to keep busy #3.

Personal collecting goals

Before embarking, you may want to ask yourself a few initial questions.

  • Do I want to collect international or US only coins? One attraction of collecting coins and currency from around the world is the incredible diversity. Paper money can be colorful and extravagant and having a sample from each country can be a fun pursuit. While diversity is intriguing, understanding exactly what you have across many currencies can be complex and confusing. For that reason, I personally stuck with US coins only. But to each his own.
  • What is my purpose in collecting coins? Is this an investment that I plan to sell at a later date in which case the quality and resale value of what I collect is paramount? Or am I collecting coins for the simple joy of looking at them and sharing with others in which case I can buy what I like versus what has the highest likelihood of selling for more than was  paid.

Coin collecting basics

(1)    How to inspect a coin – when you examine a coin, hold it by the edges never touching the surface directly which could leave fingerprints and oils. Some recommend wearing gloves as an added precaution. To more closely inspect what you have, a magnifying glass is helpful. Some recommend a lower 5X power as well as a stronger 15-20X to check mint marks and such.

(2)    Judging quality grading coins – the condition of your coin is the biggest determinant of its value along with scarcity. Coin grading is on a scale of 1-70 with 70 being a perfect specimen. Grading coins is an inexact science and subject to much debate between buyer and seller as the grade bestowed can vary depending on the appraiser.  Plus there are multiple grading standards and no one is considered the ultimate authority. The best way for you to level the playing field is to use Photograde by James Ruddy which provides sequential photos of every type of regular issue U.S. coin in every circulated grade. To grade your coins, just find the picture that most closely resembles yours. When talking with coin dealers, this at least puts you in the ballpark as to a reasonable grade. I also recommend you visit the Grading By Collectors website where non-expert collectors rate coins amongst themselves to get an idea of just what they have.

(3)    What is it worth? As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a coin is only worth what someone is willing to pay. The Official Red Book – A Guide Book to US Coins by R.S. Yoeman  is a comprehensive listing of early American coins, regular U.S. issues in all metals, commemoratives (new and old) and territorial gold from the 1800’s. The book includes retail values for almost every grade. Using this along with your Photograde book will help to give you a good estimate of the value of your coins.

(4)    Where do I find collectible coins? Ebay, coin shows, mail order, coin dealers, auctions. If you purchase other than dealer direct, try to contact the seller up front to establish a relationship and feel comfortable with their legitimacy. It also helps if you have laid this groundwork should you wish to return the coin. Auctions are for the experts so play at your own risk. Ebay and the internet typically come with high resolution pictures from all angles giving you a good idea of what you are getting. Check to see if sellers are reviewed by past buyers.

(5)    How to store my coins – keep coins in individual envelopes to store them safely. There are also wooden folders available to collect a series of coins – just insert the appropriate coin into the labeled slot.

(6)    Should I insure my collection? This is a personal choice but can give you some peace of mind. Insurance is not overly expensive and should the collection be stolen, at least you will recoup your financial loss.

(7)    If I decide to sell my coins, how do I avoid getting taken advantage of? The single most important requirement is to know what you have. There is nothing a coin dealer likes more than someone coming into the shop with a box of inherited coins with the seller having no idea what he has and asking for a “best price”. There is no law that says a dealer must pay you any minimum price so you are left to your own knowledge. And in all fairness, the dealer is running a business so if you agree to what he offers you, everyone wins, right? Not necessarily the case.

Take the time to compare your collection to pictures in your Photograde book. Get a general feel for what each coin is worth based upon your non-professional appraisal using your Red book. You may not hit it 100% but you will have a ballpark idea of the value.

When a dealer offers to buy your coins you also need to realize that he is buying them to resell at a later date. Therefore, he will not be willing to pay you the retail list but rather a reduced amount. Since you know the estimated value, it is up to you to decide whether the offer is worth taking. But you are better prepared working from a position of knowledge.

(8)    Coin collecting gottchas – beware:

a.       The coin has been cleaned – collectors and dealers expect coins to show the results of time with dirt and wear. Cleaning a coin takes this away and can negatively impact its value. Never clean is the rule of thumb.

b.      Never “talk over the coin” – you may unintentionally spit on the surface which can lead to spots.

c.       Dipped – the coin has been cleaned with a tarnish remover with results similar to (a).

d.      Whizzed – a whizzed coin has been buffed or polished to give it the appearance of the luster found on a mint coin. Often whizzing is done on a high grade coin to try to sell the coin at a higher grade than it really is

e.      Altered – intentional tampering with a coin usually to make it appear more valuable.  Often deals with the coin’s date or mint mark

The day is done and you sit by the fireplace with an after-dinner Cognac swirling in your hand. As usual there is nothing on the tube so you decide to take a look at that collection of coins tucked away in the cabinet. You open the box and the first coin your eyes settle on is the three-legged buffalo nickel from 1937. Suddenly you feel an excitement build in the pit of your stomach, your heart beats a little faster and for a moment you are twelve years old again with starry eyes and limitless opportunity. This feeling of wonder is commonly shared across coin collectors no matter what age and is one reason this hobby has such a  passionate following.

Oh and look, next to the three-legged buffalo nickel is a 1955 double die penny! What a wonderful evening is in store as the adventure continues.

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4 thoughts on “Senior activities to keep busy #3 coin collecting

  1. My first “business” as a 12 year old was to buy stamps and coins, repackage them in those little plastic sleeves and re-sell them. As I remember, my parents were the only ones to ever buy any of them!

  2. When I was a teenager, I sort of “dinked around” collecting a few coins… mainly pennies. My dad was in the grocery business, so I had great access to coins from his cash register.

    Then, in the early 1970s (about a decade later), the price of copper rose and I figured that the US mint would soon stop making pennies from copper. And that, by law, pennies would go out of circulation. So I began saving pennies in bulk. I actually got into the habit of not spending pennies, but rather putting pennies from my loose change into a tin can each evening. And, after some 40 years of doing so, I’ve probably got 150 pounds of pennies out there in the garage. Wendy and the boys like ot tease me about my “hoard.”

    My believing that the penny will go out of circulation probably makes as much sense as someone believing that Confederate money will, once again, become legal tender. Bill

  3. Bob – I remember my parents often times the only investors in my “start up” businesses as a kid!

    Bill – who knows, one day…you know the saying, a penny saved is a penny earned. 🙂

    Ralph – you describe what I think is a very typical introduction into coin collecting – another family member passes on their collection. If you have a slow afternoon, you might have some fun checking out just what you have in the garage…

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