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One of the questions people ask me most frequently is “how did you get started collecting coins?” They are usually amazed that something that began as a hobby over 40 years ago has become my passion and a vehicle for making a pretty good living.
My interest began the old fashioned way, just many collectors of my generation. In the early 1970’s there were still lots of wheat back cents in circulation. A family friend gave me a Whitman folder for collecting cents from 1941 to date. I was able to find a majority of the coins in short order. Each week I would take my money earned from mowing lawns to the bank and purchase rolls of Lincoln cents. The process was repeated each week over the summer until the folder was nearly filled.
There was one problem however. I lived in Florida at the time and it was very difficult to locate the San Francisco issues. Those darn “S” Mint holes were driving me crazy! I had fallen victim to one of the greatest marketing tools ever invented for coin collecting. People hate those empty holes in their folders, and I was no different!
Later that summer I made my first rare coin purchase. I ordered a few of those elusive “S” Mint cents from Littleton Rare Coin Company. Finally, my mission was complete. I then moved on to the first folder of Lincoln cents and then to Jefferson nickels, and now 40 years later I still love the thrill of the chase!
Both my tastes and financial ability to collect have grown over the years, but like everyone, I had to start somewhere. Many coin professionals take for granted that there are customers for their merchandise. You can attend any regional or national coin show and there will be hundreds if not thousands of eager buyers looking for rare coins. It is sometimes easy to forget that collectors are created and rarely just decide one day to start buying rare coins.
What is Making New Collectors Today?
Until the introduction of the State Quarter program over a decade ago, there was little interest in collecting coins from pocket change. Each series had become stale, and most of the silver coins dated before 1965 had been plucked out years ago. Even finding a single wheat cent became a cause for celebration or curiosity! Precious metal prices had been stagnant for what seemed like decades, and information about coin collecting was limited to a few titles on the newsstand.
This slump in new collector interest finally began to change in 1999, when the U.S. government created the State Quarter program. The unique designs suddenly appearing in circulating currency sparked an avalanche of new interest in coin collecting. There are thousands of collectors today who became interested in coins by collecting State Quarters. More importantly, there are significant numbers of adults whose interest was sparked helping the kids collect and were reintroduced to a hobby that many had put aside years ago.
Advances in the internet have also had a profound impact on numismatics. Now anyone interested in collecting can access information on a global basis. Collectors are no longer limited to purchase coins from the local coin shop or a numismatic publication. In my opinion, the internet is the most significant factor in the growth of our hobby in the last 10-15 years.
Finally, precious metal prices have awakened from their decade’s long slumber. The rise in gold and silver prices has created tremendous attention to numismatics. Individuals seeking safety from inflation and a falling dollar have increasingly turned to gold and silver. Many of these investors have become coin collectors as they learn more about numismatics.
Decades ago, I became interested in coins because of Lincoln cents. Today, many beginners are drawn to the hobby in much different ways:
Every night there are several cable TV shows selling coins of some sort. American Silver Eagles are a very popular offering. These coins are attractive to beginners for several reasons:
- Large size
- Beautiful designs
- 1 Troy oz. .999 fine silver
- Struck since 1986
Many have deemed these coins the new “Gateway Coin” for introducing collectors to the hobby. Collecting Silver Eagles might sound unsophisticated to some seasoned collectors, but remember- everyone has to start somewhere. Many don’t realize it, but these cable TV shows do the hobby a great service by introducing a tremendous number of new individuals to rare coins each year.
Precious metals have also created a large number of new collectors in recent years. When a new customer calls me about investing in bullion I will often suggest Liberty Head or St. Gaudens double eagles. The coins contain nearly an ounce (.9675) of pure gold, and were minted from 1849 to 1933. These vintage coins can now be purchased for a relatively small premium over the price of current issue bullion gold coins.
Many of these investors become interested and want to learn more about these fascinating coins. They quickly discover that there are dozens of dates and Mint marks that be collected for a small premium. Anyone who has a chance to see a 1907 High Relief double eagle decides they want one if they can afford the price. Some become completely immersed in double eagles and there are many serious collectors competing for the finest known examples of the series. There have been several double eagles that have sold for millions of dollars!
Rare Coins as an Investment?
In the last several years, some have become to view rare coins as a tangible asset. Investors have become disillusioned with a perceived unfairness of Wall Street and the returns of fixed interest investments have become dismal. Many rare coins have performed well for them as investments in recent years. People want to have their money at work and rare coins have become that vehicle for large numbers. Many of these investors soon learn about the fascinating history of rare coins and become hooked as collectors.
As mentioned earlier, there is now an abundance of great research and motivational material available for would-be collectors. However, as I have stated many times, I do not encourage individuals to buy rare coins simply as an investment. Rare coins as an investment only can be very risky in my opinion. Collecting rare coins for your own enjoyment, however, is usually a great way to go.
Help the Hobby Grow
Regardless of how you got started, remember that everyone has to begin somewhere and should be encouraged. It is in the best interest of anyone who collects or deals in rare coins to see the hobby grow. The next time someone asks about your collection, think about how you can get them started collecting rare coins!