Don’t let auction companies, bullying dealers, CAC, etc. ruin your collecting experience.

By: Larry Shepherd
August 2018

“What fun I have had since 1992!”

Last month I helped Belt, one of my long-term collector clients, sell his entire collection through a private transaction. The time had come, necessitated by age and health, yet he was determined to not hand his beloved coins over to the auction company who’s representatives had been badgering him relentlessly for many years. Their approach had only served to turn him off.

After we completed a very quick sale he was able to look back and reflect on his hobby experience. Building his collection had been a very special life-enriching experience for him, he said; one that had rewarded him both financially and emotionally, as well as through new friendships formed and maintained. His final comment to me wrapped all his sentiments into a simple statement:

“What fun I have had since 1992!”

I cannot think of a better expression of what the coin collecting experience should be about.

How it began

I still remember the first phone call from Belt in 1992. He said, “I’m just a little guy. I can’t afford four and five figure coins like a lot of your big customers.” I assured him that building a collection that fit his budget could be just as much fun as those four and five figure collectors were having, if he went about it the right way.

I advised him to wait for coins that excited him, and to not get impatient and buy the wrong coins. “Buy only what you really like. Buy the coins that you find pleasing to your tastes, and that you will be proud to own and show off to your friends. Don’t let anyone pressure you into purchasing something that doesn’t appeal to you. It doesn’t matter what some dealer thinks, or who’s put a sticker on it, if you don’t like it don’t buy it. You’re the person who’s going to own it, not them. Wait for the right coins that are right for you,” I said.

“Impatience is a collector’s worst enemy,” I told him. “Impatience leads to unsatisfying purchases and that leads to duplicates; and duplicates can eat up a big portion of your capital, especially if you have limited resources. So wait for the right coins, and constantly improve on them whenever possible.” And I assured him, “If you do everything I just advised and stick with it, you will be surprised what you can accomplish over time.”

Sometimes you say things like that to collectors and it just blows right past them, but this was one of the many instances in my career that I was blessed with a new client who really listened. He followed my advice to a tee, and over a period of 20+ years we formed a great friendship and he built one of the finest collections of the type that has ever been assembled.

And he had soooo much fun!

He started attending coin shows, where he met like-minded collectors and dealers. Soon several of them entered his circle of closest friends and best buddies, bonded by their love of the hobby, and good-naturedly trying to one-up each other for the best finds at any coin show they attended.

A good day at the show was often followed by dinners with friends, and maybe a few drinks, along with the occasional cigar. And as the drinks got shorter the lies got taller, proving there may be a little bit of fisherman hidden inside every collector. Most importantly they laughed loudly, bragged boldly, ate heartedly, and they had a great time.

Belt accumulated friends who shared a common passion that bonded them, and they supported each other through good times and bad. They celebrated new jobs, new grandchildren, exotic vacations, and family successes; they helped each other through illness and setbacks; and they mourned together when a beloved member of the group died prematurely a few years ago.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that coin collecting enriched Belt’s life in many ways that far exceeded dollars and cents.

The rewards from coin collecting can range far beyond just dollars and cents.

Belt’s experiences have been testament to that, and he is not unique. I have personally worked with dozens of collectors, as have many other dealers I know, whose experiences mirror Belt’s. When asked what they have gained from collecting, more often than not they will talk about friendships formed, the thrill of the hunt, and the fun times, more than just how much money they made.

They remember the quiet moments, sitting alone at home admiring their coins, and escaping, for a while at least, the pressures and stresses of everyday life. Playing with their coins, as childish as that expression may sound, does in fact give passionate collectors an opportunity to briefly recapture that childhood gift of escaping into something that they truly enjoy (There is in fact an article in the PCGS archives that suggests that avid coin collectors live longer than average lives. I’m not 100% certain if it is true, but I would be very surprised if it weren’t).

They will tell you they loved the hunt for new, or better coins, going to a coin show and the excitement finding something really special, and how they couldn’t wait to show it off to another collector or friendly dealer. They will never forget how that person’s eyes lit up when they saw it, and the expression on their face as they said, “You bum, where’d you find this?” It’s a memory that lasts forever and always brings back a smile. They can’t put a dollar value on favorite lifelong memories like these, but I am certain that as the years pass the value will continue to grow to far exceed the cost.

And they cherish the friends who came into their life only because of a shared love of collecting; friends who have enriched their lives in multiple ways, simply through friendship, demanding or expecting nothing more, and who have or will remain friends even after their coin collecting has stopped.

For those of us who are dealers, these are immense and invaluable non-financial benefits of the hobby that we should do more to promote and nurture. If we only stress a financial investment in coins, we miss the opportunity to introduce our clients to potential rewards and life enhancing benefits that may far exceed dollar profits. Yet it’s probably not a coincidence that throughout my experience it has been the collectors who followed their heart and had the most fun in the process, who were also the ones who ended up making the most money when they sold. Those who only buy coins for investment, and see them only as lines on a spreadsheet, miss out on so much more.

Dealers need to stand up for their clients.

We dealers also need to stand up between our clients and those who would seek to take the fun away, either by spewing negativity or greedy motives that benefit only them and their bottom line.

In recent years many collectors have felt bullied by certain highly vocal dealers into buying only stickered coins that are judged by someone else’s personal standards and bias’s; bias’s that may differ greatly from the collector’s preferences, and long established market grading standards. When collectors are told they are foolish, and made to feel bad, for buying the coins they really, really like, unless those coins have this outside blessing, it’s wrong!

It’s wrong in so many ways, and we dealers should not stand aside in tolerating it. We need to do a better job of speaking up, and not just whispering it in each other’s ears, as occurs at nearly every coin show. Our collector’s don’t deserve be treated this way, and they should never be made to feel foolish, especially when the real motive of those doing it is hidden, undisclosed, profit driven greed.

It’s unprofessional and it turns many collectors off to the hobby. Coin collecting should be a feel-good experience, not a put-down experience. Those who employ such tactics for their own greedy benefits do great harm to the entire hobby.

Auction companies used to provide valuable assistance to those looking to sell. Now, at least some of them have become far more predatory, hassling collectors to sell while they are still collecting, and long before they are ready to stop. Not only is this extremely damaging to the hobby, as we lose the benefit of collectors who otherwise would have continued to buy, but it also diminishes the pleasure of ongoing collecting, as Belt experienced by feeling constantly hassled or pressured.

We should be doing everything possible to encourage active collectors to continue to grow their collections rather than pressuring them to sell prematurely. Any company that pressures collectors to quit collecting and sell prematurely is placing their short-term profit goals above the long-term growth and well being of the hobby.

Moving Forward

So here’s my advice to collectors as we move forward – like Belt, the gentleman in this article, HAVE FUN WITH YOUR HOBBY! Make that your number one objective.

Buy coins that you like, and find interesting, exciting and beautiful. Collect what will be a pleasure for you to own. Trust your instincts. Like Belt, chances are high that the coins you really like will be really liked by others as well, and will be easy to sell when the time comes. Belt always followed his own instincts and bought the coins that excited him the most. And when the time came, his coins realized amazing prices and took all of three days to sell!

If you love a certain series, by all means collect it. Don’t let someone convince you that you should collect something else. If you prefer the beauty and perfection of proofs don’t let someone else convince you to only buy business strikes. If you love vibrant original toning, don’t lose sleep over the person who thinks it’s foolish to pay the premiums that are often attached to such coins.

Likewise, disregard the people on the forums who think any coin that’s not white has been artificially toned. Most of the times they are wrong. The graders at PCGS have far more expertise in evaluating that than they do.

If you prefer white coins buy them. Don’t worry about whether they have ever been dipped or not. Again, PCGS graders will have already weeded out, or net graded, the ones that have been harmed by improper, or over-dipping. Trust them.

Don’t let yourself get hustled into buying only stickered coins if you don’t like them. That’s kind of like wearing only the clothes that your mother-in-law picks out for you. But if you do, be careful not to pay a sticker premium for dark, lackluster, or unattractive coins that prior to stickering may have been hard to sell and historically have sold at discounts.

I’m not criticizing collectors who prefer originality, and value it over eye appeal. The market is full of collectors with different tastes and preferences, and that’s as it should be. Originality is just one factor and should be just as highly respected for those who prefer it, as eye appeal is to those who favor pleasing aesthetics. There is no absolute right or wrong in most cases, and certainly not a one-size-fits-all standard. So trust your own instincts, trust PCGS to weed out the wrong, and buy and collect what you truly enjoy.

We have a hobby filled with knowledgeable, intelligent and experienced people, yet among them there can be widely divergent, but equally respected opinions. So don’t listen to those who are intolerant of any thinking that might challenge their personal profit driven motives. One person’s personal preferences and bias’s should never be allowed to supersede everyone else, and we should not stand by idly while they try to reset long-standing market diversity and widely accepted grading standards to impose their personal one-size-fits-all standard.

And when the advocates of that one size (or one person) standard preach that no one should buy any coin that doesn’t meet that one person’s standards, we should ask what their financial interests are in promoting that service. Are they really looking out for your interests, or their own? Furthermore, we should hold their feet to the fire to take responsibility for the widespread damage they have done, and are continuing to do to the overall market, and to every collector, by driving down the prices of the majority of coins they are telling you are not acceptable and that you should not buy under any circumstance.

I find it extremely disingenuous and misleading when they take credit for their self-proclaimed price premium, when the real truth is that their premium has far more likely been caused by driving down the value of your coins, than by raising the value of theirs. No one should be patting themselves on the back when they have helped drive down market values by tens of millions of dollars across the board by telling collector’s the vast majority of coins in existence are not acceptable and should not be purchased.

So, from this day forward keep it simple, and don’t lose sight of the primary objective of enjoying your hobby experience. Make your every numismatic purchase something special to you. Pursue the coins you love the most, and don’t be afraid to buy them. If you buy stickered coins that’s fine, but if you only buy stickered coins you will miss out on many of the greatest coins in existence, and often for no apparent reason to most market specialists. You will never be able to build as great of a collection as you could achieve otherwise.

As a dealer, I find it particularly sad when a collector falls totally in love with a coin, but denies himself or herself the pleasure of owning it, simply because that one person found a peculiar and sometimes highly opinionated or unusual reason not to favor it. Yet there may be dozens or hundreds of other highly knowledgeable and experienced dealers and collectors in the bourse room who would echo the collector’s original opinion of an exceptional coin. If that’s you, ask yourself, should I allow one person’s opinion to override and negate all those other contrary opinions? Do I really think there is only one smart or qualified person in this entire hobby?

I can tell you from thirty years of high-level collector/dealer experience, having helped numerous collectors build some of the greatest sets of all time, that the most successful collectors during our lifetimes have been the ones who have had the self-confidence to buy what they loved and tune out any misleading chatter.

So enjoy this hobby! Be like Belt! Have fun with it. Collect what you like, and proudly show your coins to your friends. Go to coin shows and interact with fellow collectors. Form new relationships and make new friends, then enjoy the socializing and fellowship that follows. Chill out by looking at and playing with your favorite coins. De-stress. Tune out those who spew negativity, and don’t drive yourself crazy second-guessing yourself because of them. Keep it simple. Be proud. Love what you do and soak up the experience.

And if you do all that, some day you too can look back and exclaim, “What fun I have had since XXXX.”