Here I describe some of my "lessons learned" during my years of collecting.
I've learned every one of these the hard way, and I'm still learning.
Your best bets to get the coins you want in the grades you want are as
Become experienced with coin grading and identification
- this takes years of examining hundreds of specimens of the same type
of coin, comparing them side by side. It also requires much research
and consultation with experts. The collector must understand how
crisp the strike is for the year as well as the simple concept of wear.
A 10X-30X microscope is very helpful to learn about the high points of
each design. The collector must also learn how to identify
a coin. One of the classic identification problems is with the old
and modified effigies of George V. In the case of the penny, there
is a huge $$ difference between them.
Develop a relationship with 1-3 key dealers
- good dealers will go out of their way to insure that you get the coins
you want. Even though you may pay a premium to work with a dealer
who specializes in the coins you like, it is well worth the investment.
Several books recommend good ways to set up a relationship, including Coincraft's
Standard Catalogue of English and UK Coins.
Be slow and careful at coin shows -
there are lots of hot lights and lots of coins. Your grading and
identification skills must be top notch - remember, you don't know most
of the people you're dealing with, and you may never see them again.
You could discover that the "brilliant UNC" 1853 threepence you bought
at the show for $300 is in reality a prooflike maundy coin which is identical
in almost every way and valued at only $40 when you get it home.
Bring a good magnifying glass with you and take your time!!
Not every dealer is a British Coin expert - there
are a lot of dealers who do not specialize in British coins and thus tend
to overgrade them, especially the copper pieces and coins of Edward VII, George V and George
VI. The only knowledge many dealers in the US have is from the Krause
Catalog of World Coins. Krause is of course an excellent book,
but not one which can be used to learn and understand a specific country's
coins. It seems that every time I go to a store or show, some inexperienced
dealer is selling an 1875H farthing for $200 calling it a "small date"
1875. If you see something like that, rely on lesson (1) or go elsewhere.
Grading services are useful
- there is quite an industry going on in the US with regards to slabbing.
First, let me explain what it is and how it works. You take a raw coin,
send it and a payment (a fairly hefty sum, I might add) via registered or
insured mail to one of the major numismatic grading services, wait 7-30 days and then the coin is returned to you contained
in an airtight slab. Also found within the slab is a registration
number, kept on file by the grading service, an identification of the coin
and a grade. The major services will not grade counterfeit, cleaned
or damaged coins. These services are very useful for authentication.
Don't think that
a slabbed coin is always graded correctly
- first off,
the grading services hire people and believe it or not, people do make
mistakes. Secondly, these services deal mainly with coins of the
United States, Canada and Mexico and best understand the nuances of the
coins of these countries. The grading services may each have a handful
of world coin experts, but you don't know if they happen to be working
the day your coin is evaluated. I recently received a British piece
designated MS-62 by one of the leading grading companies. Fortunately,
this company bought back my coin, because in addition to misgrading
a low EF as UNC, it had a large rim chip.
Don't assume if you see a nice reverse that
the coin is high grade - I can't speak to other coins, but on British,
it is usually the head (obverse) that commands most of the attention for grading
purposes. It is very common to see the two sides of a coin separated
by a full grade. For example, a 1933 threepence may be a beautiful
UNC on the reverse but only be EF on the obverse because of wear on the
monarch's cheek and around the eye. It is also a common to see hairlines
(cleaning) on the obverse but have a crisp uncleaned reverse. On ebay auctions,
if you see only a reverse scan in the listing, always ask for an obverse.
If one is not given, do not bid unless the coin is very inexpensive.
Cleaning and whizzing is on the rise again -
I am alarmed by the recent increase in whizzed, polished and cleaned coins being
sold. With the boom of internet auction sites, there appears to be an increasing
tendency to find treated coins for sale. Scans on auction listings do not
tend to show these problems. Digipics (pictures taken with a digital
camera) sometimes will capture hairlines. See lesson #10 for more details.
Have fun - if collecting coins becomes
more about investment and less about having fun, then stop doing it.
Modern proof and mint sets are a classic example of this. If you
like a set, then by all means buy it. Buying a 2005 proof set in
2005 typically is going to cost you much more than buying it in 2009.
That's because the mintage of such sets is quite high as is the demand.
Later, demand slackens and prices fall. I have purchased and sold most UK
mint and proof sets at shows at a fraction of issue price
because they don't sell! Please refer to prices in Krause (market
value vs. issue price) - in many cases, the value of the mint or proof
set has fallen sharply.
Read good books on the subject - click
for a short bibliography.