Collecting money never loses popularity
and can earn you a pretty penny
Preservation, rarity, and demand comprise the elusive trifecta sought by coin collectors and dealers. “When you get that combination the value of the coins goes through the roof,” says David Neita, director of sales for California-based American Heritage Minting (800-800-2184), “the first year of issue of any denomination is always in demand,” rarity matters little without demand. “Any bust half-dollars, dimes, quarters from 1796-1838…anything from the early beginnings of this country is very much in demand,” shares Neita, who sources gem-quality coins for his wholesale dealership, but advises, “buy the level of preservation that you can afford.”
Neita, a former CBS Morning News (1968-1973) journalist, fell in love with coins while researching for a Mint Masters catalog he produced in 1986 for a dealer. “It’s a high-risk high-reward business.” The famed King of Siam coin set, including a specially minted 1804 dollar, sold for $10 million last year. Coin dealers operate like stockbrokers, they aim to buy low, sell high and keep the difference to grow their business—and they are instrumental in negotiating for collectors. At this year’s Florida United Numismatists Show in Orlando, auctions hammered $85 million, not including millions traded on the bourse floor, which hints at why this is a very secretive and close-knit community, adds Neita who hails from Brooklyn, New York.
“It took us 20 years to establish contacts in France before they would sell to us.” Neita, 59, is primarily self-trained and specializes in US, English, and French coins. He studied how to grade coins, the history of US gold coin varieties, and counterfeit US gold coin detection at the American Numismatic Association, “but there’s nothing like being on the bourse floor at a tradeshow, going from table to table studying coins,” he says. “You have to be outgoing and like a sponge to soak up information. The death in this business is the day you think you know everything. It’s impossible to be an expert on every coin, find an area of specialization.” Neita offers us what every numismatist (student of the coin) should know:
Theme strengthens a collection. Before spending a dime on a Buffalo Nickel, Indian Head Cent or any coin buy the book advises Neita. There are books on every US coin that provide dye varieties and historical insights including where the coin was struck. “I own slave tokens made in 1793 and 1838, colonial paper money (issued by the Continental Congress to support the revolutionary war, some of it was made by Benjamin Franklin), and currency that bears the signature of somebody who signed the Declaration of Independence—that’s my kind of money!”
Preservation elevates value. Transport coins in a lightweight plastic flip that allows for carrying many coins at once. “When handling coins always grip by the edge, never place a finger on the coin,” cautions Neita, “[being] thumbed or fingered effects the level of preservation, cotton gloves help.” Storage should reduce exposure to moisture and dust. Neita recommends a safe deposit box for very valuable coins, and abhors applying chemicals for preservation. Coins converted to jewelry can never be a coin again.
Investing takes patience. If exploring US coins for investment Neita suggests holding them for 3 or 5 years—or longer. “Hold foreign coins for 5 to 10 years, but avoid investment grade if you might be forced to sell before these timeframes because you’re setting yourself up for the fall.” The Guidebook of US Coins: The Official Red Book by R. S. Yeoman (Whitman Publishing; $16.95) is an annual guide that lists mintage (how many were made) and dollar value indicators. Have coins graded by a third party like the Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guarantee Corporation. Grading is key to authentication. Reputable dealers guarantee their coins are genuine and will repurchase any coin at the highest price for that grade if the coin is found to be counterfeit.
Attend the premier coin show in the US, American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money or the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo to sample the thrill of the bourse floor. For a starter’s tipsheet refer to Helpful Hints on Enjoying Coin Collecting by Bill Fivaz (Stanton Books; $15.95) and A Guide Book of United States Type Coins by Q. David Bowers (Whitman Publishing; $19.95), more research available via www.coinbooks.info.
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