Leon Worden

The Wonderful World of Coin Collecting
Today's Coin Hobby is Huge

By Leon Worden
COINage magazine
2007 Annual edition

tís 2007, and you know what that means. Itís time to stand up and salute the dead presidents.
    Hot off of its wildly successful 50-state quarters program — which has two and maybe three more years to run — the U.S. Mint is hoping youíll buy into its third attempt to circulate a small $1 coin. Starting with George Washington on his birthday in February, the Mint will issue a new dollar coin with a different design every three months.
    No, the Treasury Department isnít suspending production of the $1 Federal Reserve Note, so it might take some doing to gather your set of presidential dollars unless you buy them directly from the Mint in a collector set.
    You should be able to pull all five new state quarters from circulation — Montana, Washington State, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah — but your starter set of four presidential dollars — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — will probably require a few trips to your local bank. Mark your calendar at three-month intervals or you might miss one.
    All in all, the Mint is offering more products than ever to collect. According to one recent report, if you wanted to purchase everything the Mint is issuing this year, from standard-issue "P" and "D" Mint sets up to the one-ounce, .9999-fine Buffalo $50 bullion coins (and, for the first time, fractional ounces), it would set you back by nearly $15,000.
    Ordering is easier than ever, too — or at least, the Mint is trying to make it easier by taking orders over the phone (1-800-USA-MINT), the Internet (www.usmint.gov) and by mail. The Mint ran into some trouble in 2006 when callers outnumbered telephone operators and the Web site bogged down under pressure. Delivery became a problem, as well; the Mint did a great job rushing the new San Francisco commemorative gold coins to market, but when the coins arrived by UPS or FedEx in late November and December, many had popped out of their holders. You can expect the new mint director, Edmund C. Moy, to address ordering and fulfillment issues in 2007.
    You canít really fault the Mint for trying to suck so much money out of the collector market with its voluminous product line. As the cost of manufacturing and distributing billions of Lincoln cents and Jefferson nickels exceeds the minor coinsí face value, the Mint has a lot of making up to do.
    What, if anything, the new Democratic Congress will do about changing the composition of the "penny" and nickel is anyoneís guess. The Republicans closed out the 109th Congress without taking action on a bill to eliminate the cent.
    The 109th Congress also ignored proposals to extend the 50-state quarters program by another year to include the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Marianas Islands. When you consider that all but one of the territorial delegates to Congress are Democrats, the 110th Congress might be the place where the proposal gains currency, if youíll pardon the pun.
    Not ready to blow 15 big ones on new Mint products this year? Not a problem. Youíve got about 2,650 years of coinage from which to choose. Certainly thereís something to grab your fancy.
    One word of caution, and youíve probably heard it before: "Buy the book before the coin." There are lots of traps out there, and you donít want to fall into them.
    Of course, if youíre like this writer, it never really works out that way. You see a coin that looks interesting, you buy it — and then you buy the book, learn all about it, and go hog wild collecting all of its brothers and sisters. And thatís OK. At least I hope it is.
    So ... what do you like? Old Jefferson nickels that are in such great condition that you can see all of the steps on Monticello? Fine. Or do you like your nickels in lousy condition after theyíve been carved up by a hobo? Fine. Not only are there books about them, but there are also organizations you can join where you can learn even more. Yes, there is a Full-Step Nickel Club just waiting for you, and at the opposite end, thereís the Old Hobo Nickel Society.
    Do some hunting and pecking on the Internet and youíll be surprised to find that there are other people who share your numismatic interests — no matter what they might be. No Internet access? Look in the phone book for your local coin shop and the owner will probably be happy to point you in the right direction.
    Be sure to ask the proprietor how to find your closest coin club, as well. Go to a meeting. Donít be shy. Youíll find a great group of people from all walks of life — doctors, lawyers, maintenance workers, bus drivers — people who have really only one thing in common: an appreciation for coins that goes beyond spending them at face value. Before you know it, you wonít just be joining an organization; youíll be visiting friends once a month and having fun as you pursue your hobby.

    About those traps you donít want to fall into — some might be more obvious than others.
    Unless youíre a true expert or youíve got money to burn, never, ever buy a coin from a flea market, swap meet or garage sale. If youíre in one of those places and you see a 1914-D Lincoln cent or a Buffalo nickel with three legs, run in the other direction as fast as you can and donít look back. Itís counterfeit.
    If you want to be as safe as you can reasonably be, only buy rare coins that have been encapsulated in a plastic holder by one of the major grading firms — Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NCC), ANACS or Independent Coin Grading (ICG). Avoid plastic "slabs" with other names on them.
    On the other hand, if you see a plastic slab from one of the major grading firms and it says "first strike," or words to that effect, be careful. Know that the coin inside was not necessarily one of the first coins to be minted from a particular pair of dies. That is the traditional use of the term, "first strike," but the grading firms are not using the term that way, and they are being sued by collectors who claim they were misled. Read COINage magazine throughout the year to learn how the matter is resolved.
    Another precaution: If you like to shop for coins on eBay, never, ever buy a coin from China — especially if itís a U.S. Trade Dollar from the 1800s. Itís counterfeit. Heck, some Trade Dollars from the 1900s have shown up in Chinese auctions, and the U.S. Mint didnít even made Trade Dollars in the 1900s. Not long ago at a local coin club meeting, this writer saw a U.S. Silver Eagle bullion $1 dated 1902 that had come from China — and they STARTED making Silver Eagles in 1986.
    EBay does a good job trying to keep counterfeits off of its Web site, but eBayís "E" for "Effort" wonít save you if patronize a seller in Shanghai or Beijing.
    Some people will tell you not to shop for coins on eBay at all. Not this writer. Iíve been shopping on eBay since eBay was new and have gotten burned only a couple times — probably about the same frequency as one can expect to be burned in other types of marketplaces.
    Remember, eBay is just a marketplace. Itís a BIG marketplace, but itís a marketplace. As in any marketplace, you need to know your seller. There are good ones and there are bad ones (and all the bad ones arenít in China). Feedback ratings are important; you should look at them, but know that they arenít necessarily sacrosanct. Unscrupulous sellers sometimes find ways to monkey with them.
    If youíre just starting out on eBay, start slowly. Find a coin that looks "right." Donít bid if the photo isnít sharp. Pick a seller who looks like he or she has a number of things that would interest you in the future. Buy an item from that seller but donít spend more than you can afford to lose. When the coin arrives, have it checked for authenticity and condition. Take it to your local coin shop. If it checks out, itís probably safe to start spending more money with that eBay seller. Keep checking out the coins you receive until youíre satisfied that the seller is on the level.
    As time marches on, more and more reputable sellers who were around long before eBay are using eBay as a vehicle to sell coins. Heritage Auction Galleries, the largest coin retailer of them all, uses eBay Live Auctions in conjunction with its "offline" auctions. Heritage will hold an auction in a city where a coin convention is taking place, for instance, and you can compete with other bidders from the comfort of your own home or office through eBay Live Auctions.
    EBay has truly changed the hobby of coin collecting. It has opened the floodgates. Whereas in the old days, you could spend years assembling a complete set of Barber dimes, now you can find all of them (except for the 1894-S) in a matter of a few weeks or months on eBay.
    EBay seems to be having an impact on prices, as well. In one Heritage auction last fall, Internet bidders helped send Hard Times tokens from the 1830s and Civil War-era tokens and store cards (merchantsí advertising tokens) into the stratosphere.
    Hard Times tokens are hot. Sacagawea "golden" dollars are not. But if you want them, the Mint will be producing new ones for circulation in 2007. It stopped making them for circulation after 2001 because nobody wanted them then, either.

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