by Al Doyle for CoinWeek
It happens to every collector, and often on a repeated basis.
A special coin comes along - imagine a $5 gold Indian at close to melt value, an 1891-CC Morgan dollar in an PCGS or NGC EF-45 holder or a circulated 1807 Draped Bust half cent with appealing chocolate brown surfaces - and the funds aren't available. Why do those opportunities always arrive when the wallet is empty?
The obvious answer is to have some money available for such encounters. Easier said than done? With a little planning and a simple, low-budget savings method, the average Joe will be able to have the cash needed to obtain better quality goods with some frequency.
So how can a collector obtain more coins? The first step is to have fewer coins. Sound contradictory?
Anyone who has been around numismatics for more than a brief time owns several to a dozen impulsive or unwise purchases that are gathering dust. It doesn't matter what possessed a person to buy that BU roll of 1961-D Jefferson nickels or Bahamian proof set, but it's not a bad idea to flush the misfits out of a collection.
It's likely that many of these past buys now bring less that what you paid, but look at the red ink as tuition in the school of coin collecting. Purging stuff that doesn't fit and getting something for it isn't the worst scenario. In some cases, you'll break even or come out a bit ahead. If the items in question are bullion related and purchased more than a few years ago, you should definitely be on the winning side of the ledger.
Don't spend the proceeds on the first round and shiny object that comes along. Have a specific coin or two in mind or a plan on how to get the most value for the money spent. Think quality, not quantity. The word "quality" doesn't necessarily mean the highest-priced options in the marketplace.
"There's stuff, and then there's real coins", declares one wise coin shop owner with more than 30 years in the business. Even with its luster and lack of bagmarks, a certified 1921 MS-64 Morgan dollar falls into this dealer's "stuff" category, as would a modern MS-69 slabbed piece.
On the other hand, a Seated Liberty dime or quarter from the 1840s in Very Fine or a scarcer-date Shield nickel in a similar grade makes the "real coin" list. How can that happen when the type coins are often less expensive than high-grade items? Despite their relatively modest values, the older circulated coins with original surfaces can be hard to locate. The stuff vs. real coins game can be played at all price levels.
Unloading surplus coins shouldn't be a major problem. They can always be sold to a dealer, offered on eBay or placed on a bid board at coin shops. Clubs sometimes hold auctions where members can sell coins, and one-on-one transactions are common. It goes without saying that merchandise needs to be honestly graded and priced. Don't take advantage of newbies who have little knowledge.
There may be other unwanted or forgotten things that are doing nothing but taking up space around the house. Anything from selling one or two surplus objects to a weekend garage sale can provide cash and reduce clutter. This is a project that can include the entire family, especially if they are given a fair share of the profits.
What happens when all of the excess has been sold, and the proceeds have been turned into better quality items? There is a proven and painless way to save some cash for hobby-related purchases.
Even those on the lower end of the economic scale handle numerous $1 bills over the course of a month. Setting aside one or more singles at a time will soon result in a pile of George Washingtons. If the pile gets too thick (some problem!), exchange the $1s for a larger bill and keep stacking.
In addition to building a fund for coin buying, the $1 savings plan provides positive reinforcement and visual proof of progress. While this method won't provide the kind of capital needed to obtain a 1916-D Mercury dime or a $20 gold Saint-Gaudens, it isn't hard to accumulate $100 to $500 in six months or less. This is something worth doing even if you don't have a specific coin in mind. Why?
Carry the money you have saved to the next large coin show in your area. If you don't find something you want to purchase at a convention such as Baltimore, FUN, Central States or ANA, you probably don't have much of a numismatic drive. In the more likely event of being surrounded by all kinds of coins that capture the eyes, you'll have the money needed to take action and build a better collection.