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Do Dealers Collect?

By Harvey G. Stack, Senior Numismatic Consultant

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Tuesday, April 02, 2013 / Categories: Harvey G. Stack Remembers
During my more than 65 years as a rare coin dealer, this question has been asked many times. In my experience with hundreds, if not thousands, of dealers, the answer has always been “Yes!” When we discuss this question we all seem to agree that in order to be good dealers and to best serve the customers who come to us, we need to understand what motivates the collector to collect. We also need to understand what collectors are looking for and stock our inventories accordingly.

When a dealer buys a collection, sometimes it is specialized -- early silver dollars, Bust half dollars, small cents, large cents, commemoratives, gold coins, etc. And that encompasses only United States coins; a dealer with a broad stock might also acquire gold, silver and copper coins of the world, from ancient times to the present. A wide variety of items come into a coin store or to a bourse table and often the dealer has to buy everything in order to make the deal. This is how some dealer inventories are assembled. The items may not be popular in the marketplace at the time, and since the dealer cannot hold everything waiting for the right client, he or she might choose to wholesale what is not selling, offer them in a special sale or price list, consign them to auction or, in the case of some items, take advantage of a market advance in metal prices.

However, occasionally a dealer may find and set aside a few items of interest, learn about their history, discuss them with others and before long he is a collector as well as a dealer.

Many of our coin dealing forefathers were collectors and, after specializing in a series, shared the knowledge they gained regarding varieties, die states, and other details of a series. There was Crosby, Newcomer, Boyd, Newman (when he was with B.G. Johnson), Wormser, Raymond, Merkin, Akers, Kagin, Terranova, Bowers, the Chapman brothers, Bolender, and the Stack family, to mention but a few. Many wrote reference books, some still used today, and when their collections were sold, the catalogs themselves became references. The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, the most extensive dealer-researcher-collector-accumulator collection covering most series of early Americana, eventually encompassing 21 different catalogs created by Stack’s Bowers in the early years of this century. The catalogs for these sales are now invaluable research tools, even though the collection has been dispersed. I was honored to be the lead auctioneer as each section of this incredible collection was sold.

Whether an individual starts as a collector and becomes a dealer or starts as a dealer and catches the collecting bug, the knowledge of the market and the understanding of the collector mentality are important skills for any dealer wanting to best serve his or her clients. In my next article I will talk a little bit about my own collecting interests.