The more you know about rare coins, the more profitable your experience will be. Of course, we all like to think we collect coins, tokens, medals and paper money for pure enjoyment. However, the fact that carefully selected numismatic items have been an excellent store of value over the years and, more likely than not, a great investment, does add another element.
Success in investment does not come automatically. Probably 90% of all modern coin buyers simply look at a coin certified by PCGS or NGC, read the grade, look up the price on a list, and make a purchase decision. Equally important or even more important aspects have to do with whether a coin is “low end” within the holder, “high end” or somewhere in between. The holder won’t tell you this, nor in most instances, will someone offering such a piece for sale. Determining this is up to you.
Beyond that, it has always been my thought that one unit of a physical coin plus one unit of history, romance, and tradition concerning the coin, can add up to three, not just two. Recently I had the chance to spend some time contemplating the Gem Mint State 1792 half disme consigned by the Cardinal Collection to our Americana sale in New York City in January. This involved reading the description of the physical attributes written by Jeff Ambio and the by-invitation history of the coin sent to us by Dr. Joel Orosz and Leonard Augsburger, authors of an award-winning book on the early Mint. To this I added from my own mind many thoughts and memories of the 1792 half disme, plus from my files an extensive iteration of auction appearances and the like. The result was easily equal to several thousand words concerning this issue, scarcely any of which had to do with grade and none with market price!
All of this other “stuff” is fascinating to me, and when you see the description in our catalog or on line of the coin in our January sale, I encourage you to read it -- for perhaps five minutes of enjoyment. How much nicer this is than simply stating the MS-68 grade and an estimated market price. There is not much romance in that. However, upon reading about it, the 1792 half disme becomes very real and, for some, an object of possession desire.
The key to learning more about coins, including selecting high-end pieces, identifying when sharp strike is important, and simply enjoying the history and romance, lies in building a library. Fortunately, the Internet age makes this very easy to do. A great place to compile your “want list” is to consult the 2013 edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins beginning on page 439. Look over the titles that seem most interesting to you, then get on the Internet and search for them. I am associated with Whitman Publishing LLC so I may be biased (but I think not) when I suggest that Whitman has a dynamic line-up of books that are not only useful for information but are also interestingly written. Some books in the Whitman listing are current and virtually necessary for a sophisticated buyer, while others are of more historical value than anything else. Although the Guide Book listing does not separate the two, generally a book published within the past generation will include much of the information from older historical texts and will be more useful.
A very nice thing about building a library is that not much cost is involved. If you budget $1,000, not much in terms of a rare coin purchase budget if you are particularly active, you can fill a bookshelf with very useful references. I guarantee that these books, if you read them, will repay their cost many times over when you use your knowledge in the marketplace.