15 Musings From My First Coin Show :)

I recently went to my first coin show and WOW was it overwhelming! Who knew there were so many different types out there? And that SO MANY people were into this hobby? I feel like it’s one of the oldest ones around actually, maybe even the #1 or #2 hobby in the country (though I’m totally making that up, haha ;)). But speaking of old-ness, here were a bunch of things I learned from this experience:

1. People who collect coins are old

I was literally the youngest person there out of the hundreds I saw (if you don’t include the baby or my wife, both of whom are quite younger), and I’d say about 75% were at least pushing 70. Which is actually kinda cool because a) It means you can do this hobby for the rest of your life! And b) You’re surrounded by TONS of experienced coin collectors… which brings us to #2:

2. There are hundreds of years of knowledge circulating these places

The average amount of years each of the dealers have been collecting when I asked them was between 30-50. That’s a LOT. Which also made me super self-conscious because I’m like an ant to those guys, haha… On the other hand, I did feel pretty special when we started talking about website businesses here and there so I guess it kinda evened out in the end ;)

3. All the dealers were incredibly friendly!

Minus maybe one or two people who looked like they’d rather be talking with their buddies than actually helping customers. But them aside, everyone was super nice and always made a point to smile and try to engage you. Whether in hopes you bought from them or not (I may be an optimist here, but I swear they just liked talking about coins cuz it’s fun :)).

4. All the dealers were incredibly HELPFUL

They were more than willing to answer each and every one of my questions I threw at them (which were a LOT, believe me), and when they didn’t know the answer to ’em the forwarded me over to a different dealer at the show that specialized in what I was inquiring about :) Specifically, hobo nickels. One dealer talked with me for a whole 45 minutes teaching me everything from how to start a collection, to the more advanced “series” collecting, and all the way through to the importance of GRADING coins (some could be just a *tad* bit nicer than the next same coin, but could be worth hundreds or even thousands more just cuz that grade of a coin is more rare than the others)

5. Not all dealers specialize or care about all coins

When I was showing the hobo nickel I inherited from my grandma years back (the one pictured above, on the right, which is CARVED out of buffalo nickels like there on the left), some dealers told me it was probably worth a “few bucks” and then others said they’ve never even seen one before. Which is an important thing to consider if and when you ever want to sell it. Better to find the experts and enthusiasts in the field who will appreciate it (and pay top dollar) over the others who could care less!

6. Everyone will buy your silver or gold from you

If there’s one thing that was accepted across all tables, it was that anyone would trade you cash for your bullion you had there with you. Some may only pay you 94% of “spot” (the rate precious metals are worth on any given day (you can use Yahoo! Finance to show you what gold/silver/platinum/etc goes for at any given minute) or up to 96% of spot, but either way if you had metal on you they’d be happy to take them off your hands :)

7. People carry thousands of dollars in cash and coins on ’em at all times

Which is kinda freaky if you think about it, on top of being INCREDIBLY ripe for theft (which I heard many a stories on after talking with quite a few dealers there). Some of these coins and bills these collectors have can be worth upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars! For just ONE! So you can imagine a whole booth full of treasures – multiplied by like 80 booths – and you’ve got millions and millions of dollars all sitting there under one roof. Plus the cold hard cash they all have just waiting to be handed out for new purchases/trades/etc. The lesson here: Always be aware of your surroundings!

8. You can barter, trade, or sell almost anything you bring

Some things are easier to get rid of like your gold and silver and then more rarer coins in general, but most dealers will at least entertain trades or purchases even if at lower rates than you’re willing to accept. But the fact you can wheel and deal is incredibly fascinating :) And I saw all types of trades going on after spending almost 3 hours there!

9. There are a million ways to collect coins

Some people enjoy collecting a certain “type” of coin (all pennies, for example, ranging from 200 years ago until modern times – will all kinds of shapes and sizes (and value) in between), others prefer certain “grades” only (like “mint” state, or “very fine”), some like to collect all coins of a certain year like your birthday or even all years dating back X amount of decades, and then you have the hardcore ones who like to not only collect every single year/coin, but also the MINT MARKS of each of them :) Which could be 2 or 3 per coin every single year. And lastly we can’t forget about the “error” coins and other super rare ones too that go for hundreds of thousands/millions of dollars ‘cuz there are only 3 of them left on this Earth… it’s pretty wild. And a category I will decidedly NOT take on, haha… Here’s a more in-depth article on types of collecting too if you’re interested, and this Dummies Book is also super helpful. I’ve been reading it on and off for weeks.

10. We used to have some pretty funny coins back in the day :)

3-cent coins, 2-cent coins, 1/2 cent coins!, “half-dimes” (not to be confused with nickels), $1,000 bills, $100,000 bills and more. All in different shapes and sizes, and made of all kinds of different metals… At one point the currency of the day was even STAMPS!

11. And lastly, you get what you put in to these shows

Had I just shown up and looked around without opening up my mouth, I would have probably learned squat. Other than how expensive this hobby is! But because I was a chatty Cathy, and also happened to go after one of our Ocktoberfest adventures, haha, I was anything but subdued ;) I asked a million and one questions until I ran out of things to contemplate, and every minute hour I spent there was completely used to soak up more and more knowledge. 30 Mins wouldn’t have cut it.

gold coins pope vatican

Man… I didn’t realize I learned so much until actually vomiting all these words just now! haha…What an accomplishment :) And in fact, we had 4 others too that you might find rather interesting:

1. We walked away with $5,800 in cash :)

Something else we inherited from my grandma was a set of 3 gold-colored coins from a special edition Italian set of the Pope. My grandparents had lived in Italy half-a year, back and forth, for over 30+ years in retirement (my grandpa was from Italy and my grandma the US, so they had a house in both countries and split the time spent in both of them), but none of us knew of these coins were worth anything at all, or if they were even real gold or not.

Well, after talking with 4 different dealers at the show, we quickly found out they WERE! Both real gold AND valuable, haha… but only cuz of the 3+ oz. of gold they contained ;) Apparently sets like these are worth much more in pure metal than they are in collectible value these days which was just as fine to us. We shopped them around, and landed on a guy willing to pay us 96% of “spot” – even though he was one of the only people NOT friendly at the whole place. But our favorite wouldn’t budge on his % (which came out to a $200 difference) and at the end of the day my mom said, “Show me the money!” Haha… it was the only part of my grandma’s small collection she decided to keep for herself (she split up all the other coins among me and my siblings), and she had better use for the money than this box collecting dust. And $5,800 later she was one happy camper!

2. My hobo nickel is worth $250’ish!

Not the $5 quoted from the first dealer I brought it to… And while the guy offered me $150 to take it off my hands (they have to make a profit too, of course – a la Pawn Stars), he told me I should cherish it and hold on to it as it’s a beautiful specimen and has sentimental value :) So I am, and this experience cemented my love for the coin industry even more now.

3. I learned I over-estimate the grade of coins quite significantly

Even though I thought I was being conservative! But this same dealer friend above told me what to look out for more, and that once you master the grading you can then search for the better bargains out there as well as completing my own collections more well roundedly.

4. I decided on WHAT type of collection I’m going to start

And that is the “Type” way of things where I’ll be now working on getting ONE type of coin in all denominations across the entire 20th century. I found an awesome coin folder that’ll not only tell me WHICH coins I’ll need to get for this collection, but will also help keep them all in one nice and convenient place too :) I’m pretty excited about it…Then once I accomplish that mission, I’ll move back to even further centuries like the 19th and 18th! Provided I have enough money and enthusiasm to continue by that point, haha… it can certainly turn into a money suck the farther back you go.

Okay, I think that’s enough for one day :) I know not all of you are as interested in this stuff as I am, but I couldn’t help but share all this awesome news, hehe… And hopefully it inspires some of you to take another look at the world of coins too! Even if you’re not totally sold on the idea, I bet you’d at least have fun hitting up a local show and seeing what it’s all about… The community really is pretty awesome around collecting.

We’ll get back to your regularly scheduled programming again tomorrow…

UPDATE 2: I now have a coin blog! I’m officially addicted :)

PS: And even if you don’t want to collect coins at all, remember to always check your pockets in case you have old silver coins in there! They’re worth a lot more than face value these days!

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  1. Rohit @ The Money Mail November 5, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    One good thing about gold and silver coins that there is always a market for them. For other coins, you have to find the right buyer. You could potentially sell your gold coins to a jeweler as well, but i think they would probably pay you close to the same – 96% – you got for your grandmothers coins.

  2. Lance @ Money Life and More November 5, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    Grading for any time of collectible is extremely difficult. Some people will think their coins are the highest grade when in reality they’re really bad while others try to tell you everything you have is lower than you think. Is there a professional grading agency with coins like there is with cards? I think I’ve heard of one of tv once or twice.

  3. Mandy @MoneyMasterMom November 5, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    My husband inherited a coin from his father when he past away that his father cherished. Derek did a little investigating and apparently it was the equivalent to a cereal box toy. I’m kind of happy his Dad never had to hear that.

  4. Brian November 5, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    Glad you enjoyed your first coin show, too bad it is the first step in really get addicted to this hobby.

    I’m glad you chose to do a type set. I think those are the most fun and easiest to hold interest. A couple of recommendations from my experience.

    1. Choose a grade level you want to purchase. For my type set I am doing VF or better for the older coins and XF or better for some of the newer ones (I am doing a type set of all the major American coins including gold).
    2.. You probably will want to get a better holder. I recommend Dansco (Dansco Album store has good prices) or Intercept Shield (Wizard Coin supply has nice prices). They protect the coins better and allow you to see both sides which is great on some of the more beautiful coins (Walking Libtery anyone?).
    3. Take your time. Don’t just buy a coin to fill a hole in your album. Find a coin that you want to keep forever and give to little Money. It will take longer, but it is more fulfilling and avoids that buys remorse feeling.
    4. Have fun! What good is a hobby if it isn’t funny?

  5. J. Money November 5, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    @Rohit @ The Money Mail – Yup! Gold & silver are always pretty liquid if you’re willing to shave off a few % points to give them up. I haven’t tried going to a jeweler as yet, but that’s an interesting idea for sure. Maybe I’ll bring my gold coin to one of them and see what they say :) Though only for testing reasons, not ready to give that bad boy up quite yet!

    @Lance @ Money Life and More – There sure is! The two big ones that people seem to trust are PCGS and NGC, though it costs a pretty penny to GET them graded too. So only best in my opinion to do so when either you’ve got a GREAT one on your hands, or the rating number can be the difference of hundreds or thousands of dollars like in some cases with the older coins… But you’re definitely right – two people can grade a coin pretty drastically, and usually the owners of them tend to be the least conservative ;) The quality and shape of the coins are SUPER important though, so it should always be a factor when picking them up for a collection.

    @Mandy @MoneyMasterMom – Awwww, haha… At least there’s a ton of sentimental value that goes along with it now! :) And ya never know – it can always be worht a lot more down the road?

    @Brian – YES! Great tips, thank you :) And pretty awesome about your own Type goals with gold coins! That’s awesome (and PIMP!). I’ve already purchased a few coins that I have buyer’s remorse on, but luckily they were pretty cheap and I think I now have it out of my system, haha… But it’s def. a work in progress. The more I read and study the hobby, the more I seem to get better ;)

  6. Jacque November 5, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Point #1 actually throws up a red flag for me. Other than precious metal coins, the value is only there for collectibles if someone is willing to buy it. If the majority of collectors will be dying during your lifetime and the younger generations aren’t getting into the hobby, then it might be a poor financial move to invest much into a collection.

    On the other hand, if you are just doing it for the pleasure of it, then have fun!

  7. Chris November 5, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    I don’t buy collector coins. I just search through change. I collect half dollars, pennies, and nickels. Plus anything silver. My dad just recently completed his 1938-1972 book (or close to those dates). He started it when he was 8! It’s quite a fun hobby, but I don’t think I’ll ever sell anything.

  8. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager November 5, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Thanks for sharing your big take aways. Congrats on being $5k+ richer!

  9. Scott November 5, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    Glad you finally got to check out a show! I enjoyed the post because I’ve had a lot of the same observations. Starting out, it’s CRAZY to see people throwing down stacks of $100 bills for a deal as you walk by. So much money!

    A type set is a cool way to go about it. You might try for a XF(45)/AU(58) goal to get some nice detail to all your pieces while not getting crazy expensive. Collecting EVERY type also means getting an understanding of what EVERY type looks like in different conditions ;)

    Nice post!

  10. Alexa @ travelmiamor November 5, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    if it makes you feel any better, my brother collects coins and he is 21! He has been collecting for years…probably since he was 12-13.

  11. bryce November 5, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    will you sell that carved nickel?
    if so just email me
    bryceknott_4 @hotmail .com

  12. Brent Pittman November 5, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    I loved gleaning from your trip! I think I’d be interested in collecting coins. I’ve got a baggie of random coins somewhere around the house that I have no idea what they are or where they come from.

  13. peth November 5, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    It’s so nice to see you young people so passionate about something! Apathy is so widespread in today’s world that people miss the sheer joy in life. Please, continue to be so excited about your collection and encourage others to find their passion.

  14. Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy November 5, 2012 at 11:23 PM

    Glad you enjoyed your first coin show, J. Money! The significant other and I like to giggle over all the ‘old man river’ types at the coin shows we attend, but they are extremely knowledgeable.

    Also, I wanted to share my gold angel with you!! :D

    I am looking forward to hearing more of your adventures into the wondrous world of numismatics and bullion coins..

  15. J. Money November 7, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    @Jacque – HAH! In a very morbid way, you may have a point there ;) I certainly haven’t thought about it that way, haha… Though yes – it’s def. more fun than it is anything else at this moment, but who know long term yet. You’ve now got me thinking!
    @Chris – Nice! I’m working on a few modern coin books now too actually – just to get into the habit of finding and collecting/etc. All through loose change and me picking up rolls of them at the bank ;) The good thing is you can always cash them right back at any time! Haha…
    @Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager – Well I’m not $5k richer, but my parents are ;)
    @Scott – Thanks man! Glad you enjoyed it :) I take it you’re more of a natural now, eh? I think you’re right about the conditoins of all the coins too – they vary a LOT and it really is a crazy amount to take in. But one thing at a time, eh?
    @Alexa @ travelmiamor – Yes! It does :) You can tell him I think he’s a P.I.M.P!
    @bryce – Ooh la la my first selling opportunity! But nah, sorry my man – gotta keep it in the family at least for now… But I do have some other coins that I’d be up to selling ;)
    @Brent Pittman – GO FIND THEM NOW!! That’s like a treasure hunt waiting to happen, haha… I’d be over there in a heart beat to sort through them with you too ;) That’s my favorite thing about coins so far – going through my friends’/family’s coins and seeing if there’s anything juicy in them! It turns out I had a bag full of old *silver* coins from Germany my grandparents also gave me a while back. They’d been sitting in a box for years until it occured to me that the US wasn’t the only country to make coins out of silver ;)
    @peth – Hey, thanks! I def. have no problem getting excited about things and spending time on them, it’s more about not changing my mind all the time! Haha… but so far we’re going strong in the coin realm ;)
    @Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy – Ahhhhh that coin is so COOL!!! I WANT IT!!! :) And have never seen such a type either, that is dope, yo! Good for you, wow. Much better than my lame buffalo gold coin. I’m totally trading that one in later and finding something cooler in its place. And I’m liking the fancy use of “troglodyte” too, haha.. I had to Google that! ;)

  16. Charlie November 10, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    J$ – I’ve been collecting coins since 2007, and I particularly love collecting morgan dollars. And like you say it definitely can get expensive! I loved this post and love your posts about your gold eagle.

  17. J. Money November 12, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    Thanks man!! Had no idea you’re a coin guy too :) If you ever wanna chat about it let me know – I’m pretty addicted, haha… and first got hooked with Morgan dollars too. There’s actually a GREAT article on Mr. Morgan himself, and how the Morgans were designed and all, in the October edition of Coin World – you should check it out :)

  18. Jim November 28, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    One of the best parts of these types of shows, where you talk to vendors who are fellow collectors, is that they’re often very nice and most (not all) are not in the business of earning a buck at your expense. I suspect the guy who offered you $5 just didn’t know what you had (but thought it was cool), he wasn’t trying to rip you off.

  19. Michael November 28, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    This is awesome.

    When I was a kid, we used to collect coins and, to a lesser extent, stamps. There was a coin shop a few miles away (with a bowling alley next door, killer combo!) that we would bike to several times a week in the summer.

    It was just a little hole in the wall run by a retired cop. Great guy, very friendly, and he never seemed to tire of us rolling in to ogle his wares and only occasionally buy a low end coin of some sort. And he always packing heat. Nature of the beast, I suppose.

    I “specialized” in pennies and nickels and had a coin folder for each. Still have them, in fact — somewhere. Probably at my parents’ house. I should probably dig them out and share them with my kids.

  20. J. Money November 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    @Jim – For sure. They were a LOT more friendlier than I imagined, not that I was thinking they were all gonna be mean to me or anything, haha… it was just like they went out of their way to help me cuz they knew I was new! A very welcoming feeling indeed.
    @Michael – Def. a killer combo! That is awesome :) You should totally dig them up – maybe you had a few gems in there that you didn’t realize at the time? Those are always the best stories you hear… Let me know if you do!