In coin collecting there are countless strategies and goals a collector can strive to complete. Many have aimed to complete sets built around objectives such as the inclusion of every date, mint, variety, etc. However, here we will focus on a strategy which has developed with the rise of third-party certification: the box of 20.
A dealer friend of mine from Poland years ago was buying cases of boxes from an alternative grading service to bring with him back to Europe. When I asked him what the need for so many boxes was, his response was an interesting one. He gave away a free box along with the certified coin he sold to a collector there. The hope was that the collector would see their certified coin in a box that could hold 19 more coins and feel compelled to buy more graded coins to fill the box. The dealer realized that it was human nature that, when you see an empty space – an unfilled hole – to fill that box was a logical next step for most people.
Since the creation of coinage, coins have been collected. Until the 20th century, many collectors had what was called a coin cabinet – a small wooden cabinet with drawers, each holding a tray in which coins could be displayed. The cabinet was seen as a limiting factor, something that a collector would strive to fill each slot of as they built their collection. As the hobby of coin collecting grew throughout the 20th century, many products hit the market to give collectors new possibilities for expanding their collecting goals.
With the rise of third-party certification in the late 20th century, the preferred way for collecting and preserving one’s collection shifted to graded coins in holders – as some call them, “slabs.” With the various sizes of certified holders came boxes to store these holders, and the initial purpose of these boxes was for the shipping of these holdered coins back to their submitters. These hard plastic boxes were not sold at a premium but rather included in the submission fees and hence became common and widely available for anyone who submitted to PCGS or chose to buy them off the secondary market.
The concept of the box of 20 came from the 20 encapsulated coins that fit into a PCGS hard plastic box. From collectors sharing their collecting goals and experiences, especially through online message boards, a strategy developed among some collectors for a box-of-20 collection. Goals are different among each collector for such a 20-coin set. For some, the goal for their complete collection is simply amassing 20 coins. Others use the box of 20 as a display for the 20 best, most historic, most desired coins in their collection. Others have chosen a theme box of 20, such as coins with different shapes or 20 different compositions. There is no wrong way to collect the box of 20 strategy and with it serving as a limiter, the collector who follows this strategy will often plan out and think carefully on the development of that collection to achieve the full potential of their desire.
For other collectors, the box of 20 has become part of the liquidation of their collection. For some, when their collecting goals have gotten too large or they find themselves in a situation where it has become time to sell, they would take their 20 favorite coins as their collection and make the sometimes-painful choice to sell the rest.
As a method of collecting, the box of 20 coins leaves endless possibilities, with the only limiting factor being a set number of coins. Others have chosen the box-of-20 method and now have dozens to hundreds of boxes-of-20 collections, all within their mindset of their desired collection. For some, the box of 20 is a way to show off 20 coins to non-collectors and experienced numismatists alike, with the hopes of making the greatest impact with just those 20 coins from their collection. In the end, it is your collection, and the box-of-20 strategy is just one method to help you achieve your personal goals.