Or: The Long Story of How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Being a Coin Collector
I decided to purchase coins and get them graded so I would better understand the market, the PCGS audience, and the lifecycle of the grading process. I felt the need to put myself into the shoes of the collectors that use the websites I now work on – how else could I improve usability for them in my role as a web developer if I never truly used what I created?
At the time, I did not consider myself a "collector," despite many movie prop replicas filling my shelves at home. Or maybe I just didn’t want to be a collector, reveling in self-importance of not needing "things" (even though I constantly purchased them) else thinking that the label made me old (my grandparents had shelves of tea cups and walls of spoons). Truth is, when there is an object we feel a connection to we no longer label it as "stuff" but instead as a treasure – blinded that we are, in fact, collecting.
Now my work cubicle is filled with enough toys (in unopened boxes, of course) that co-workers joke it looks like a store as they walk by. Perhaps this happened due to my compulsive behavioral flaws combined with working at a company built upon collecting (what was I expecting to happen, really?). While I enjoy these bits of plastic pop culture, doomed to far outlast me as some sort of legacy of trash, there is something altogether different with coins.
The history, plus the lasting quality of metal compared to other items, really draws me in. In every smashed bit of copper or silver there is a world of learning: Who designed the pattern? How many were minted? What is the country of origin? Why did they mint this denomination? And, more unique to lower-grade coins, where has it been? Circulated coins are cheaper and that brings an easy appeal to new collectors. But my unwillingness to pay enough for a Flying Eagle Cent where I can see all the feathers has led me to new stories I would have otherwise ignored: coins that had a life; coins that people used. The luster is gone, but the historical value remains.
Coins feel altogether different to own than the other junk that litters my life. It could be because I don’t feel like I own them at all. Like the hundreds of books I have purchased and few pieces of artwork I’ve brought home, coins feel both found and borrowed. It’s more of a precious library. I may have fallen into the type of coins on accident, but the individual coins are choices I made and each has a story I wish I knew more about.
I decided on Flying Eagle Cents and Shield Two Cent pieces for obvious reasons: low quantity of coins to complete a set, attractive designs, interesting mint history, and copper is cheaper than most metals as a general rule. PCGS Set Registry supplied the goal: a list of coins I would need and a place I could organize and easily share them. Later, I learned about pricing by using the PCGS Price Guide and CoinFacts websites, plus I purchased a Red Book for some light reading (haha). Eventually I realized that each of these coin sets contains a very rare and expensive year... oops!
Then I researched how the metals in these coins age and how to avoid buying cleaned coins (I have failed twice, so far). After staring at photos for a while, I took a risk, bought a handful raw from eBay, and sent them in for grading.
So, what did I buy? I am unwilling to pay for the best, but I wasn’t buying coins to be the best anyhow. I was buying them as an experience and for my own enjoyment – product testing aside. My focus became clear when I decided to collect three different sets of each coin using the title from one of my favorite movies: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The "good": nicely worn coins with attractive coloring, avoiding spots and dents. I always hope for at least Extra Fine grades (XF 40 and 45) but Very Fine (VF 20-35) is acceptable. My joys here come from correctly finding raw coins that will grade – worn, but not damaged; old, but not marred by corrosion. On the lookout for Flying Eagles with defined tail feathers; for Two Cents with shield lines visible.
See my "good" Shield Two Cent collection by visiting my digital album.
The "bad" is tougher than I expected. Being able to identify a coin and having it be a "low-ball" means the wear must be nearly everywhere except key areas (like the date), and not everyone sells these in my limited circles. I have ended up with About Good (AG3) and Fair (FR2) grades instead of my ideal Poor (PO1), but it’s interesting to try. These worn out things have been around!
Have a look at my Shield Two Cent "bad" image gallery.
Now the fun part – the "ugly" coins. How I want these coins get a "no grade" designation from PCGS is based on my personal preference: I am looking for damage, but not just any kind. Random scratches, stamped letters, corrosion, and holes generally don’t interest me unless I just "fall in love." Truly ugly to look at? Neat. Beat to hell? Interesting. Angrily slashed at? Fascinating. PCGS graders and photographers wondering what the heck (I assume)? Hilarious.
My favorite "ugly" coin so far. Have an opinion on how the one-sided damage came about? Comment at PCGS Set Registry.
Sometimes I take breaks from trying to finish my current U.S. coin sets (lack of money, time, or desire). I often get FOMO (fear of missing out), but tell myself I will find what I’m looking for when the time is right.
The search continues, which is something interesting itself... Every time I purchase a coin, I have, if I can flatter myself, added to its’ history.