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By Dr. R.S. "Bart" Bartanowicz, Coins Magazine
July 29, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Speaking at educational forums is one of our numismatist’s favorite activities. The passing on of information and ideas, as well as question-and-answers sessions, always open the way to new insights. In this case our numismatist had finished a session on collecting “Modern Commemorative Silver Dollars.” He was walking out the door when he was approached by one of the attendees.

“I enjoyed your presentation, particularly the part on purchasing commemorative coins that have low issues. I’m new to the hobby and your handout listing books, magazines, newspapers and websites is a big help to me.”

Our numismatist was pleased. He had seen too many beginners go on buying sprees to only become disillusioned later when they realized that they had collected without a purpose or plan.

Our numismatist was modest in his reply, saying, “I don’t want to sound corny or patronizing, but collecting coins is a journey. Like most journeys, it’s good to have a road map, or GPS, to keep you on course. As you read up on the hobby, you’re going to find lots of good information beyond the primer I delivered today.”

The newcomer asked him, “I see a lot of people walking around with what look like price lists. Is this some sort of inside information? If I start collecting modern commemoratives it sure would be helpful to have access to inside information.” Our numismatist gulped.

“That’s an interesting observation. What you see are people with price lists or market reports that you can get from any number of publications. I don’t have any inside information.

“I’m a careful buyer and I’m always looking for coins that can be purchased for a good price. Some folks do better at anticipating coin market trends than others.

“When it comes to commemorative silver dollars, I follow the mintage and the actual number of coins issued. If I like the design I’ll buy the coin and if it has a low issuance I’ll probably buy two.

“Congress currently has a mintage limit of 350,000 coins for any commemorative design. Any coins not sold by the Mint at the cutoff date are sent back to the melting pot. Great designs and low issues are the key.”

“With that said, I get my information from publications such as Numismatic News, which publishes information from the U.S. Mint. Additionally, there may be news on how a particular commemorative is selling.

“I also check the Mint’s website to see if it has any updates. Another good source would be a monthly magazine, such as Coins, which has articles on the coin hobby.

“Putting all the information from these various sources helps me decide what to buy. This can be a bit of work for a silver dollar commemorative coin that usually sells in the $40 to $50 range from the Mint. But it’s my hobby and I enjoy doing it.”

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The newcomer was still interested, saying, “Is it asking too much for you give me an example or two of some coins you did well on?”

“One coin where I got it right was the 2001 American Buffalo silver dollar. This coin resurrected James Earle Fraser’s classic Buffalo nickel design. Collectors love the Buffalo nickel and I figured they would love this coin. I was right in that they sold out quickly.

“I purchased a few of these dollars in proof at about $40 apiece. I later sold a couple of them years later for about $190 each, which was a nice profit.”

“As for the not so good, one coin where I missed the boat was the 1997 Jackie Robinson $5 gold commemorative. The numbers of issues were 24,072 in proof and 5,174 in uncirculated.

“I considered the coins too expensive. The Mint was selling them for around $200. Numismatic News had reported low demand for these coins—so there were no secrets.

“Astute collectors and dealers purchased these coins. I didn’t.

“Today the Robinson coins in proof 70 can sell for upward of more than $1,000. The uncirculated issues command prices in the $2,000 to $5,000 range. As I said, I missed the boat on that one.”

The newcomer thanked our numismatist for his time and was rewarded with another bit of advice. “Trust your instincts. But it’s always good to get the opinion of others.”

Summing the above story up, there is no surefire way of predicting what will be hot or not so hot. The best thing is to be informed, which means following the coin market and mintages, especially with the modern commemoratives.

Are you going to become immediately wealthy purchasing modern commemoratives? Coins such as the 1997-W Jackie Robinson gold $5 do come along once in awhile. For the most part it takes a good while for “moderns” to appreciate.

For me, it’s the pleasure of owning a coin that I like and if I make money when I decide to sell it that will be nice, but making money has never been my objective.

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