I am 65 years old and have been a collector since the age of 8 when I found some old medals and what are termed ”So Called Dollars”, in the attic of my grandparents home in Elmira, New York, USA. I was hooked immediately with these medals and to this day I still have them and those will be passed down to my son and hopefully to his children. At the time, there were few if any books on medals that I had access to, so my interest simply turned to examining my parents pocket change every day and going to my local banks to get rolls of coins that I could search through. It was entirely possible to find coins that were old and coins that had a value more than their face value during this time as silver coins were still being made and older coins from the late 1800’s although not seen all the time, were still in use. I collected everything I could get my hands on back then from Lincoln Cents to silver dollars. There was no specializing by me or by all my friends who collected. We simply kept everything that was old. Value was a consideration, but it was not of that much importance.
By the time I was 17-18 I had quite a valuable collection, but there was no central theme or direction that I was headed in. Through college, I bought and sold on a wholesale level at local coin shows which were quite plentiful in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There was an enormous collector base, something which would start to fade when silver was taken out of the minting process and out of circulation. I was pretty self sufficient, but a break came my way in 1974 when I was offered a full time job in a coin store. Here I am again, referring back to that time when there actually were many coin stores around. Today, there a some here and there, but not like the old days.
During this time, I sold coins to retail customers and to other dealers as well and really started to examine coins that I did not have a chance to pull from circulation. It was during this time that I began to really study the grades of a coins and how to determine the subtle differences, that today make all the difference in value.
Although I was still collecting coins of the U S, my interest in world coins intensified and I began to buy nice high quality coins of different European countries, including France and Great Britain and some countries from South America as well. Over a one year period, I bought and sold many of the coins from my collection to either buy higher quality examples or to diversify into other countries. I bought hundreds of choice uncirculated coins from any African country and again, more French in particular. Today my collections is mainly made up of select coins from different islands from around the world. My favorite piece is still a Mauritius, 25 Sous of 1822 in choice uncirculated condition. The coin is well centered, has a great deal of original mint luster, no adjustment marks, and it has a light layer of rich golden color. I have owned the coin for about 12 years. There is something about the crudeness in their striking and that it was issued for a very small island country that intrigues me. This one as far as I know is the among the finest known and it is the finest graded by PCGS.
As along time collector, I am still driven to search out these long time relics of our past and to imagine what stories they could tell if they could only speak. Who hands were they in, how did something of such age stay this nice. Who took care of them for so many years. I have often said when discussing great quality coins with either students or collectors that I deal with is that the rarest thing about many coins is that they survived in the quality they are in. In the 1840’s for example, they did not have Lucite holders or albums to protect coins, there was no PCGS or NGC etc. A coin cabinet was about the best solution for coin storage. We all know what scratches and hairline scratches can come from coins stored in those cabinets…..!!
Today, when I view other dealer inventories or if I am viewing a nice old collection, I still get excited when there is a nice original uncirculated coin from the 1930’s or 1940’s. As common as some coins are, it is the fact that someone has taken care of it for 70-80 years and here it is for me to potentially purchase or simply appraise. There is something about old coins and other antiques that has captivated me since childhood, perhaps it is simply the age, or the look of what it is, or as stated before who had this item and what was their story. Luckily for me, I grew up in a household where there was appreciation for art in all forms and a sense of history.
Over the years, my grading skills became very well known and in 1986 I was asked to be a grader at PCGS in California. I had already paid my dues by attending hundreds of coin auctions and who knows how many coin shows, so it seemed I was a great fit at PCGS. I did grade coins for them three different times for a total period of 9 years, including grading choice world coins in their office in Paris. My base knowledge ranged from early American coins to coins produced in the 50’s etc., especially those in mint state or uncirculated condition. When one is a known wholesaler of fine numismatic material, the word spreads and one ends up having to learn all areas of numismatics, not just one series.
When you view a coin and determine its grade and hence its value, you use the same mental criteria each time to arrive at the correct answer. No matter if the coin is from the US or Brazil, or China, if you are well versed in how coins are made and what they should look like when they leave the presses, the answer can be arrived at both quickly and with accuracy. Every time I go to a coin show in the US I am asked my grading opinion of this coin or that coin and with all the knowledge I have, I am glad to share.
For the past 11 years I am a volunteer co-instructor of the Advanced Grading and Problem class offered by the American Numismatic Association of Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. I have always felt that one has to give back or pay it forward and the classes offered there are the best.
Currently, I attend about a dozen national coin shows each year and about 20 local coin shows. I speak about grading at one of the shows twice each year and I set up with coins for sale at perhaps 12-15 of these shows.
These venues give me the opportunity to meet collectors or new dealers entering the business, and replenish inventory and to potentially sell items I have.
As a word of advice to new collectors....know what you are buying or collecting. One cannot look at one coin of one type and judge its merits. Look before you buy and view as many coins as you can before you make a decision. Be informed. Hone your skills, look and then look more and then look again. You will need to study and rely on your instincts. What we call “gut instinct” is of paramount importance.
Charles Browne - Numismatic Consultant
kollectbox - Numismatic Marketplace