A collector friend of mine asked me the other day “Who would he sell his collection to once he was ready to retire from collecting”. I gave him a less than profound answer to his question, however, that got me thinking. Like most collectors and dealers it is easy to get a large sum of money tied up in your collection or inventory. So just who will we finally sell our coins to when we stop collecting?
There are a couple of key factors that have a big influence on the answer. The first factor is general population growth. In the United States the population has doubled since 1950. That means the number of collectors has probably doubled too. That is a significant increase. In 1950 we had available from the mint a proof set, a mint set, and a few commemorative halves. Compare that to the number of numismatic products available from the US mint today. I didn’t count them all, but there are at least 20 different items you can purchase. Someone is buying all these items or the mint wouldn’t be producing them. This tells me there are a lot of collectors, beginners and advanced, picking up these coins.
Another important factor is the international market place. We sell quite a few coins each month over eBay and about ten percent of our sales are to addresses outside the US. I’m not trying to say that the international sales of C&D Coins are significant enough that it is upsetting the international flow of collectable coins. However, this tells me that most internet based dealers are also selling many coins overseas. Coins that are shipped to other countries probably aren’t coming back on the US coin market anytime soon. I see this international market coin market place spreading to more countries of the world with time. This will add many new collectors to the fold over the next decades. From what I have observed over the years, coin collecting is a fundamental human condition, not just a western society “thing”. More people with access to the coin market, via the internet, translates to more new collectors hungry for coins.
A factor that is working against the collector is that the supply of older coins is diminishing with time. This is due to damage and permanent loss, damage being the more common of the two. I personally know of more than one collection destroyed in home fires. This resulted in hundreds of coins being reduced to bullion value or blobs of metal. Another source of damage is cleaning. Many nice coins in the hands of the well meaning novice get harshly cleaned. This reduces their value and lowers the number of quality coins available. Once a coin has been cleaned, it is really hard to “unclean” a coin.
With the two factors of an increase in the number of collectors world wide and a decrease in the number of collectable older coins available, maybe the question isn’t “Who would he sell his collection to once he was ready to retire from collecting” but rather, “Can he find all the coins he wants for his collection before he retires”?