Unique, "EB on Breast"
1787 Brasher Doubloon from
The Gold Rush Collection
Collecting StrategiesIt is important for the beginning, as well as the advanced collector, to adhere to a defined purchase strategy when making coin acquisitions.
Choose a SetThe first decision that should be made is to choose which type of set to build (see Dahlonega Mint Sets for more detail on each type of set). For the beginning collector, a three-piece denominational type set makes a lot of sense. In this way, the aspiring collector can "get his feet wet" without much difficulty in terms of financial outlay or acquisition effort. This approach also allows the novice the chance to see the coin denominations up close, allowing him to make a better decision on where to expand in the future.
Specify an Acquisition TimeframeAn important consideration is the length of time required to achieve completion of the chosen set. Once this has been determined, the "time factor " can be used to help the collector in making decisions in other areas, such as grade range and cost. For example, if a collector decides that the set should be completed in five years, then the grade range and associated cost should be consistent with that time frame. It may be wise to consult with a knowledgeable numismatist, such as Al Adams, for guidance in this area.
Select a Grade RangeAn equally important decision that should be made is the grade range to collect. For those who have been following the maxim "always buy uncirculated" in other coin series, it is sometimes a shock to realize that "uncirculated" Dahlonega gold coins are very rare, and for some issues, virtually unattainable. For most collectors, it is necessary to adjust their sights downward in terms of grade. We feel that a reasonable goal is to choose a grade range, for example extremely fine-40 to about uncirculated-55. Coins in this grade range show virtually all of their design detail (with an allowance for the problem of weakly struck coins), with only minute differences in actual wear. Most of the variance in this grade range involves factors such as surface marks, luster, originality, coloration, and aesthetic appeal. Specifying a range also allows the collector to decide what is the best grade for a particular issue, considering factors such as cost and availability.
It would be useful at this point to establish a list of the desired grades, coin-by-coin, with more precision as to the grade desired for that coin. Using the previous example of a collector putting together an extremely fine-40 to about uncirculated-55 set of Dahlonega gold coins, for the rare and expensive 1854-D $3 gold piece, a more precise range of extremely fine-40 to 45 may be in order. Obviously, on a coin-by-coin basis, price bears heavily on the grade specified. Collectors often choose the best grade they can afford for that particular coin, or perhaps a compromise grade (where there is a large price increase for the next higher grade).
Establishing Funding RequirementsObviously, the best-laid strategy comes to nothing if one does not possess the financial resources to bring the plan to completion. It should not be that difficult to determine how much the collector can afford to spend on coin acquisitions year-by-year. This should be viewed over the total time required for completion, as available funding is apt to change over time. On the debit side, planning for the expected necessities of life should be made, such as the need for a new automobile, college for the children, a larger house, etc. On the plus side, expected increases in income, paying off of loans, sale of assets, etc. are important considerations. The point is that a master plan for funding of the desired set should be made. Most collectors will find that with advance planning, a realistic funding plan can be prepared for the acquisition of the set in the time frame specified. This funding plan will afford the collector the satisfaction of making regular, budgeted purchases.
In conjunction with preparing a funding plan, the collector should examine each coin within the set in terms of grade and cost. As previously stated, a grade range allows the collector to make "grade adjustments" on a coin-by-coin basis to be able to keep the acquisition cost within budget. Thus, with a specific grade (or very narrow grade range) for a specific coin within the set, the funding plan will have a budgeted amount for that coin.
Recommendations and StrategiesWithin the context of the previously mentioned factors, Gold Rush Gallery, based on decades of experience in the field, has the following specific recommendations and strategies which have proven to be successful.
START SLOWLY. Make sure that the above factors have been carefully considered. We strongly recommend dealing with a reputable firm, such as Gold Rush Gallery, which has a demonstrated record of fairness to their clients, a solid reputation in the coin field, and that caters to knowledgeable collectors. A good sign in the latter category is a firm that goes out of their way to educate collectors, offers good reference material for sale, and stresses the historical significance of the coins. In addition, acquire as many good reference sources as possible in order to become knowledgeable (see our Dahlonega Mint bibliography as a starting point). Finally, view as many Dahlonega coins as possible (without purchasing any), with a goal of education in mind. Coin shows and auction lot exhibitions are good venues for this activity. If this latter recommendation is followed, one will soon find out that not all "XF45s," "AU50s," (or any other grade) are of the same quality.
PURCHASE CERTIFIED COINS. Gold Rush Gallery recommends the purchase of coins by the two major grading services, Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), in that order. We have found that PCGS tends to be a bit more conservative in their grading than NGC. Certified coins do offer several advantages, including a guarantee of grade and authenticity (but not salability) by the grading service, protection that the coin has not suffered major numismatic abuse (harsh cleaning, alteration, physical damage, etc.), and physical protection of the coin from mishandling. Coins from these services do tend to be more easily sold than do uncertified coins. Part of the problem with uncertified coins is that, because the grading services have become so popular, one has to assume that an uncertified coin has been previously submitted and rejected by one of the grading services. This is not to say that uncertified coins should be rejected out-of-hand (especially when an old-time collection comes on the market), but extra care and examination for "defects" must be made.
BUY THE COIN, NOT THE HOLDER. Although we do recommend certified coins, the prudent collector should grade the coin with his own eyes. If the coin appears to be extremely fine and the holder says AU53, do not buy it unless the price is in line with what an extremely fine coin should cost.
BUY AESTHETICALLY PLEASING COINS. The problem one faces in the world of the coin bourse is that the aesthetically pleasing coins tend to be purchased, assuming the asking price isn't unreasonable, while the unattractive or overgraded coins languish in the dealer's case. Thus, one is far more apt to see marginal coins (if not downright "junk") than quality pieces. Going back to the "Start Slowly" section, viewing as many coins as possible will enable the collector to get a feel for the look of "quality." Remember that quality never goes out of style and do not confuse quality with high grade. Finally, remember that regardless of the grade on the holder, if the coin is not attractive to you now, it probably will not be a prospective buyer when you are the seller.
BUY "ORIGINAL" COINS. "Original" coins are ones that have not been cleaned or dipped, and which retain their original surfaces, usually enhanced by decades of careful storage. These can usually be identified by the rich, natural coloration (usually orange gold or a lighter green gold), often with delicate rose or russet highlights. Most seasoned collectors would vastly prefer such a coin to one that had been cleaned or dipped. Dipped coins tend to have a bright yellow appearance. If the coin is in grades below about uncirculated, the brightness tends to give the coin an unnatural appearance. To the novice (and regrettably by some of the grading services), this brightness is often mistaken for a higher grade, and thus the beginning collector unwittingly believes he has purchased a more desirable coin. Unfortunately, the "original" coins are becoming more and more scarce, much to the consternation of the coin connoisseur.
BE PATIENT. Obviously, if one has paid attention to the preceding recommendations, it is apparent that a collector must be willing to wait for the "right" coin to come along. This can be frustrating, but no great collection was ever amassed quickly (unless it was purchased intact from the previous owner, which does not happen very often).
COLLECT "SETS WITHIN A SET." Collecting "sets within a set" can mitigate the frustration factor inherent in putting together a large set. For example, if one is frustrated with the prospect of assembling a complete set of Dahlonega half eagles, why not try completing a full set of Dahlonega half eagles from the 1830s (which only consists of two coins). Next a complete set of the D-mint coins from the 1840s, consisting of ten coins without varieties, could be attempted. Another way to approach "subsets" would be, as part of the daunting goal of completing a full set of Dahlonega gold coins, to collect complete sets of the various years. For example, one might aspire to have a complete set of the Dahlonega coins minted in 1849 (which consists of three coins). In this way, the collector is able to achieve the satisfaction of completing the "subsets," and before long is well on his way to the ultimate goal.
BUY THE "SLEEPERS." After studying the Dahlonega coins issue by issue, it will become apparent that certain dates or die varieties are undervalued in relation to their rarity. The astute collector picks up the undervalued pieces early on, as time has proven that sooner or later these "sleepers" are recognized for their true rarity and the price escalates accordingly.
BUY IMPORTANT COINS. It will benefit the collector to become familiar with the rarity of the individual coins in the various grades. If in the course of building the collection, the collector has a chance to purchase a coin in a grade seldom encountered, the acquisition of the piece should be strongly considered (assuming the price, aesthetic appeal, and other factors are up to standards).
BUY THE RARE COINS FIRST. This recommendation is often made to collectors, with some justification. The fact remains that the rare coins tend to be more elusive, and over time the price often tends to outpace the more common issues. The "down side" is that the cost will be more than for a common issue, and collectors often don't have as much money budgeted for the initial years of the funding plan.
BUY COINS FROM ILLUSTRIOUS COLLECTIONS. We have found it advantageous to purchase, when the opportunity arises, Dahlonega pieces from famous collections. This is usually done at auction, when the collection in question comes on the market (often after the collector has passed away). These coins have generally been locked away for many years and tend to be the original, aesthetically pleasing coins mentioned above. These "fresh" coins invariably create great excitement among dealers and collectors alike. Time and time again, we have seen "pedigreed" coins achieve multiples of catalog value. Names such as Farouk, Walton, DiBello, Eliasberg, Carter, Montgomery, Norweb, Fuller, Stack, Milas, and Pittman make the pulse of a Dahlonega collector quicken. Thus, we believe that a Dahlonega collection which has a liberal sprinkling of coins from famous collectors is significantly enhanced.
HAVE FUN! Participation in numismatics is purely voluntary, and so, have fun in the process. Study the rich history of the Dahlonega Mint. Attend coin shows and auctions. Go on cross-country "coin capers" in search of that elusive piece. Buy the New Netherlands auction catalog, where John Jay Pittman purchased your 1855-D half eagle in 1957. Talk to other collectors (one might even be forgiven for bragging about his latest acquisition). They call it the hobby of kings for a reason!