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2017 ANA Summer Seminar Wrap by Len Augsburger

Originally published on June 22 2017

The 4-day class on Liberty Seated coinage held at the ANA Summer Seminar has flown by quickly. Learning is not just for students, and it's been great as a co-instructor with Gerry Fortin and John Frost to get a "refresh" on all things Liberty Seated.  A few takeaways:

Do Not Trust Holders

The folks at the major grading services generally do a great job and provide stability to the market. That said, they are not infallible, and mistakes do happen. It is critical to train your eye to look at the coin first and then look at the holder.  This is harder to do than it sounds and requires a certain discipline. We passed one coin around the class which at first glance seemed like a choice example, and, in a grading exercise, many students ranked highly.  Unfortunately the rim had a few problems that were not prominently visible as the coin was inside a major grading service holder. Someone purchasing this piece without carefully examining it might be disappointed later. This also works in the opposite direction - sometimes an important variety can reside in a holder, unattributed.  John Frost reported and exhibited an 1844 proof dollar that originally resided in an XF40 holder.  Such cherrypicks are out there waiting to be found, and someone relying completely on the slab label won't encounter these opportunities.


Gerry's module on originality featured a few important reminders. One thing is to be cautious of coins that exhibit different colors or toning patterns on opposite sides of the coin.  This can be a sign of "work" done on one side of the coin. Certainly this can happen by natural process as well (we've all seen Morgan dollars that are brilliant on one side and toned on the other, where they were in contact with a bag for a period of time), but it's a possible red flag to keep in your mind when examining coins.  Gerry also pointed out the importance of looking at the fields of coin - quite often this is where hairlines or other signs of cleaning will be detected. Another important theme from this part of the course was that the quality (and price) of coins at the same grade level can vary widely. An instructive exercise is to look at PCGS Coin Facts for a given issue and examine coins of a particular issue and grade. The price for the individual coins will not all be the same, and one needs to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and understand the pricing differences.  In some cases the variance simply reflects the inefficient nature of the auction market, but in others the price is directly related to the originality or eye appeal of the particular coin.

Do Not Overpay for Quality

With the constant emphasis on quality, it can be tempting to overpay.  Sellers like to say things like "quality is remembered long after price is forgotten." Collectors should keep in mind that finding quality coins - original, choice specimens - is only part one of the equation. Part two is paying the right price.  This is why it is important to periodically sell duplicates - this provides important feedback and informs future purchase decisions. Also keep in mind that coins held over the short term (a couple years) are tough to sell at the original purchase price.  The fact is, it costs money to sell coins, unless you do it yourself.  Dealers can't move your coins without paying for overhead, and the market has to bear these transaction costs. All that said, carefully purchased coins held for the long term have done well, but it's important for a collectors to appreciate the realities of the market before jumping in too deeply. Selling occasionally will help prepare a collector for larger sales down the road.

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend the ANA Summer Seminar for anyone who has not attended.  Courses are offered on wide variety of topics, with the grading classes being especially popular. It is a significant time commitment (four days plus travel), but attendees almost universally report that the time invested is worth it. I think of it as a four-day coin show, expect without the buying and selling. In other words, it's a few days to get highly focused on numismatics and spend time with fellow students and instructors. The ANA does a great job of handing the logistics, which are considerable with several hundred people descending on the ANA for a few days. The ANA is situated right next to Colorado College, and the two groups work together well to provide food, housing, classrooms, and meeting space.  Side trips are available for a number of attractions including Pikes Peak and of course the Denver Mint. I hope to see all of you at a future Summer Seminar