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Enabling a Broader Collecting Community: The Case for Selling Liberty Seated Coinage Duplicates

Originally published on July 25 2017

The recent sales of Under Construction Seated dimes, Saw Mill Run Seated quarters, Seal Beach Seated halves and Grey Soldier Seated die varieties, typically brings strong demand by a wide range of collectors in the GFRC community. In many cases, there are multiple orders for coins from these named collections.

While enjoying a health walk on Sunday, I pondered the present marketplace for Liberty Seated coins and the potential impact on growing Liberty Seated Collector Club (LSCC) membership levels. LSCC membership has been consistently at 650 for the past several years. Though the LSCC leadership team continues outreach efforts, the club size remains constant. Why? One of the reasons, I surmised, is the limited availability of quality Seated coins in the marketplace. There are more Liberty Seated collectors striving to build quality sets than there are surviving examples to populate those sets. This fact that Liberty Seated coinage supply is limiting the size of the collector community became evident during the past several months.

Let's look at Morgan dollars, Indian Cents and Buffalo Nickels. These designs and denominations drive a huge amount of the overall numismatic marketplace with collectors numbering in the thousands. One visit to a coin show will reinforce this point as these coins are available from most dealers. The key date 1893-S Morgan has a mintage of 100,000 and is not a rare coin as 10-20 will be easily seen at the Denver ANA, maybe more. But walk the Denver ANA bourse and try to find key and semi-key date Liberty Seated coins in Very Fine through AU grades. This challenge will be substantial with only two to three specialty dealers being potential sources and the balance of the bourse being a long arduous search.

This thought process leads me to believe that Liberty Seated coinage supply must increase to enable a growth in the number of collectors of individual series. The issue is most acute for Seated quarters, halves and dollars with half dimes still attempting to garner respect and Seated dimes date and mintmarks being in a reasonable demand and supply balance. Die varieties are a completely different story for Seated dimes as popularity continues to increase.

Where are all the quality Liberty Seated coins? Obviously, they are in collector hands. Let's examine that situation further based on my personal experience of building a 1,600 piece Seated dime die variety reference set.

Collectors go through a learning process when engaging a new collecting objective. They dabble and buy some initial pieces to learn the series. Then come the books or other information sources followed by more purchases towards a collecting goal. With time, collectors transition from being novices to advanced collectors and upgrading takes place. The number of coins in the collection continues to increase. Duplicates begin to pile up with some hesitation on how to divest these coins without losing money against purchase prices. Collectors must also admit their early mistakes. Some collectors are so in love with their coins that it breaks their heart to contemplate selling their duplicates.

Die variety collecting further exacerbates the market supply situation as die variety collectors may own five to ten or more quality examples of a certain date. This takes a substantial toll on the available supply.

Key and semi-key date hoarding is yet another issue as certain individuals attempt to corner the market for certain dates and drive prices upward. Most individuals who attempt this strategy fail to recognize how to release their accumulations without impacting new higher pricing levels.

Conclusion? To enable the next generations of collectors, the marketplace must have a stable supply of quality coins. The larger the supply, the higher the confidence that a collector can select a Liberty Seated denomination and feel secure that a date and mintmark set can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Collectors must remain active with their hobby else they will lose interest and move on to a "more collectible" series. If collectors take valuable time out of a business schedule to attend coin shows and walk away with few purchases, then their excitement for the hobby wanes.

To enable a vibrant marketplace for Liberty Seated coinage, advanced collectors should actively sell their duplicates to allow less experienced collectors to access and expand their own collections. The movement of quality duplicates from advanced to less experienced collectors is a critical process to ensure a healthy market and hobby. Advanced collectors should be thinking long term as to who will be available to purchase their prized collections when the time does come to divest. If advanced collectors starve the marketplace by holding back duplicates, then the available number of collectors to purchase their high grade specimens has been limited. It is in the best interest of advanced collectors to nurture the formation of a healthy collector base to absorb their high end collections when the time comes.

Customer Feedback

As expected, a substantial amount of feedback arrived concerning yesterday's editorial on selling Liberty Seated coinage duplicates. To be honest, I recognized this editorial could have made certain LSCC club members uncomfortable. Building huge reference collections is a life long pursuit and the thought of breaking up and selling this accomplishment could be unfathomable for some. But I do believe there is a cause and effect relationship between supply that enables collector demand and felt a need to point out this observation.

For the record, when the term next generation collector is employed for Liberty Seated coinage in the Blog or in the Gobrecht Journal's President Message, I am not referring to Young Numismatists. Next generation collectors for Seated coinage are typically those in their 30s and 40s who have amassed sufficient disposable income to be able to collect a more complex and historical numismatic series rather than moderns.

Ok, here comes the feedback. We start with the Tenafly Collection commentary.

Good morning Gerry,
Great take on the Liberty Seated collecting community and methods. The less of a certain series, the less collectors. CoinFacts proves this with their "rarity and survival estimates" numbers. For example, the 1861-S quarter shows "60" survivors; this may or may not be correct, but I suspect that the actual number is not much more than 200. This is the case for many Liberty Seated coins. For the 1884-CC Morgan Dollar, the "survival" rate per CoinFacts is 980,000 which is only an estimate and of course most of those appeared thanks to our government's "hoarding" in obscure vaults, etc. These are typical numbers for Morgans, Buffaloes, Indian Cents, etc. As said the ONLY way to create demand for Liberty Seated coins is to make them available, which is easier said than done since so few trusted Liberty Seated dealers exist. Who wants to "lose money" while paying a soon to be 20% (20%!) to certain auction houses. I believe the Liberty Seated Collector Club membership numbers will stay around 650 or so based on coin availability. So, Liberty Seated coin turnaround is vital to the continuation of the Liberty Seated series' collecting. Personally, I've always liked the Liberty Seated series - the history lessons are endless. And yes, history DOES repeat itself, always.

A GFRC customer attempting an advanced Liberty Seated half dollar collection wrote...

Hello Gerry,
Thank you for the blog this morning. While I am still very early in the collecting game, I can see the collecting tunnel getting more narrow as I wander further down the road. I am monitoring all digital market places and the AU Liberty Seated Halves are pretty tough...much easier to find MS or Proof LS Halves.

Another GFRC customer explored the editorial from a different perspective...

Hi Gerry-
Your writing this morning gets the blue ribbon in my book- just jumps off the page! Those are the ways that I was trained to think about things as a Sociology major back at Penn State in the late '70s. PA. is known as a 'Commonwealth' - a fine concept from colonial days that conveys the idea that we're all in the same boat.

Of course things have changed since then, but numismatics is a key discipline that could bridge the chasm today between the wealthy/super wealthy and everyone else. The experience of being transported back to an earlier day by holding or seeing quality original old coins is a great feeling that can be had by all, and this can inspire us to learn more about where we come from.

So I applaud your bringing this issue to light with such eloquence.

I just returned to collecting after a 45 yr. hiatus, and while amazed by the modern sophistication, I was disappointed to learn about die variety collecting. Although I was reassured by some that there are plenty of coins out there, my initial concern was right in line with what you have just said.

There may be no way to overcome competition and ego satisfaction as the less admirable aspects of the hobby, but one can hope that the wider view - that coins are historic pieces & we are only the temporary curators- will prevail. I believe that we can get as much or more satisfaction from an amazing piece as a time machine as one might from having some numismatic trophy on the mantle.

Perhaps groups of collectors could be encouraged to put together reference die marriage collections as a collective. I have been starting out with CB10C and it seems like that could really help with the apparent bottleneck in the VF30-EF45 availability. There are practicality hurdles, but I agree with you that improvements could be made if most would agree.

Then the Ft. Lauderdale Collection consignor added the following towards end of day.

Just a follow up email with some thoughts on today's blog:

I think you're on to something with regards to the dearth of supply of Liberty Seated coinage. As we discussed at summer FUN, I walked around the bourse prior to meeting up with you. Aside from several higher end specialty dealers, the bourse was nearly empty of Liberty Seated material. Upon reflection, there are probably several trends here. As you note, there are tons of Morgans on any bourse floor, including the 'key dates'. However, both coins have a very divergent history. Tons of Morgans sat in bank vaults for years, and were by and large unnecessarily produced in large quantities. In contrast, the Seated half was often heavily circulated. Using PCGS Coinfacts, we can use a common date to easily illustrate this. The 1877 Seated Half is one of the easiest pickups, and has a comparable mintage to the 1880-S Morgan. However, in MS-63 (an arbitrary grade picked), the Morgan is almost a thousand fold more common. Of course, the price gap is not the same, due to relative differences in demand, among other things (intrinsic metal value, etc).

Beyond this, there is an obvious difference in appearance as well. Many dealers' Seated coinage selection is not only limited, it is full of coins with gouges, harsh cleanings, or other issues. Contrast this to the rows of slabbed, lustrous, and pristine Morgans at the very same tables. Is it any wonder the typical novice collector gravitates towards them? Many people like shiny things and there is nothing wrong with that. Personally, I did not latch onto Seated coinage until I learned to develop an appreciation for the history surrounding it. There are many exceptions, but for the beginning collector or one of moderate means, the most available coins are typically well circulated. With education, we realize that these coins are survivors. They have avoided careless owners, harsh cleanings, mass meltings, or simply being circulated into a slick. Once one develops an appreciation for these coins' unique character and appearances, they become a much more attractive collection goal. This is true even if completing a full date or date and mintmark set can seem out of reach. These coins have seen many historical events, and it's always fun to wonder about how they came to us.

I guess what I am saying is they need more exposure as well as more supply, and the two go hand in hand. It's no wonder people come up to your table in shows. You, along with a select other few dealers, have high grade, attractive examples to show in sufficient number. These displays make an impression on people, but they have to already go to shows to see them. Many collectors never go to shows. The LSCC has some amazing resources available online, but it's not always easy to stumble onto the site if you are a collector of a different series. How do we reach them? I'm not totally sure on that point, but I do know that new forms of media, such as instagram and facebook, could be a valuable component if they could be harnessed properly.

Wayne Homren, E-Sylum Editor, picked up on the article and will add to this Sunday's E-Sylum edition. He closes the editorial article with the following comment.

I think Gerry makes a great point. Most of us think only of the money (or free shelf space) the sale of duplicates will bring for us, but we rarely think about the next owner. We are all only the caretakers of our stuff for the next generation anyway. Do we really need to hold on to every last piece 'til our final breath? A vibrant marketplace is essential to the health of the hobby. Thin your herd, spread the wealth, and help grow the collecting ranks. -Editor

Next came commentary from a GFRC customer building an advanced set of Liberty Seated quarters. He recently purchased the Saw Mill Run 1841-O PCGS AU50 quarter.

Gerry, let me just say that I am stoked about the 1841-O quarter.

I have received more positive feedback on this single quarter than any prior. Consequently this is a segway into my thoughts concerning your blog. I certainly agree that the relinquishment of duplicates is key to the survival and growth of Liberty Seated material for present and future collectors. Without present collectors and the contribution of their duplicates, the numismatic hobby, as we know it, might sadly cease to exist. Hopefully I am not too abyssmal but I firmly agree as a clinician and collector that I must model the behavior of contributing to others, what we call in health care pro bono work. I believe the law profession does this as well.

Sadly, if those who collect decide to accumulate, be it semi-rare varieties or some other dates, a sensitive time period will pass in which those who might be receptive to collecting just won't! In essence, if I wait to sell any of my pieces until my death, then yes the pieces will be available but the personality will be absent and I can't speak from the grave.

Have an excellent evening and thanks for all that you do.

A collector discusses an ongoing shift towards strictly original coins leaving those that are cleaned or problematic as "orphan coins". I seriously doubt that problem coins will become more acceptable in the marketplace as collector sophistication grows.

Hi Gerry:
I have been ruminating over your recent blog regarding expanding interest in the seated series:

I refer to a recent article in the E-Gobrecht by Greg Johnson regarding the trend towards unmolested coins, and the market's current disinterest in cleaned coins. He further goes on to discuss how CAC may be contributing to this trend in top shelf coins.

I also considered that, according to what I have read, anecdotal evidence suggests that CAC only approves about 30% of submitted seated material. Regardless of CAC, I think we can agree that finding unmolested/damaged seated coins is a challenge, and the supply is very tight.

If we consider these two points, they prove an obstacle to expanding collector base. I admit that I contribute to this trend, as I am very fussy about cleaning. I wouldn't knowingly buy a cleaned coin, even back in the 1960's.

If these "orphan coins" that Greg Johnson wrote about became more acceptable to the marketplace again, that would certainly help matters, as most seated material has been tampered with at some point.

Another GFRC customer discusses the plight of "next generation" collectors in terms of competing activities against the numismatic hobby. He then goes on to discuss expectations for a professional society. My only comment is that the Liberty Seated Collectors Club dues of $25 do not cover the cost of printing and mailing the Gobrecht Journal. We count on Gobrecht Journal advertising revenues to make up the shortfall. All others club services are provided on a volunteer basis with members paying their own expenses.

I read your blog last night and I thought you might appreciate feedback from the "next generation" to which you refer. To first order I think your musings on the subject are completely correct. But here is some additional info from my perspective.

In the late 1980's I was a YN working on a type set and a seated dime set. I chose seated dimes because it was the most affordable non-modern set I could find. By the mid 1990's I stopped collecting because third-party grading completely changed the game. The market was bifurcating into slabbed and raw coins, and it was clear that the quality coins, serious money, and dealer interest were all moving into slabs, and raw coins became effectively flea-market material. Since slabbed coins exceeded my budget, and I did not picture myself part of the flea-market crowd, the hobby became less interesting to me and my participation declined to nothing.

About two years ago I decided to finish my childhood seated dime collection. I quickly figured out that quality raw coins were gone so I slabbed most of my childhood collection and went searching for the rest. I have three left to go and I don't particularly mind waiting for those to appear. I understand that serious collectors have invested thousands of hours into their collections. I assume most intend to pass on their great accomplishment to their children or at least to arrange orderly disposal when that time comes. Personally I have no problem with that; it is just the nature of the collector's mentality.

But I understand from the LSCC's perspective "waiting it out" is not a great option. So what to do? Well the situation is not unlike that of a number of professional societies to which I belong; societies which either experience declining membership or stagnant membership in the face of rising expenses. The fact is that most people at my stage in life (50 hour work week, preschool children, home maintenance, aging parents, etc.) have miniscule free time to take advantage of the intellectual perks offered by these societies. Actually there are four reasons I maintain these society memberships:
  1. I get a discount on conference registrations,
  2. There are awards, e.g., Society Fellow, that carry some amount of prestige,
  3. I get a discount on insurance, and
  4. The big ones provide political advocacy to support the profession's interests in Washington DC.
I don't believe LSCC offers any of these things. Please understand I'm not knocking LSCC in any way, the club is not designed for such offerings, and I'm sure it has many intellectual perks of the highest order. But from the "next generation" perspective, even if Seated Liberty coinage were in abundant supply it probably wouldn't compel me to join at this stage, or if I did join I would probably drop out after a couple years when I realized I wasn't getting much out of it. What to do? Well if a younger demographic is the goal, perhaps take the same route that many professional societies are taking: merge into larger entities that can have the resources to offer the above or other benefits.