Should I Keep or Sell My Inherited Coin Collection?

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Hi Debbie,  

Thanks for your thoughtful email.  I was out of pocket all day yesterday. This is my first chance to respond.  First off, I will address the appraisal to your dad’s living trust. No problem there.

As to the question of whether to sell or hold, most of the collections – now totaling tens of millions of dollars – I have bought with American Rarities over the past 12 years have been through the heirs or beneficiaries of collectors.  The vast majority of them have not been collectors themselves, and have asked questions similar to yours regarding what to sell and what to keep as  remembrances or investments.

In my view collecting coins is a good hobby for old guys (more than 90% of coin and stamp collectors are senior men) who started with an interest in history.  As I’ve mentioned to you earlier there are currently very few numismatic collectors under the age of sixty-five. Serious collecting requires time, money and discipline.  These elements are in short supply for those whose principal daily responsibilities center around successfully raising a family.

Quite a few of the heirs I have worked with have been surprised at my advice regarding what to do with collections.  With few exceptions I’ve recommended keeping a few items as mementos and selling the rest.  Coin collecting is a hobby, and I believe  most serious collectors, like your father, are driven by passion, and not investment. 

Values on numismatics (rare coins) have fallen consistently over the past 25 years.  This trend is driven largely by demographics, as younger generations tend to have little interest in collecting.  Every year there are fewer and fewer buyers, and supplies of coins grow while the demand weakens.  It feels like a death knell for those in our industry.  I jokingly tell my friends and family that the industry is almost dead, but fortunately I’ll die first.

I have great respect for coins and serious collectors, but at the end of the day it’s a hobby and generally not a good investment.  Passive investments in equities, real estate, and even government bonds are historically better and less risky than coins.

It may sound self-serving, but I encourage you to hold back a few items that were comforting or meaningful for your dad, and sell the rest. The Illinois reproductions are a good example.  There’s very little market value, but they were meaningful to him, so a good memento for the family.  If you choose to hold onto the bulk of the collection, be prepared for shrinking values.

It’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that your dad, knowing the state of the industry and also knowing that you have interests other than in coins, fully expected you and your sister to sell.

I hope this is helpful and I’ll fully support any decisions you make going forward.  Please let me know if I can be of any future assistance.

Best regards, 

Jim Noffsinger