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Coin psychology: How did your preferences change?


Salomons Cat

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The longer I collect coins, the more I notice that my perception of coins and my preferences are slowly changing:

In the very beginning, I mainly cared about the the portrait. Then, I noticed that the reverses are often more interesting - so I started looking for reverses that are either connected to historical events or aesthetically pleasing or just odd or funny. 
Our brains are highly efficient at recognizing shapes that we have already seen a few times. But most humans have a craving for new experiences from time to time. Almost nobody would listen to the same song everyday for an extended period. I think that's one reason why for an experienced collector, an ultra rare coin in bad condition can be a lot more interesting than a common one in outstanding condition. Furthermore, 'imperfect' coins can become more interesting than 'perfect' ones.

At the moment, my favorite coins are the ones that motivate me to tell an entertaining story when I look at them together with my friends. (I have some friends who are willing to listen to me for a very limited amount of time when I talk about coins.)

Many of you have a lot more experience than I do in coin collecting, so I wonder what your experiences are?

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41 minutes ago, Salomons Cat said:

The longer I collect coins, the more I notice that my perception of coins and my preferences are slowly changing:

In the very beginning, I mainly cared about the the portrait. Then, I noticed that the reverses are often more interesting - so I started looking for reverses that are either connected to historical events or aesthetically pleasing or just odd or funny. 
Our brains are highly efficient at recognizing shapes that we have already seen a few times. But most humans have a craving for new experiences from time to time. Almost nobody would listen to the same song everyday for an extended period. I think that's one reason why for an experienced collector, an ultra rare coin in bad condition can be a lot more interesting than a common one in outstanding condition. Furthermore, 'imperfect' coins can become more interesting than 'perfect' ones.

At the moment, my favorite coins are the ones that motivate me to tell an entertaining story when I look at them together with my friends. (I have some friends who are willing to listen to me for a very limited amount of time when I talk about coins.)

Many of you have a lot more experience than I do in coin collecting, so I wonder what your experiences are?

This actually describes my past and present interests very well. In the beginning, I was more focused on portraits and condition; my interest has moved (expanded?) to include interesting reverse types, rare coins, and coins that tell an interesting stories. I still appreciate a good portrait and fine condition, but it doesn't define my collection.

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Great topic for discussion, @Salomons Cat!

I know I’ve told the story many times on the coin forums about how my first ancients were a boxed collection of coins from the Holy Land that I ordered from an ad in the back of a Biblical Archeology magazine. I wasn’t shopping for coins. I was going through a difficult time in my life and I was shopping for Holy relics. 

Anyway — life got a whole lot better for me and 18 years later I’m still seeking a Biblical connection. 

 

Here are my primary collecting areas.

 

image.jpeg.c51f260f3b09d22bb705b836917dbe0b.jpeg

 

 

Edited by LONGINUS
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I don't know if my preferences do change. What changes is my perception of what I can afford and what the opportunity cost might be, and this sends me in different directions. Having said that, I do circle around my collection so that I'm not focused on the same bit all the time. I think what keeps me interested is that coins are not just lumps of metal and have history, artistry, condition etc. I don't think I could bear to collect Morgan dollars or the like, so condition and rarity on their own have never done it for me.

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I have found that my collecting preferences have gradually narrowed over time. I don't know if that's a natural progression for most collectors who have been at it for decades or if it's just me. But in all aspects of my life, I have always felt it better to know everything about a tiny little area than to know a tiny bit about everything. That's how one gets a doctoral degree, after all: in-depth focus.

I've always been a collector since early childhood -- rocks, comic books, action figures, coins, stamps, and so on. I purchased my first ancient coin back in the 1980s, when the only way I knew how to collect was by visiting brick and mortar coin stores. I live in a pretty good sized metropolitan area, but it's not New York City or Los Angeles, by any means. But we had several coin shops and a few of them had some ancient coins. I'd look through the stock and would purchase whatever caught my eye at a price I could afford, which were Greek bronzes, third and fourth century Roman imperial coins, and such. I have always liked the idea of pursuing a "set" of some kind, and as I accumulated more and more Roman imperial coins, I became a "one of each emperor" collector. I doubt my story is unique.

I discovered mailing lists and mail-bid sales in the 1990s as a means of expanding my collection beyond what was available in the brick and mortar stores. My collection grew and I started including the wives and children of the Roman emperors and Roman provincial coins into my collection, which I viewed as a more affordable and interesting pursuit than saving up for whatever expensive usurper or character in Suetonius my collection lacked. I became very interested in the women of the various dynasties, particularly the Severan and Antonine dynasties, which issued a LOT of coins honoring the Augustae in the families.

The iron curtain fell. Yugoslavia broke up. The internet was invented and along came eBay and The Celator magazine. There was a flood of inexpensive coins from the Balkans that had previously been unavailable. Fixed price dealers went online and with a few mouse clicks, the world's inventory became available. With increasing financial resources at my disposal and increased inventory available, I started buying coins depicting various emperors and their families at different ages and times, and I ended up with an ever-increasing number of coins of Nerva, Trajan, Plotina, Hadrian, Sabina, Antoninus Pius, Faustina I & II, Marcus Aurelius, Lucilla, Crispina, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Julia Maesa, etc., beyond the Tetrarchy and well into the Constantinian Dynasty.

By the year 2000, my collection outgrew the one-volume Sear RCV I had been using. I bought all 10 volumes of RIC, one by one, buying used copies on eBay and online bookstores. I bought BMCRE, too. I went in-depth in certain areas over time. I went on a Julia Domna binge. I went on a Trebonianus Gallus binge, a Julia Mamaea binge, a CONSTANTINOPOLIS and VRBS ROMA binge, and so on, all the while accumulating group lots and such as the opportunity arose. I found the challenge of completing "sets" to be a motivating factor.

I eventually focused more and more on the coinage of Faustina I and II, which was an area of interest and challenge because their coins are undated, yet through detective work, a chronology can be worked out by in-depth analysis, study, and deductive reasoning. Their coins are generally affordable and have just enough variety to keep a collector busy for years on end, but are limited enough that some semblance of "completeness" can be obtained. Completeness is an impossible goal for the men in their lives. There are simply too many coins of Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Commodus. It would be possible to specialize in Lucius Verus, whose lifespan and coinage was more limited, but who wants a thousand coins of Lucius Verus? Someone, I suppose, but not me.

And over time, I've approached "completeness" in terms of the coins available. Or have I? I am naturally a "splitter," rather than a "lumper," and can't help but consider that there are several types of the FECVNDITAS issue of Faustina II of 162 CE because of the different hairstyle her busts may feature, and whether or not she wears a stephane. So, rather than being satisfied with just one FECVNDITAS type, I have to get the denarius, sestertius and middle bronzes, each featuring the type 7 and type 9 hairstyle, with and without a stephane. Pretty soon, one type becomes nine, and the collection becomes more and more focused as I do more and more flyspecking.

It's all about "completeness" for me, and grade means little to me. I'd rather have 10 aVF denarii than 1 FDC denarius for the same $1000.

Eventually, I'll move on to something else, like Lucilla or Crispina. Or Volusian or Philip I. That's just what I do. Go in-depth for a while and then move onto some other collecting area and take another deep dive.

Edited by Roman Collector
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@LONGINUS I always like seeing your virtual coin trays. I wish I could get my coin trays that clean.

My preferences have changed somewhat, over the years. When I was a child, I collected sets and types, but most of the coins that I acquired, were for sets. Then, when I was still a child, I stopped collecting coins. Then, many years later, as an adult, I started collecting coins again. As an adult, I've been more focused on types, and less focused on sets. Over the years, the number of areas that I collect, has greatly expanded, as I've learned about more and more areas. Nowadays, I collect ancient coins, medieval coins, and modern coins (mostly before 1900 AD), from all over the world. However, as an adult, some of the coins that I've acquired, have become part of sets. My Lincoln cent collection of all dates and mints from 1909 to 2009 is definitely a set, which I started as a child and finished as an adult, to my great satisfaction and nostalgia. My collection of Roman Imperial coins could be called a "set", in a way, because I have 41 Roman Imperial coins which include 31 Roman Emperors and 2 Roman Emperors' wives. My collection of Byzantine coins could be called a "set", in a way, because I have 32 Byzantine coins which include 28 Byzantine Emperors. But, I don't have a goal of collecting every Roman Emperor, or every Byzantine Emperor. I just collect coins that are interesting to me, because of the history and the mystery, which happened to include a large number of Roman Imperial coins and Byzantine coins. This year, I have preferred coins that are less expensive, partly because I have almost all of the coins I ever wanted, and partly because I've decided to spend less money on coins.

Edited by sand
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Collecting preferences seem to vary as much as culinary and music preferences. Everyone brings their own unique history and baggage to how they accumulate objects. Everyone has their own unique constraints and limitations as well. "Experience" thus means different things to different people and there is no one particular path that will 100% distinguish an "experienced" collector from a less experienced one. I've seen indiscriminate hoarders with significant numismatic education and experience, as well as excessively picky beginners who focus on rarities or on condition rarity. There doesn't seem to be any fully established, consistent paths to follow in this hobby.

My own preferences have evolved from not picky whatsoever to excessively picky. Years ago, my goal involved buying as many coins as I possibly could without bankrupting myself. I almost did go completely broke at least once, after buying a wonderful US 3¢ silver piece. Thankfully, that happened at an early enough age that my parents would have bailed me out, but nonetheless a vital lesson learned. Back then, condition also didn't concern me as much as affordability, so I bought a number of things that I no longer really enjoy, though they made sense at the time (sort of). I just wanted "good enough" coins that fit my budget and increased the ever-growing pile. As the collection took up more and more space, and depleted more and more funds, I began to worry whether my "collection" really added up to impulsive or addictive buying. The idea that coins can have value, and that they may retain that value, can create a psychological rationalization to purchase them with fewer reservations or caution. The "investment" aspect of the hobby, which always seems to lurk beneath the surface, potentially seeps into and corrupts the act of accumulation and that confirmation bias fuels continued purchases, sometimes leading to buying with total reckless abandon. I think I was approaching that point. I bought coin after coin after coin, but then told myself "they're worth something! They're important artifacts!" which allowed the (arguably destructive) behavior to continue. At that time, my preferences summed up to "is it good enough? can I afford it? Well, then, buy it!"

After a considerable break from the hobby, and after it went online, I learned more and more about "problem coins" and realized that I had made many stupid mistakes in my past indiscriminate buying. A few of the really nice coins that I thought I had ended up being heavily cleaned and probably not even close to worth what I paid for them. I decided that, if I wanted to continue in this hobby, I needed to really educate myself about "good buys" versus "bad buys." This is where the "investment" aspect of the hobby probably, or should probably, apply to absolutely everyone, despite the often given advice to "buy only for pleasure." No one should overpay for coins. Continuing on, I read many books, went to many shows and looked at countless things online. I bought a pocket loupe, examined many coins, and learned a lot in the process. More than anything, I started posting my purchases online and asked if they looked "problematic." Though I never expected to make money off of the hobby, I started emphasizing purchases that merged enjoyment with a decent probability that they might retain an acceptable portion of their value over time. A zero tolerance for "junk" emerged simultaneously, which eliminated most of the "manufactured collectibles" from my pile. I sold a number of sets and "collectors" coins, overall at a loss. Some of them I couldn't even sell. Interest in moderns vanished almost overnight and an interest in coins with some aspect of history, or an advanced degree of historicity, increased.

Perhaps surprisingly, my historical interest in coins, my latest preference, has led to an emphasis on condition over rarity. When I hold a coin, I like to imagine a historical figure holding it, using it, or imagining what they will purchase with it. Coins in better condition likely, but not always, arguably appear closer to how the actual historical figures probably experienced them. Of course well worn coins also circulated, but the feeling of having a newly minted shiny coin, with clear details, usually gave me a thrill and probably did likewise for many people in the past. This helps me obtain that feeling of a connection with the past, though admittedly probably largely illusory. Heavily worn coins create less of this feeling for me. A similar feeling may explain why people, generation after generation, continue to pay exorbitant amounts for nostalgic items that managed to remain (organically) in their original packaging.

As for completeness or rarity, I really don't care about either anymore. Rarity always seemed too expensive to pursue, as I can't imagine paying more than $200-$500 for any non-bullion coin. My preferences now lean more towards coins that exude that historical experience or produce some kind of aesthetic experience for me that I don't think will fade over time. The formula is more intuitive than scientific or rational. It's evolved to the point that I typically know within seconds upon seeing a coin, and gauging its price, whether "that's one of them" or not. As such, I buy very few coins these days. If a coin gives me what I want for an acceptable price, I don't even care if I already have another one of that type. In short, I collect only coins that appeal to me in some personal, and somewhat ineffable, way. I have also completely stopped buying coins with the hope of impressing other collectors. That is a losing game, as someone with more resources will always come along. I hope that I'm to the point, after years in this hobby, where I'm finally collecting what I actually want to collect.

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I did a post this spring regarding the different directions in my collecting life. I did it as I realized that I have less and less time to actually study coins, keep up to date with literature, especially the new articles in the periodicals. And since the research part was my main interest I started limiting my purchasing, so much so that since 2022 I have just bought from two auctioneers.

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Interesting question, how has my collecting psychology changed over time?  The number of my purchases this year is approaching twenty, and I reviewed them with the idea of discovering how my collecting may have changed over the years.  

First, I added solidi of three new late Roman or Byzantine emperors, and bought 3 coins of emperors I already have, but the coins are varietals new to me or otherwise unusual.  Plus one Roman siliqua to pair with my imitative coins of the same emperor.  All these purchases would have been acquisitions unsurprising if I had bought them 20 or 30 years ago.  

I have 4 new Carolingian coins.  This is a relatively new interest.  Emphasis on quality which is nothing new.  These are a bit earlier than some of the French deniers I’ve bought previously, but not a great departure from previous purchases.  I expect this subcollection will slowly expand.

I’ve bought 6 late Roman bronzes in excellent condition.  A bit more proportionately than I’ve bought in years past, but they are less expensive than my usual fare, so why not?

Leaving an Eraviscan denarius - a true outlier;  an Armenian tram, peripherally related to my Crusader interest; and a Series X Wodan sceat.   This last is an upgrade, which is a bit out-of-character for me.  Usually, I will buy a new variety of coin over upgrading one already in the collection.

In sum, I would have bought any of these twenty years ago.  Of these coins, there is perhaps more emphasis on strike, quality, centering, lack of die rust, severe clipping, or other defects.  But, I was rather selective even 20 years ago so perhaps not much change on that score.   What is different is no purchase of Islamic coins, no modern coins.  I’ve become a bit more focused, but overall my psychology of collecting has not changed much.  image.jpeg.dc055973cb2ade2425f1243b1e9df7e2.jpegimage.jpeg.2c9d1d6d8f8f859061d4d9e0dc0c3cf4.jpegimage.jpeg.a087fd55d33e14511cd3fbd82d1637c9.jpegimage.jpeg.01447f196e42fa6d4d288bb59806ee9e.jpegimage.png.516887b6e21ef7ff805618b7c74d2f3c.pngimage.jpeg.4d09207a053e115ab9a5af2ec6e190e1.jpegimage.jpeg.36f81e6b5a6dc32a0d12442cf1d7ec68.jpeg

image.jpeg.0f0d71465aa9e5668d9726ac4f938e9c.jpegimage.png.ab55aa3bdfbb52a48ee46dd2b532edb1.png

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Thank you all very much! Many of these experiences seem very valuable to me. I understand a lot better now how individual each approach to coin collecting is. Honestly, I would not have imagined that.

@LONGINUS That's indeed a very beautiful collection and an attractive way to present it! The coins seem very carefully picked, all well centered, clear and fine portraits, with distinct and characteristic reverses, with similar toning... That looks like a very, very harmonous collection to me. I'm trying to achieve something similar.

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