By Tom Bilotta
One of the greatest challenges faced by the typical numismatist is keeping track of his or her collection. A typical coin collection often consists of thousands of individual items of many different types.
There may be coins of great individual value in certified coin holders, many individual pieces of moderate value in albums, certified holders, or flips and also bulk coins in boxes or tubes. Collections are typically acquired over many years, during which the collector is unable to apply sufficient time to maintain a comprehensive inventory.
As a result, many collectors do not have a comprehensive up to date catalog of their collection. Lack of an up to date inventory results in several significant problems. Without a detailed inventory, it is impossible to assure that a collection is properly insured (adequately covered at an optimal expense). It is also
impossible to assure that items are properly protected from theft as well as potential environmental damage. Lack of a current inventory may result in the unnecessary purchase of duplicate items as well as a lack of certainty regarding financial resources associated with a collection.
These problems are greatly magnified when collectors pass on their collections to heirs who are further disadvantaged by lacking adequate knowledge to handle the collection properly.
A well-designed record-keeping strategy should enable a collector to simply answer the following questions:
• What is my collection worth?
• Is my collection properly insured?
• Is my collection adequately protected?
• Is a particular coin in my collection?
• Where is a particular coin?
• What coins am I interested in acquiring?
• What coins in my collection would I like to trade or sell?
• What are the most effective means to sell each part of my collection?
• What is my profit/loss on the sale of some of my coin(s)?
• Are there any items in my collection of particular significance to my family?
Fortunately, modern coin inventory software provides an effective solution to this problem. Well-designed coin inventory software provides efficiency to the cataloging of a collection, estimates values, generates an array of reports intended to address a wide variety of needs, helps facilitate coin collecting objectives, and also provides essential guidance to heirs.
In this article, I will review some of the basic features needed to meet proper record-keeping requirements as well as developing a strategy if time is a concern.
Approaches to Cataloging A Collection
Some collectors enjoy the process of recording his or her collection and are willing to spend as much time as it takes. Others find the effort of cataloging to be burdensome and would like to spend less time on the task. The approach one selects should be considerate of time and not unnecessarily cause a collector to spend countless hours performing tasks that are not seen as enjoyable.
Often, much of the time expended in record-keeping is unnecessary and can be greatly diminished by incorporating various elements into a strategy.
Avoid detailed cataloging of low-value items. If you have hundreds of Indian Head cents of very low grades, most of which are worth a few dollars or less, it is certainly not worth the effort to record detailed information about each coin. One effective strategy would be to search the coins for the few key dates and record the remaining coins as a bulk lot with an average value.
The same strategy can be taken for common coins of mid-range value such as common date Morgan dollars at grades that place their value at less than $100 per coin. One could take the time to record each coin individually, including cost, certification ID number, and purchase history, but a lot of time could be saved by combining entries.
Coins that are worth bullion value could also be recorded in a few lots based on metal content with an average per-ounce cost to facilitate profit calculations.
Collectors will want to spend record keeping time focused on those coins that bear the highest value or other significance to a collection. Usually, the number of such coins is a relatively small portion of a collection and can be cataloged with a modest effort.
If the process of cataloging a collection is to be a “labor of love,” one may choose to spend much more time recording everything known about each coin. As long as the process is enjoyable, one should do whatever works for them. Even in these instances, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that there should be sufficient information provided to heirs to focus attention on those portions of the collection where the greatest value is concentrated.
Many collectors spend many years assembling collections of great value, which they leave to heirs. Often there is little interest or knowledge among the heirs about collections. With this being the case, sometimes they take the action of liquidating the collection, earning a fraction of its worth.
Proper record-keeping can also be a beneficial tool for helping heirs. When organizing records, it is important to compile various types of information, including, but not limited to,
• Specific information on recommended sales strategies in the event heirs choose to liquidate all or part of the collection. This should include detailed information as to what types of sales venues should be employed and specific organizations to work with.
• Coins in the collection with special significance to your family should be identified.
• Provide the basics of protecting the collection, including how to handle valuable coins, to avoid causing damage.
• Information needed to identify and locate specific items in the collection.
• Some expectations of what proceeds would be received if the coins are liquidated intelligently.
Maintaining An Inventory
After taking the time to catalog a collection, it is very important to devise a strategy to keep it up to date. No matter what system is used to record a collection, it is essential to assure that it keeps pace with any changes.
For most collectors, changes occur as coins are moved to different containers or locations, and new coins are acquired. For some, it will also be necessary to keep the pace of sales or trades of existing coins. If an inventory is not maintained, at some point the effort to update will be comparable to re-cataloging and will likely be more error-prone and less enjoyable. Maintaining an inventory allows for effective management of a collection and periodically evaluating goals.
The topic and act of inventorying collections is my personal and professional passion. My firm, Carlisle Development, publishes the Coin Collector’s Assistant software, which is capable of performing all of the functions necessary to catalog a coin collection.
Online Versus Local Storage
It is possible to maintain your inventory using software running on your computer and also in online systems. Generally, local storage provides much greater security, access, and privacy.
Though some of the online systems incorporate security, hackers have been able to access online data of government and financial institutions with major investments in security, so, it’s possible online systems may not be able to adequately protect data. Local systems, on the other hand, can be set up on computers without a constant internet connection, further enhancing security.
Examining the Coin Collector’s Assistant Software
The Coin Collector’s Assistant includes a preloaded database of all United States coinage, eliminating the need for manual entry of most numismatic data. It also incorporates current market values provided by Coin World, which may be periodically updated, eliminating much of the data entry required to maintain current information.
The database is the most essential component of coin software. A complete database will provide the user with all of the information required to identify and value coins as well as the maximum amount of numismatic data. It should be current both as to coins and market values. All normal numismatic data, such as coin type, variety, date, mintmark, coinage metal, mintage, designer/engraver, weight, size, and edge should be preloaded as well as pictures of major types and varieties. It is also valuable if images of specialized coins such as commemoratives are also included.
The flexible organization of a collection is a hallmark of the Coin Collector’s Assistant. It allows users to organize a catalog in a manner consistent with how the user thinks about a collection, as well as considerate of the time one wishes to spend. It supports approaches from the detailed listing of data for each coin to more time-efficient approaches that aggregate the data from many coins into one record. The system can handle a collection of any size and supports easy reconfiguration of a catalog if needs change. It also supports maintaining information on coins that are sold as well as the information needed to track profits and provide support for tax reporting.
Figure 1 depicts the main screen of the Coin Collector’s Assistant, which allows the user to view and work with collections. Along the left is the organization of an entire collection into two collection groupings (My Collections and Albums). Each contains several focused collections. Currently, the collection named Dime-Mercury in the collection grouping Albums is open. A listing of the coins with basic information is presented and sorted by date. One coin is highlighted, and its detailed numismatic information and pictures are displayed below the listing along with a table of market values for the coin.
Having taken time to enter coins into cataloging software, it’s likely users will quickly want to view and print a collection in many different ways. Reporting is one of the primary functions available in coin collecting software. For example, a user may want to see a list of the most valuable coins, or a list of all coins graded by a certain company, or coins purchased from a particular seller. The Coin Collector’s Assistant provides an infinite array of reports that may be filtered and sorted using any of the available information fields. The columnar listings allow the user to include any information fields, assign column widths and order and other font appearance information.
Figure 2 depicts a cross collection report of all coins in the group Albums. The coins are grouped visually by Coin Type with subtotals of the value at the end of each grouping. The coins within each group are sorted in descending order of value. It would also be possible to apply a filter to determine which coins are included in the report. Any of the information fields may be used as the basis for a filter, and multiple parameters can be connected by logical operators.
Cross Collection Reporting
One of the most time-consuming aspects of keeping a catalog up to date is maintaining current coin values. User-created spreadsheets and databases require the user to manually update values periodically for hundreds or thousands of coins. The Coin Collector’s Assistant is licensed to include the full set of values available from Coin World and has updates available quarterly. A single click of a button enables a user to update all coins in all collections on receipt of updated values.
Additionally, users may generate an immediate report of coins that changed (up or down) by a specified percentage or absolute value. The Collector’s Assistant also provides some analytical valuation tools to allow users to compute an estimated liquidation value.
Coin collecting software is also often used to assist a user in keeping track of the locations of coins. Coin Collector’s Assistant has a second-level storage hierarchy and containers supported by reports that present the value and number of items at each location and/or container and can assist the user in assuring a collection is distributed, protected and insured properly.
Many collectors also require estate planning and the ultimate disposition of collections. The Coin Collector’s Assistant provides a specific tab for estate information as well as specialized reporting. Each coin may be associated with a particular heir, as well as a specified liquidation methodology and recommendations. In this way, the collector can effectively divide their collection among heirs in an equitable fashion, and also guide heirs’ in decisions to retain or liquidate coins in the future.
In addition to the basic functions, the Coin Collector’s Assistant also provides many advanced functions. The most recent enhancement allows the user to specify grade attributes, such as CAC or First Strike, and if they wish to associate a value adjustment.
A graphical analysis and presentation module may be used to present the users’ data in a variety of chart types, drawing upon selected attributes of the collections. Figure 3 illustrates a typical pie chart used to present the relative values of the components of the users’ Album grouping.
Graphical Presentation By Type
Often a significant portion of the collection is essentially bullion coinage with value based on silver and gold content. Collector’s Assistant can easily analyze and present the bullion content of an entire collection.
This allows the collector to easily understand the value of their bullion content and also may be used to facilitate its liquidation since selling coins worth bullion value is one of the easiest tasks and can be accomplished without detailed numismatic data.
Tom Bilotta, president of Carlisle Development, has been a leading contributor to the development of computer software for collectibles applications. One of his educational software programs was the first recipient of the Numismatic Literary Guild award for Best Software. He has also contributed inventorying information to the Black Book series, published by the House of Collectibles, and he recently authored the book Collecting Coins in Retirement: An Action Guide and Estate Advice for Hobbyists and Their Families, published by Whitman Publishing.