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PNNA Home / Officers / President / 1999

President's Message
by PNNA past president Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan photo3rd Quarter 1999 Coin Preservation

I just received a new book for my collection. It is a small volume titled "A visit to the Cabinet of the United States Mint, at Philadelphia." The book was published in 1876 before either of the Smith or Evans books came out. Several thoughts came to me as I read the very first paragraph which is titled "Historical Importance of Coin." One was the style of prose. It is much more flowery than would be used today. A quote of one sentence: "History engraven upon golden coins and medals lies hidden in tombs or buried in the bosom of mother earth, deposited here by miserly hands ages long past." I am sure today we would leave out many of the adjectives.

I was reminded that we are all just temporary custodians of what we collect. The coins and medals we collect will remain long after we are gone. Even this book has been held by many others since it's publication in 1876 and will be owned by others after me. The same is true for ninety five percent of the coins and paper money in my collection. This brings up the importance of preservation. We have a responsibility to our collections and the people who will posses them after us to take good care of them. In addition to being knowledgeable of coin values we must school ourselves on conservation. PVC had devalued and ruined many coins and mishandling has ruined paper money. Keep your collections in proper containers and in a good environment.

Keeping your collection safe from the elements destructive holders is just the beginning. It is imperative that we make provision for the disposition of our collections. In my experience both professionally as a broker and as a collector I have seen many examples where collections and valuable assets have gone for a fraction of their value because the owner did not leave either a good inventory or instructions as to disposition.

In my own case a big part of my collection is in numismatic literature. Locally there are no dealers who specialize in this area. I have instructions that should something happen to me that each part of my collection is to be disposed of by a specific specialist. The books to one dealer and the auction catalogues to another. The coins naturally to specialists in each area. If you have a top quality large cent collection you wouldn't want to sell it to a specialist in foreign gold or a specialist in numismatic literature would you?

I encourage all of you to spend some time listing out how and who is to help in disposing of your collection. The first step would be to simply attach a letter to your will telling your executor what you have in general and what dealers should be contacted or what auction firm to use. I have found that the surviving relatives or executors often have no idea how to handle a decent collection. It has happened more than once that a collection that someone has spent years assembling at great cost has gone for a fraction of its value just because it was sold too quickly or to someone who was not a specialist.

We are not afraid to spend a few dollars to buy a book telling us what our coins are worth. I encourage you to spend some time and perhaps a few dollars with your attorney to be sure you get full value for your collection. You can even leave instructions with your attorney to consult a trusted friend to advise in the proper disposition. Don't just leave it to chance.

Remember that we just have these precious pieces of history on loan! Your heirs will appreciate getting full value and the collectors to follow will appreciate that you have cared for your collection.