The ABC's of Coin Collection Storage
Written by Mike Fuljenz and Trey Cox
We just returned from a major coin show held in Milwaukee. Before attending the event, we had decided to use some of our time there researching coin storage and security issues for this month's newsletter. Inquiries from collectors looking for recommendations on coin storage options have become routine. Serious collectors know it is absolutely essential to implement a strategy to securely store a collection to protect it from loss or damage. In doing so, collectors must wrestle with the competing interests of security and access in order to find a suitable balance that best serves personal goals. At one extreme the most secure methods provide virtually failsafe protection from the risks of loss or damage, but limited access. At the other extreme, keeping a collection at home implies certain risks that the collector assumes for the sake of full-time access. To minimize those risks, home security measures that safeguard your collection, home and family require due consideration. So, with the idea for this article firmly in our minds, we hit the convention floor to further explore coin storage in an effort to determine which storage methods are truly the safest options for collectors.
Coin Storage: What To Consider First?
For the better part of three days, we chatted with dealers and collectors about security and coin storage. We heard funny stories, and some that were poignant. But, each ably illustrated fundamental truths about the importance of properly and securely storing your coin collection.
If you are going to keep your complete collection at home full-time, then it is advisable to first consider the overall safety of your home. Choose methods that adequately safeguard and preserve your collection, while also providing a safe, secure environment for your family. While security is but one coin storage consideration among others, it's critical relevance should never be ignored or casually dismissed.
Preserving Individual Coin Condition In A Collection
Preserving the condition of individual coins in a collection is a consideration some collectors still overlook, but as we were reminded, it is a strategy fraught with unanticipated peril. For the record, we would never intentionally expose a collectible coin to a risk that could deteriorate its condition. For the modern collector, a coin's condition is generally its best calling card. We are still surprised some collectors continue to only consider risk of loss when deciding how to store their collection. For some, preserving condition is of no consequence. With coins that are primarily valuable for their metals content, as with bags of 90% junk silver, condition may not really matter. However, taking appropriate steps to preserve condition many times works in the collector's favor.
Which coins should be individually preserved? In general, a raw coin with a numismatic value of more than a few hundred dollars should, in most cases, be individually protected and encapsulated in a plastic holder. It is not wise to throw it loosely into the proverbial shoebox with other loose raw coins where it is exposed to potential damage over time. It should not be buried in the backyard and exposed to the elements, or hidden in odd places where it could be forgotten, accidentally damaged or unwittingly spent by a hungry teenager. Such a coin may well be worth the additional nominal cost of certified grading and authentication, as provided by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation [NGC], among others. The nominal certification cost includes sonically sealing the coin in an individual, tamper evident protective holder to preserve its condition. This is the ideal method for coins whose numismatic value far outweighs the nominal certification cost.
What about the cost of storage supplies? With larger collections, where quality and preservation are important, the cost of storage supplies can be meaningful. For coins that may not warrant certification, but a re still worth preserving, “press” or “screw” together plastic holders are adequate protection and cost less than certification. Where coin quantity exceeds quality, there are other cost efficient options, like coin flips, cardboard holders or plastic coin tubes. The most common coin flips are made from polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC. In general, the harder the flip the better, but some harder mylar flips or slides can scratch a coin if not opened carefully. On the other end, soft PVC flips or holders can chemically damage some coins, in particular those with silver, copper or nickel content. Collectors should also be aware that many a coin has been “staple scratched” while being removed from 2X2 cardboard holder. Always remove all staples before removing your coins.
How permanent is the coin in your collection? How you should preserve a coin sometimes depends on how “permanent” the coin is in your collection. Is it likely to be permanent in your collection? Or, would you sell it if you acquired a better specimen? If it's permanent, then certification or high-grade plastic holders might be warranted. On the other hand, if the coin is only “filling a hole” temporarily, then lower cost solutions, such as coin flips or cardboard holders, might be more appropriate.
Securing The Collection From Risk Of Loss
After suitably resolving condition preservation issues, a collector is then ready to consider the best method of securing the collection from risk of loss. The options range from banks and safety deposit boxes to in home safes and hiding or burying. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and the collector must assess risks and costs to choose the method most compatible with personal goals.
Bank Vault or Safety Deposit Boxes: While bank and safe deposit boxes have generally been the safest way to securely store a collection and protect it from risk of loss or damage, they generally only provided limited access. Choose a safe deposit big enough to comfortably fit your collection. For collectors who choose this method, the safety of their family and valuables take precedence over the need to have full-time access to the collection. There are additional ongoing expenses, which could be meaningful depending on the collection's size. Not every collection warrants such additional expense. For collectors who like to have full-time access to their coins, the limited hours access of banks and private depositories is a deterrent. Still, for many collectors, bank vaults or safety deposit boxes provide the security and peace of mind that is most important to them for their expensive collectibles.
In Home Safe Storage: For collectors who like to keep their coins close, if the collection is of significant value, if the collection is of significant value, then it is advisable to build in or acquire an in home safe. Always get expert advice when considering an in home safe purchase. The two main considerations are safe size and fire rating. Regarding safe size, the larger it is, the less likely it will be carried away, which increases the safety of the coins stored inside. Also consider the safe's fire rating. Generally, the higher a fire rating, the safer your coins from fire damage. While most in home safes may not actually burn, they will get superheated inside if consumed in flames. In such instances, the plastic certified holders could melt and expose the coins themselves to damage. It is also advisable to install a monitored security system as an extra measure of home security. Also, collectors who live in high humidity areas should consider installing climate control systems or using desiccants as extra measures of coin preservation.
Burying Coins in the Ground: Over time, burying coins to keep them safe has been a persistent practice, although not really advisable today. In ancient history, many societies buried their coins and valuables in the ground to secure them from being stolen by invading armies. In the age of the pirates, the proverbial buried treasure chest of silver and gold booty is a virtual cliché, but nonetheless grounded in the pirate's reality. Even today, many collectors bury their coins, sometimes to their detriment. Some have buried their coins inside PVC pipe. This is rarely, if ever, a good idea. One collector we know seriously damaged the condition of his coins, because an unseen crack in the PVC began to leak and exposed the coins to the elements. Additional risks, like unforeseen memory loss, changing natural landscapes or even unexpected death, could potentially expose the buried collection to being lost forever.
Hiding Coins In Odd Places: Like burying coins, hiding coins in odd places is not generally recommended. Doing so can expose the coins to unanticipated risks that could lead to loss or damage. Despite the risks, if thoughtfully used, it is potentially useful to deter or distract would be burglars. For example, burglars generally know that most valuables are hidden in the master bedroom or home office, so they tend to look there first. So, hiding non-valuable collectibles in the “usual” places as decoys could prevent the loss of your most valuable collectibles, which were hidden in unsuspecting places. For example, hiding in plain sight a small portable safe filled with nothing of value, or placing coin albums filled with pocket change on a bookshelf in plain view, could potentially distract a burglar from looking for the more valuable items. Still, the risks for hiding coins in odd places are likely greater as it potentially exposes the coins to unanticipated risks. For example, we know one collector who stored his valuable coins inside a toolbox in his garage thinking a thief would never look there. However, one day, he accidentally spilled gasoline in the toolbox and irreparably damaged his coins. Likewise a farmer hid his coins in cloth bank bags underneath the chicken coop, which certainly deterred robbers from looking there. However, the farmer did not anticipate the long-term damage done to the coins from being exposed to the constant excretory functions of the chickens above.
Preserving & Securing Your Coin Collection
Collectors should always choose security strategies that allow them the greatest degree of personal enjoyment and the ability to securely preserve the condition of their collections. Before taking any action, collectors should first consult with reliable security experts for an assessment of your personal goals and needs. In the meantime, here are some insider tips to consider in achieving success.
- Climate Control: Exposure to extreme climate conditions of all types can potentially damage coins. For example, humidity, prevalent in Florida but not Arizona, is a risk to coins with silver, copper or nickel content, as well as to Proof sets. Installing climate control systems to moderate extremes and storing desiccants with the collection is advisable.
- Home Security Systems: If you store your collection at home, you should install a monitored home security system. This is the very heart of any home security strategy.
- In Home Safes: While built in or large in home floor safes are effective deterrents to theft, safes also provide additional protection against damage from fire or natural disasters. Buy a safe that has a fire rating that affords adequate protection to the safe's contents.
- Employ Deterrent Practices and Decoys: A timed lighting system is a great deterrent because it gives the impression you are home, even if you're not. Also, place decoy items around your house that appear to have value. For example, a small safe that can be carried in plain view with nothing inside could bait would be robbers into carrying away what has no value.
- Off Site Storage and Transport: You are most vulnerable to being robbed when transporting valuables between locations, such as between home and bank vault. Avoid a routine journey between locations. Mix up your routes if you transport routinely. Never transport valuables without a cell phone.
- Acquire Insurance: Most likely you will need to secure a specific “rider” to your policy to insure your collection. Many policies do not specifically cover a coin collection beyond $1,000, unless a specific “rider” is purchased and attached to the policy.
The Bottom Line Consideration: Always safeguard your coins from risk of loss or damage in a way that allows you the greatest degree of enjoyment potential, while preserving condition and providing safety for you and your family. Giving security and proper coin storage their due consideration and respect will only enhance your overall experience and insure your peace of mind.
If you would like to know more about properly securing your collection, please send an email to us and we will have a representative contact you.