#48 - Van Simmons - “The Rare Coin Market Can Go Up Dramatically, Quickly"

74 minutes

In Episode 48, we break new ground for The Meb Faber Show. Departing from our usual world of stocks and bonds, we welcome expert numismatist, Van Simmons. For anyone unfamiliar with the word, a “numismatist” is a rare coin collector.

We start where we usually do – with a bit of background on our guest. Van gives us a quick overview on how he got into his line of work. But it’s not long before the guys jump into the world of rare coins, with Meb asking Van to provide a general, contextual overview.

Van’s description of the world steers the conversation toward perhaps one of Van’s biggest contributions to the coin collecting community – the creation of an innovative coin grading standard. Meb believes this grading standard was huge, as “not getting screwed” is such a concern for all sorts of investors.

Next, the guys cover a few, quick questions – how has coin space evolved over the years… what were the biggest seismic changes… and which demographic Van sees as the most active in this space. But they dig deeper when the conversation turns toward international demand – specifically from China.

Van tells us how he bought two high-grade Chinese silver dollars in the late 90s. He found them in his safe two and a half years ago, and wondered what they were worth. He called an auction company and was told that he could have sold them at their last auction about four months earlier for $60-70K a coin (Van actually sold the coins some months later at a hefty price, though not quite this high). And what had Van paid for those coins? $600 for one and $900 for the other.

Meb brings the conversation back to U.S. market, asking Van if there is a most famous or most traded coin – in essence, is there a “blue chip” coin?

Van tells us one of them would be a 1907 twenty-dollar high relief (a $20 Saint Gaudens). He follows up with more color on the coin’s origin, dating back to President Roosevelt, as well as some interesting trivia on it relating to its high-relief profile. Other coins Van mentions are the 1804 Silver Dollar and the 1913 Liberty Nickel.

Next, Meb asks how a new coin investor with a long time-horizon could get started with $10K. Meb reveals this is not an academic question – he actually intends to have Van build him a portfolio with a $10K seed. Meb’s criteria are: one, spread his money around as much as possible, say, up to 5-10 coins; two, he wants to tilt toward beautiful coins; and three, Meb wants coins that have some historical significance. Van gives us his thoughts.

The guys jump around a bit before getting onto the topic of counterfeiters. Unfortunately, this can be a problem. Van tells us a story illustrating the danger before the guys discuss how to avoid getting ripped off.

This leads into the topic of common mistakes that new coin collectors make. Van tells us that the biggest mistake is buying everything. The hardest thing to do is find someone you trust who will steer you toward great pieces that will hold value.

Next, Van and Meb branch out, discussing other collectibles. There’s talk of pocket knives, Native American artifacts, baseball/basketball cards – even a great story involving Meb’s mom and a Michael Jordan rookie basketball card.

Meb asks Van as technology improves, at what point does grading become software based, with optical recognition?

Turns out, this technology has already been here – and Van was a big part of its creation. But the collecting community preferred human-graders. It’s a fascinating story you’ll want to hear.

There’s lots more in this episode: a Mickey Mantle card worth $5M… Milton Friedman (one of Van’s clients) discussing the inevitable demise of the U.S. dollar… and of course, Van’s most memorable story related to collecting. This one involves a long-lost coin that turned out to be very valuable.

What are the details? Find out in Episode 48.

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