A lesson from the greatest American coin collection
Louis Eliasberg is a name largely unknown outside of numismatic circles. However, to those cognoscenti who would happily part with more than $35,000 for a 1969-S Lincoln cent with a double-die obverse, the name Eliasberg signifies one thing – perfection. For the coin collecting club uninitiated, Louis Eliasberg was the first – and likely will remain the only – man to assemble a complete collection of U.S. coins. From 1925 until his death in 1976, Eliasberg amassed every single date and mint mark for every coin ever struck in the United States of America. This impressive feat was actually completed in 1950 when he purchased an 1873-CC no arrows dime, the next 26 years until his death being spent updating the collection for higher quality substitutions.
The fruits of his labor were substantial. After Eliasberg's death, his collection was auctioned off in chunks to various buyers. The most expensive sale of a single coin from his collection was an 1804 silver dollar, bought at auction in New York for $1.815 million. All told, the Eliasberg coin auctions netted a total of more than $44 million for the Baltimore banker's estate. Now, the only place the complete Eliasberg collection can be found is in the history books, where it will go down as the gold standard in American coin collecting.
In coin collecting, specialization is key
Given Eliasberg's collection's status as the greatest accomplishment of modern numismatics, current coin collectors could stand to pick up a few tricks from the father of this American tradition. For example, specialization is key. By focusing on a specific subset of coins, the collector is setting him or herself up for success by establishing manageable goals. After all, let's face it – Eliasberg was a wealthy financier with a lot of disposable income. All told, he spent the equivalent of $100 million amassing his collection. Even if you do happen to have $100 million lying around, many key pieces of the Eliasberg collection are locked away in museums, making the goal of "collecting every coin ever made" nearly impossible. Collectors should specialize in one area that fits their budgets. For example, collecting gold coins will be more expensive than collecting every state quarter. Specialization also enables you to become an expert in your field. Research and education will prevent you from being "burned" by overzealous dealers.
In many ways, the lesson of specialization to be learned from the collection of Louis Eliasberg may seem strange, as the man himself doesn't appear to have followed it. However, if you look closer, you will notice that given his wealth at the time, specializing in only American coins was narrow enough, for he not only lived in a time when all those coins were available, but had the money to spend on them. So take this message to heart when starting your collection: specialization is paramount to success and happiness.