Numismatics is an exciting hobby. Learning coin histories, building sets, and finding that one piece you need can be fun and rewarding. With those benefits comes a certain risk, however, and security is a top concern for many collectors and dealers around the world.
Too often we hear news of a collection stolen in a home invasion, or of a dealer being robbed while grabbing something to eat on a long drive back from a coin show. In this article we will discuss some things collectors can do to protect their investments.
When it comes to security and valuables, there are a few basic things to keep in mind. First of all, be careful with whom you share the fact that you are a collector of things considered valuable. It doesn’t take long for the neighbor to tell his son, who tells it to his criminal friend with a history of break-ins–and you can guess what the next step might be. Sharing our hobby can lead to great things, but it is best not to randomly tell people in case the risk is not worth the reward. If you’d like to discuss the hobby, join a coin club or one of the internet forums dedicated to coins, or make some contacts at a local coin show.
Another important measure is to avoid making it obvious that you are a collector who may have valuables inside your home. For this reason, if you get any kind of mail with collectibles in it, it is best to rent a P.O. box at a local post office. The cost is relatively low (the smallest size will start at about $100 per year, although the amount varies per location), and it will make it less obvious what your hobby is.
All of my purchases, including books, supplies, auction catalogs, and magazines are mailed to my P.O. box only. Even if you have known your mail carrier for 25 years and trust him or her with the keys to your house while you’re on vacation, I’d still recommend a P.O. Box, because a lot of people have access to the item in question between the time of its shipment and its delivery.
Storing a collection is another important point that requires some thinking, especially as it becomes more valuable over time. If you are a modest collector who spends $100 a month on coins, you may think that your collection is not worth all that much, but if you spend that $100 a month for 10 years you will easily have a 5-figure amount invested in your coins. Many will keep their collection hidden under the bed or behind the couch, but that is not exactly the safest place to store it. Luckily, there are other possibilities.
Personally, I think that safety deposit boxes are a great and relatively affordable option. They are very secure and you can often get them at a local bank–although when I opened mine it took a while to find a bank that had safety deposit boxes available, as they are often in high demand.
The security at a bank is very hard to replicate. My bank, for instance, requires you to go up to the counter, identify yourself, go through a locked door, and sign a form that is matched to your signature on file before being stamped with a date and time. I then enter a vault with an 8” steel door and use my key and the bank’s key (both are needed, and the bank has no duplicate of my key) to access the safety deposit box; finally, I take the box to a separate room that can be closed from the inside.
There are disadvantages to a safety deposit box as well: a bank has limited hours; you may be required to drive into town; the lighting in the little security room is often less than ideal to study coins; and sometimes it can just be plain difficult to remember what you have in the box. In my opinion, however, the pros outweigh the cons by far.
If you need to keep your collection at home, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, a large safe is not only expensive, it is also very heavy. To be effective it requires a concrete base, such as the floor of a garage, which may or may not be available. It may feel secure, but you have to wonder if it really is. While a safe can protect against break-ins with measures such as security codes, protective glass that drops down when tampered with, and even time locks, none of that is going to do you any good if you are being robbed at gunpoint. It does protect against fire (to a certain extent, depending on the quality of the safe) and it’s nice to have your collection close for study and enjoyment, but I personally advise against a home safe as a permanent storage solution.
If you do want a safe to store your collection at home, another good idea is to get a home security system. The effectiveness of this, however, can be disputed. Setting up a security system is expensive, and while it can be linked to the local sheriff’s department, many localities no longer prioritize alarms coming from private residences. The sounds and light effects may scare off a thief, but many also know that the police department will not always come out to investigate. Personally, I would not turn down a security system, as I am sure there are benefits, but I wonder if buying a “secured by” sign and putting it in the front yard would have about the same effect at a lesser price.
While the ideas above are not conclusive, and perfect security can never be achieved, such measures can go a long way toward protecting your investments. You might also consider purchasing insurance specifically for your collection, especially if it is large and valuable; we will provide more details on that in a future article.