Coin collecting features virtually endless possibilities to put together sets of ancient, classic, and modern coins. Many of these sets, however, consist of dozens of different coins, and many sets include various stoppers that cost a strong premium due to their rarity. Building complete sets, even type sets, may not be feasible for all collectors. Perhaps because of this, a new way of collecting has become more popular over the past few years: the “box of 20” collecting strategy. The idea originates with PCGS and NGC storage boxes, which traditionally hold 20 spaces for certified coins. Instead of using these merely as a means of storage, some collectors have started to see such boxes as blank slates ready to be filled up by coins of their liking, instead of following predetermined sets based on date, mintmark, or type.
Personally, I’m a big fan of this collecting method. Not only does it give the collector virtually endless possibilities, it also puts a limit on the number of coins required to complete something. While there’s nothing that stops a collector from assembling multiple boxes of 20 coins, a full box of 20 coins is a nice goal to work toward without feeling that you lose focus, as can be the case with some more-traditional sets that require more than 100 coins to complete. It also gives you ultimate flexibility: instead of feeling like you are required to add a coin type that you may not like to your type set, there’s nothing to stop you from skipping that particular type for your box of 20.
Many collectors I know who have assembled such boxes of 20 coins tell me that they have several sets that they collect extensively, but that the box of 20 is something special. It’s reserved for their nicest coins, the highest grades, truly special items. Others see it as a way to assemble a varied, high-quality coin collection without breaking the bank. When they fill up their box of 20 but want to purchase a new coin, they sell one of the other coins in the box to make room for the new purchase. This keeps the box fresh and coin collecting fun, and while this may not be for everyone, I think it’s an excellent idea to collectors who prefer to stay focused on something, yet don’t want to spend decades trying to find every date and mintmark of Liberty Seated dimes (a virtually impossible task, especially in high grades).
Personally, I have not completed a dedicated box of 20, but it is definitely something I’m working toward. In the past I tried collecting specific sets, such as Lincoln wheat cents or Liberty Seated half dimes by date, but after a few years I lost focus and most of the coins started to look the same. Now, I have a single PCGS box that I add to once in a while when I find a coin that I really like, in addition to certain sets of world coins. With no specific U.S. set that I’m working on, I can purchase coins for my collection that truly appeal to me. For example, a few weeks ago, I found a common-date Walking Liberty half dollar in PCGS MS-66 at a local coin store that I really liked. In the past I would have let it go, as it wouldn’t have fit any sets that I have collected—but now, with this new box-of-20 mentality, I had no problem purchasing it, and I was able to add a nice and appealing (yet affordable) coin to my collection.
The PCGS set registry includes a special “collector showcase” section with space for collectors to display their “box of 20,” indicating that, in fact, this has become a popular collecting method. Looking at the various sets on display, we see many different collectors displaying a wide variety of items (of course, some have more than 20 coins in their box of 20, but that should not be too much of a surprise). There are collectors that have a box of 20 for each denomination, while others display their 20 favorite coins of their entire collection. There are also people who like to collect coins from a certain time period, and have put together a box of 20 coins from, say, just the time of the American Civil War. It’s a great way to display some of a collector’s favorite coins, and while not many people will stop at 20 coins, it is definitely an excellent method to keep this hobby fresh and exciting. ❑