It may be surprising to read that a life-long passion for coin collecting began with a police stakeout, armed robbery, dangerous shootout, and high-speed car chase; nevertheless, that is precisely how it all started for J. As a young man growing up in the Midwest, he had befriended an elderly couple who lived across the street, and would often look after their house when they would escape the harsh winters by going to Florida and Arizona. Many hours were spent discussing everything from politics to cars to coins to baseball, one of J's favorite subjects as well as the husband's since he was a part owner of the St. Louis Cardinals through a very large block of Anheuser Busch stock. Although J's knowledge of coins back then was limited due to the belief he would never have enough money to pursue such a hobby, he would listen intently to his neighbor's discussions on gold coins. It was this very collection that became the target of a ruthless band of thieves, resulting in the series of events aforementioned. Even after the criminals had been apprehended, and life had returned to normal, the thrill from this unique introduction to the world of numismatics remained forever.
Though his interest in coins began long before meeting the "L," together they have spent nearly half a century happily building this extraordinary collection together. Having been drawn to U.S. commemorative coins in the early 1970's after receiving a colorful brochure from a mail order company, J & L accepted the bait and purchased their very first coin. Filled with anticipation, it felt as if it were Christmas when the Oregon Trail finally arrived, which to them was the prettiest coin they had ever seen. Over the next decade, J & L began to look at the commemorative series and found it to be extremely interesting, with many beautifully designed coins. Each of the 50 type coins has its own history, packaging and method of distribution, mintage, and grade populations. In other words, this is a very diverse group of coins, some with a beautiful design.
After this 10-year period, his interest began to accelerate. “In the mid-1980s, I met Don and Helen Carmody, who specialized in commemoratives. They began teaching me about the finer points of not only the coins but also the memorabilia which consists of types of holders, mailing envelopes from the distributors, order blanks and receipts, as well as brochures or souvenirs from the event being commemorated,” said J. His goal at the time was to obtain nice coins for a future collection. He was collecting for the joy of it. Over the next 20 years, he began to purchase selectively and with a bit more confidence, especially after the establishment of the third-party grading companies such as PCGS.
By the mid-2000s, J’s goal had changed. The PCGS Set Registry had already put one set of U.S. commemoratives into the Hall of Fame. He now wished to achieve the finest set possible. He began to purchase coins with glorious toning in the highest grades he could find. In 2005, he purchased a high-quality type set which was well known in the commemorative community. These coins formed the basis of the J & L Collection. To go from collecting the 50-coin type set to the 144-coin complete mintmarks set was a huge leap. It took 13 years of searching. “I could never have done this on my own,” he said. “It was vital to have commemorative experts on my side, helping me along the way. There are three people who must be mentioned: Bill Johnson of Pahrump Coins, David Schweitz, and Larry Shepherd of Simco. They have become more than experts and coin dealers; they have become among our closest friends. Thank you to all three.”
For J, finding the Grant Star, Hawaii, Hudson, Lafayette, Lexington, Missouri, Monroe, and Sesqui in “Top Pop,” were the most difficult but he succeeded. The Grant Star, Lexington, and Monroe are the single finest graded. J & L's top five favorite coins in the set are the 1936 Cleveland, 1926 Oregon Trail, 1920 Pilgrim, 1937 Roanoke, and 1936 Wisconsin. “Picking these five was not easy. It took L and me more than an hour to settle on these. I am sure that anyone who looks at both the PCGS type sets and the 144-coin complete set will come up with a different list. I love toned coins. Each commemorative has its own way of toning. The toning, of course, comes from the sulfur and other gases given off from the different types of holders in contact with the coins over a long period of time. This is also dependent on humidity, which is why the study and collection of holders and envelopes is so important,” J stated.
Js philosophy when it comes to coin collecting is simple, but important: (1) buy the book before the coin, and (2) buy the best coin you can afford. As J remarked, “I have tried to follow these rules. There are several books currently available, one by Dave Bowers and another by Anthony Swiatek. These describe both the coin and its memorabilia. The second truism is more difficult to follow. I have many duplicates which were purchased when I thought I might never see the coin again — until a better one did come along. I’m sure this happens to everyone who is trying to build a quality set. Another saying I have heard over the years is ‘Some of the best coins I have were those for which I felt I overpaid.’ Many in my sets came with this feeling. Moon coins and the WOW factor create expensive costs as well as lucrative sales. Coins that have that WOW factor will always be wanted. Ordinary coins, or, in my opinion, white coins with no luster will always be ordinary.”
Besides the 144-coin complete set, J & L also have the following commemorative sets registered in the PCGS Registry: two type sets (ranked #1 and #2 all-time finest), Arkansas, Boone, Texas (all ranked #1), and Booker T. Washington, Oregon, and Washington-Carter (all ranked #2). In addition, the couple has also completed a Norse American Commemorative set (ranked #1).
"I believe the hobby has been helped immeasurably by three things in the last 30 years: Third party grading (PCGS), digital photos, and the Set Registry,” J stated. “Having these ten sets in the PCGS Registry has given us immense pleasure. The Registry displays the sets very well; the pictures are superb, and it introduces competition.”
Excerpts courtesy of BJ Searls - Set Registry & Special Projects Director (Collectors Universe, Inc.)