The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 7, February 17, 2008, Article 8


[I was invited to write a book review for the February
issue of The Numismatist.  Now that the issue has been
published I'm reprinting that review here with permission.
Many thanks to Uriah Cho of Zyrus Press and Associate Editor
Jerri C. Raitz of the American Numismatic Association.

So what’s a “history and research” guy doing reviewing a
“collecting and investing” publication? Well, I rarely
come across a numismatic book that doesn’t offer something
new. And as much as I love collecting and researching my
numismatic items, I usually do so with investing in mind.
This discipline has proven profitable over the years:
proceeds from recent numismatic sales enabled the purchase
of my home and the cozy office where I’m writing this review.

There have been many coin-investing guides over the years,
although I own only a few and have read even fewer cover
to cover. If my experience is any indication, learning
just one useful tip from a coin investing book can repay
its purchase price many times. The beginning investor
should find a few good take-aways from auction cataloger
and numismatic expert Jeff Ambio’s new book, Collecting
and Investing Strategies for United States Gold Coins
(Zyrus Press, Inc.,

Ambio’s book is devoted to the regular-issue gold series
of 1795-1933, although I also expected to see gold
commemoratives, bullion pieces and patterns. The author
makes good points as he explains his decisions on the book’s
scope. He writes, “The commemorative gold coins struck from
1903-1926 have been excluded because the factors that
determine their absolute and high-grade rarity are different
from those that rule the fate of issues struck for use in
circulation or, in the case of proof gold, yearly sale to
a select group of advanced numismatists. The same can be
said for modern gold commemoratives struck beginning in 1984.”

Ambio makes another interesting point in the book’s
introduction that I hadn’t considered as a collector, but
one that is obvious to someone in his position as a dealer
and auctioneer: given the fact that consignments of gold
coins constitute the majority of value embodied within an
auction, a sale’s financial success often depends on the
number of gold coins consigned and their performance on
auction day. He adds, “If at all pos­sible, the auctioneer
will schedule gold coin lots to sell on a Friday and/or
Saturday evening to guarantee maximum exposure among dealers,
collectors, investors and, yes, future consignors.”

The opening chapter addresses “Popular Collecting and
Investing Strategies.” These really are just descriptions
of the different types of sets one might assemble, such as
short type sets, complete type sets and what Ambio calls
“advanced type sets.” The section on “complete type sets”
seems redundant, since it’s basically a recitation of the
book’s chapters.

Chapter 1 includes the book’s first genuine investing tip:
“The San Francisco Mint, in particular, offers considerable
opportunities. Many early S-mint gold coins are similar in
rarity to Charlotte, Dahlonega and Carson City Mint issues,
yet they often sell for considerably less.”

Chapter 2, “Considerations for Buying Rare U.S. Gold Coins,”
stresses another important tip for investors—studying a
large number of coins at numismatic auction-lot viewing
sessions. There is no substitute for seeing as many coins
as possible with your own eyes.

Ambio states, “There are many possible ways to find a
reputable United States coin dealer.” Suggested starting
places are the ANA and Professional Numismatists Guild
websites, but many, many dealers are listed there with no
way to rank them or winnow down the list. A cynic might
say that all such a listing could indicate about a given
dealer is “that the bum hasn’t been caught and thrown out

The real advice comes next, and it’s hardly a revelation:
“One of the most underutilized methods of finding a reputable
numismatic dealer is simply to ask other collectors and
investors for recommendations. Word-of-mouth can be a
powerful tool. Honest, knowledgeable dealers will enjoy
a good reputation among veteran buyers.”

The meat of the book is in the subsequent chapters, which
are nicely illustrated with examples of each major coin
type, courtesy of Steve Contursi and Rare Coin Wholesalers.
This book is part of what Zyrus Press calls its “Strategy
Guide Series.” In keeping  with Chapter 2’s theme, each
subsequent chapter covers strategies and key insights for
assembling the various types of coin sets.

Ambio lists the “Most Desirable Issue(s)” of each type,
“Most Desirable Grade(s)” and “Estimated Cost” for
circulated and uncirculated coins. These recommendations
are neatly highlighted in shaded “strategy boxes,” a nice
feature for ready reference and readability. Other nice
features are the price charts showing recent selling
prices for each coin type.

Specific advice and Ambio’s reasoning behind it is sprinkled
throughout the book, such as this note regarding the $1
denomination: “I believe that high-grade, attractive New
Orleans Mint gold coins are among the more underrated pieces
in numismatics. If you also subscribe to this theory, I
suggest waiting until a premium quality example becomes
available.” “Words of caution” also are highlighted and
warn readers about certain issues that often are found
particularly weakly or strongly struck, impaired by
jewelry mounts, etc.

At 343 pages, the 7 x 10-inch book is not to be devoured
in one sitting. However, with its short, but interesting,
illustrated summaries of the history and design of each
coin, the book is very readable. Ambio comes across as
quite authoritative and genuinely helpful.

I would recommend this book to any collector or investor
considering assembling sets of U.S. gold,  but suggest it
in conjunction with reading a book about grading or taking
a class on grading, which is not covered in detail here.
Collecting and Investing Strategies for United States Gold
Coins is available from the ANA MoneyMarket for $30.95
(member price) and $34.95 (nonmember) at,
or phone toll-free, 800-467-5725.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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