How Did They Do It?

Posted on October 4, 2010 by

When one ponders the fabulous collections built by the Norweb family, the Garretts, Waldo Newcomer, and Louis Eliasberg, it’s only natural to ask, “How’d they do it?”

The answer: they did it just like you…one coin at a time.  But, they did it with style!

Take the case of Waldo Newcomer.  He became really serious about coin collecting in 1902, just after his father died and left him a hefty sum of money.  I don’t have my notes in front of me, but Waldo and his brother split roughly $2 or $4 million.  Picking the lower number puts $1,000,000 in Waldo’s pocket, plenty of money with which to indulge a hobby in 1902.  As a result of this sudden influx of money, and his above-average income for the time, Waldo was able to acquire such neat items as the 1907 Indian Head $20 (old Judd 1776), the 1870-S $3, a Brasher doubloon, and lots of other unique and unusual rarities.

Waldo benefitted from living during a time when coin prices were very inexpensive relative to personal income.  For instance, he purchased his 1870-CC $20 at face value!  In 1911, he paid $1,450 for the unique 1870-S $3.  Let’s say he was making $2,000 in 1911 (a healthy annual salary for the time) – that means the 1870-S $3 represented almost three-quarters of his annual income.  If the 1870-S $3 is worth $5 million today, Waldo would have to be making nearly $7 million dollars a year to keep the same ratio.  Waldo might have been the kind of talent that could earn that kind of money today, but for the rest of us, the 1870-S $3 will be forever out of reach (thankfully, it’s a permanent part of the Bass Foundation collection, so we won’t even be tempted).

Waldo was a contemporary of fellow Baltimore collector, John Work Garrett, with whom he corresponded and no doubt shared time together.  One can only imagine the two mega-collectors swapping coin stories and perhaps doing some coin-trading among themselves.

As much as modern collectors like to live vicariously through the great numismatists of the past, we can still enjoy collecting today at our own level and pace.  Building a collection is all about the journey, and we can “do it” and have just as much fun as Waldo did back when he was collecting.  There are still plenty of affordable coins, there are rarities to chase, there are fellow collectors to meet and become friends with, there is lots to learn, and there is much fun to be had.

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