Warren Buffet’s advice on collecting

After reading Sylvia Porter’s advice on collecting, a reader informed me about an online article (here) with Warren Buffet’s advice on collecting coins. Buffet’s wisdom is of course also applicable to the collecting of any other kind of art. In 1998 and 1990, the author of the article, Scott Tilson (a coin collector) and Jim Halperin (the chairman of Heritage Auctions) even paid $20,000 to have lunch with Mr. Buffett. Here’s what Buffet has repeatedly said publicly, and to Scott Tilson personally, about what it takes to succeed in any market and how Tilson applied it to today’s rare coin market:

1. Specialize. Define your circle of competence and collect inside it.

Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades. Specialize on one or two specific areas and find out everything you can about them. Buy the book before you buy the coin.

Decades of experience and thousands of collectors have proven this to be an incontrovertible law for success. In fact, I have yet to hear or read about even a single collector who has successfully neglected this rule.

The bottom line is that the more educated you are, the more successful you will be — no exceptions!

2. Buy the very best quality coins you can . It’s better to buy a great coin at a fair price than a fair coin at a great price.

It’s critical to understand that sophisticated collectors always want the very best and remain ready, willing and able to act quickly when opportunity presents itself. These collectors understand that the opportunity to acquire a rarity is often rarer than the collectible itself! For these savvy folks, price is secondary, quality comes first.

Successful collectors understand that museum quality will always be highly sought after and become increasingly desirable while run-of-the- mill quality will never rise above boring and un-exciting.

Successful collectors understand that years from now it will be an insignificant fact that they “stretched” an extra 20 – 30% to add something special to their collection. Successful collectors aspire to locate rarities today that will be impossible to locate at virtually any price tomorrow. In fact, if you’re not prepared to “stretch” for the very best, you won’t be the person who ends up with a world class collection. The spoils will simply go to someone else.

David Queller, one of the most successful coin collectors of this era recently stated in an online interview that “the best, most expensive coins always wind up being the cheapest in the long run.”

3. Buy for the long term…with the idea of holding forever.

The best rare coins are just that…really rare and extremely difficult to find. It also takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to track down the really top tier material.

You must realize that what you sell today could very well be impossible to replace at any price tomorrow. When you buy the best it just keeps getting better. So think long term, every successful collector I have ever heard about has religiously embraced this strategy.

4. Patience is critical. Wait for the perfect pitch, right down the middle of the plate.

This one’s going to be tough for you to follow because it involves fighting human nature. I urge you to resist the temptation to rush out and acquire items that are inferior in quality and desirability. It’s easy to place funds in second tier material because these items are always readily available. Simply don’t do it, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot.

5. When the opportunity presents itself, act quickly and seize the day.

It’s not enough to simply indentify an opportunity. It’s more important … far more important … to decisively act on rare opportunities and exploit them to their fullest potential. Every long time collector can quickly rattle off the “coins that got away” …coins that they were offered and passed on… usually because of price. After you have done your homework have confidence in your judgment and do everything in your power to seal the deal.

6. Work only with Dealers you like and trust.

Coin collecting is a wonderful hobby and pursuit that should bring you pleasure and respite from the world’s everyday pressures and hassles. Make sure that the dealer you choose to work with is adding enjoyment to your life, not a barrage of annoying phone calls and hype.

I believe that the dealer(s) you choose to do business with will be the single most important decision you make. Find someone you trust that has an excellent reputation.

I like dealers that are interested in educating me …not just selling me stuff. Make sure your dealer offers full transparency and offers you the latest tools and technology available in the marketplace.

Don’t be afraid to ask for references ..and then be fastidious in following them up. Find a dealer that stands behind the coins they sell before, during and after the sale.

In return, show loyalty to your dealer and do your part to build a strong relationship. Savvy collectors know that the most loyal customers are the ones that get called first when the most coveted material surfaces. Do everything you can to be that person.

Just replace ‘coin’ by ‘African art’ and you have some great advice.