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In a digital world filled with credit cards, electronic payments and direct deposits, you can go for days without handling actual money. But for collectors and hobbyists all over the world, there’s no substitute for cold, hard cash — coins, to be exact.
Lee Roe is the owner and operator of Hill Top Coins in Marion. He’s been in the business for 21 years, but his interest in coins started when he was young.
“I enjoyed doing it with my father,” he said. “Those are my fondest memories of coin collecting and the coin business. That was back in the late ’70s when the silver boom was going on. Then when I got out of high school, I went into the military and spent some time doing construction.
“I was cleaning out a closet one day when I found my old coin collection and decided I could get back into it.”
Flash forward to today where Roe and his wife, Marcella, buy and sell coins from their store in Marion.
“There are two sides to the business,” Roe said. “One is that we help people with estates who want to liquidate a collection. The other side of the business is that we have rare coins for sale.”
His customers come in varied ages and backgrounds. The hobby, he said, is more universal than most people know.
“It’s probably the No. 1 hobby for collecting in the U.S.,” Roe said. “One of the neat things about coin collecting that nobody realizes is that everybody does it. You go to work each week to earn a paycheck, and you collect currency — everyone does it at some level.”
Hobby coin collectors in this area, Roe said, are usually looking for one of three things when they collect coins.
“For a collector who wants to complete a collection, they would typically try to find coins by date, mint mark and by type,” Roe said. “What someone chooses to collect is strictly up to them and their interests.”
Some of the popular U.S. coins that collectors look for are state quarters and the new dollar coins.
“At our shop, we have everything from rare U.S. coins all the way down to wheat pennies,” he said. “We have something for everybody.”
The hobby has international aspects, too.
“In the United States, collectors collect by date. They want one of every year,” Roe said. “In other countries, they collect by type. They may not care what year it was made, they just want to have an example of that type of coin.”
Mint marks are another distinguishing characteristic. The current mint marks on U.S. coins are P, D, S and W for coins made at the U.S. Mints in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point.
While coin collecting can be just a hobby, others see it as an investment.
“The coin business gets a little blurry because coin collecting as a hobby is totally different than coin collecting as an investment,” Roe said. “Investment grade coins usually start at around $1,000 on up. Meanwhile, coin collectors may collect state quarters that they get from a bank. They’re both technically collecting, but one is collecting at a very different level.”
That’s where experts like Roe come into play — assisting with the buying and selling of coins and also appraising a coin’s value.
“We typically get two to five calls a day,” he said. “They maybe don’t want to sell their coins but just want an appraisal. A lot of times, we also get calls from banks or lawyers and the families of someone who has an estate to filter through.”
For his part, Roe’s coin collection has evolved over the years.
“It started out as a collection and grew into a business,” he said. “Now I collect a lot more coin-related things — like coin art — but there’s not a lot of value there. My investment-grade stuff is the business itself — the silver and the gold.”
He holds one coin especially dear — his father’s 1889 CC Morgan silver dollar.
Roe has some advice that applies to coin collecting, both as a hobby and as an investment.
“Do the research before you buy a coin,” he said. “The old saying is ‘Buy the book before the coin.’ And that really is true. You want to know what you’re getting before you buy it.”
Get to know a qualified coin dealer, he advised.
Coins can be expensive, he said, “and you really should see it in hand and have a relationship with the person you’re doing business with. Probably sometime down the road, you may want to sell what you’ve purchased, and having that relationship with a dealer would be a good starting point to liquidate your collections.”