My friend is an avid coin collector. Every few days, he receives a new prize in the mail and adds it to an expansive array of history. Around mid-November 2013, he discovered a set of 250 or so Newfoundland coins that dated back to the 1860s.[1] He has amassed 220 of these coins already.[2]

I’ve stood by, observing his collection tactics. He is very thorough. He is very picky. And most of all, he is a “completionist” — his most profound statement almost scared me at one point:

If I don’t have that one coin — that one hole in my collection — it will always haunt me.

That haunting has led him to develop methods for coin collecting. I’m sure his methods aren’t unique and I’m sure they aren’t universal. But I’ve observed him closely over the last six months and I feel his methods are sound. The following are a set of his collecting beliefs that I want to put to the test:

  • A collection must be completed.
  • A collection can always be improved.
  • A collection is developed by chance.

First, like any task or project, one does not begin with a goal of not finishing. Determining which items to acquire, how to acquire the items and how to maintain the items is part of the fun and part of the job. My friend spends more time researching the coins he collects than he spends actually acquiring them.

But more than that, the research provides an end goal. It shows what needs to be checked off the list and it shows the price at which one must be willing to pay to complete the collection. In the case of coins, this price (and this list) can be substantial.

Second, a collection is never perfect. There will always be an item that rounds out your collection which is in better shape or which represents completion in a better manner. Even once the collection’s checklist has been completed, there is still the ever-present search for a better set of items.

And what’s the fun in completing a collection? Finishing a collection eliminates the excitement of the research and of the hunt. Collecting, like anything else, is a hobby. There will always be another version of that which you are looking for and the drive to obtain that item is a collector’s legacy.

Third, and perhaps the most rational of my friend’s beliefs, a collection can only be completed with a stroke of luck. The rarest pieces of a collection are rare because they don’t pop up. I liken this to a game of McDonald’s Monopoly: Boardwalk is worth a large amount of money because Park Place is easy to find. Thus, a collection’s value is often equivalent to that of its rarest piece and finding that rarest piece becomes more difficult as its value rises.

Persistence is necessary for discovering and obtaining the rarest pieces of any collection. Items hit eBay shelves from time to time, but happening upon those items requires dedication each and every day. Auctions are held for rare items and a collector must be willing to go to the auction to discover that rare piece. As important as perseverence, dedication and a little adventure are to the completion of a collection, luck plays a large role in determining a collection’s completion.

I’ve begun to test my friend’s collecting theories recently. I’ve done a fair amount of research on the items I need to accumulate. I’ve determined the difficulty and potential price of accumulating the items and I’ve determined how I will improve my collection over time. It appears achievable at this point in time.

But most of all, I want to experience the sense of accomplishment that my friend emits every time a coin arrives in the mail. For him, finding a new coin — and a coin which was obtained by paying far less than market value — is more than a source of achievement. He holds a coin discovery as evidence of his perseverance — as a token of his thoroughness. Witnessing someone accomplish geekdom is surprisingly powerful. I can only imagine the satisfaction of being an actor instead of a watcher.

For my non-Canadian readers, Newfoundland is one of the newest provinces of Canada despite being one of the first territories settled. Newfoundland joined the Canadian Confederation in 1949. Therefore, they had their own monetary system and had their currency minted and printed in London before joining Canada.

Mostly thanks to eBay.