Making money by collecting it

There are two main camps of collectors. Those who are doing it for fun and those who are doing it for the money. Granted, some people do it for fun and hope to make a little money. I'm sure others have fun while they're collecting to make money. The problem is, if you collect coins to make money and you lose money instead, it sours you on coin collecting, which is a shame. My recommendation is to start out collecting for fun. As you become more experienced and learn enough about the hobby, make the decision to convert it into a business venture or remain as a fulfilling pastime. Regardless of which path you choose, may you have many fruitful years of happy coin collecting.

This week John Maben Rare Coins will move into a store three times the size of its current location on Town Center Parkway at Lakewood Ranch. The store, which opened two years ago, will also add four employees.

“Within a year I knew we were going to have to move out,” said John Maben. “We needed more space.”

Some months the store does more than $1 million in sales, Maben said. The store also does more than half of its business online, using its Web site www.moderncoinmart.com and selling on eBay with the same name. The company is one of the online auctions site’s largest coin sellers.

Based on Maben’s experience, it might seem that anyone could make a fortune in the collectibles business. But before you go rummaging for your old baseball cards, you should realize that dealing in collectibles requires a lot of time and effort. If you do not have the know-how to back up the merchandise, you may not be able to turn your collecting hobby into a lucrative business.

Maben’s success did not happen overnight. He got his start in the business in 1978 as a senior in high school, working in his brother-in-law’s shop in Philadelphia. He later worked for the Numismatic Guarantee Corp., a coin appraisal company in Sarasota, for eight years before opening the shop in Lakewood Ranch.

Coin collecting can be profitable, Maben said, only if you know what you are doing and you have all the necessary connections. He said it takes at least five years to develop the contacts and the expertise.

“It may look easy to an outsider, but the chances of failure are very high,” he said.

In fact, less than 10 percent of antiques and collectibles dealers make a living from their business, according to Harry Rinker, an expert on antiques and collectibles and host of the nationally syndicated radio show “Whatcha got.”

Rinker makes a clear distinction between people who deal in antiques and collectibles to make a living and those who sell to support their collecting habit.

Many retirees fall in the latter category, he said, using their business to write off expenses as they travel around the country and have a good time.

“Most of the antique and collectible dealers are not business people,” he said. “It’s more about a game to see how much they can sell things for than about good business practices.”

Most collectors probably make less than minimum wage, when time and expenses are accounted for, Rinker said.

Collectors should keep track of the time and money spent to obtain a piece, and take it into consideration when deciding how much money they will take for it. They should also consider the price of shipping and, if they sell online, they should count a digital camera, Internet access and vendor fees as expenses.

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