By Jeff Garrett
Some of the best coin values today are in the overlooked issues such as gold commemoratives. Look for coins that have been severely depressed in recent years.
The numismatic headlines have been dominated for several years featuring stories about so-called “trophy” coins selling for record sums. For the first 20 or so years of my career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most of the ultra-rarities such as 1804 Silver Dollars, 1913 Liberty Nickels and 1907 Ultra High Relief Double Eagles sold for about $250,000. Today the quarter-million dollar threshold is broken on a regular basis with little notice. A few years ago a Roosevelt dime sold at auction for over $350,000. The coin was the very rare 1975 No “S” Proof, but 30 years ago collectors and dealers would have laughed at the suggestion that this coin would ever be worth that kind of money. Dozens of the above mentioned ultra-rarities have sold for millions in the last decade, with the current record at just over $10,000,000.
The focus in recent years has clearly been on the top tier of the market. Some of this interest was started over 10 years ago when my book, 100 Greatest United States Coins was published. Coins with great stories surged in price and coins with a great story in amazing condition shot to the moon. 1793 Chain Cents were selling for over $1,000,000 in Gem condition. The same pattern was repeated for about any coin on the list that came up for auction in extraordinary condition. The ongoing Pogue sales are a clear indication that the demand for superb coins has not abated.
Obviously the above mentioned market observations are of more interest to millionaires and billionaires than to the average collector. The same phenomenon is currently commonplace in the thoroughbred horse market as well. Most of the action is at the top end of the market. Our local press features stories about the horses that sell for millions to Arabs, Europeans and wealthy Americans. Again, it’s mostly the millionaires and billionaires looking for alternative investments or the thrill of owning the classic “trophy” coin or horse.
Where does this leave the average collector? For the most part, average coins in the lower price ranges have been on the decline in value. Coins with negative eye appeal have fared even worse. Nearly all of the positive action has been for super rare coins in the highest echelons of condition. Many issues are at their lowest levels in years if not decades. Commemorative gold coins have plunged in value over the last 25 years.
Complete Set Commemorative Gold Coins 1903-1926
In my opinion, some of the best rare coin values today are in the overlooked issues such as gold commemoratives and many others. Generic gold coins are another series of coins that have been trading for historic lows in relation to gold bullion prices. In general the rare coin market has been dominated in recent years by serious collectors and wealthy investors looking for somewhere to place their money. Average collectors and investors have not been buying coins in the lower tiers with enough force to support the supply of coins entering the market. That is why prices have languished for so many rare coin series.
Warren Buffett has become one of the richest men in the world by buying when others are selling. This advice would probably work well if applied to many areas of the current rare coin market. Look for coins that have been severely depressed in recent years.
Coins that are now out of fashion include:
- Proof Type Coins: These coins have gone nowhere for nearly 20 years. Many have super low mintages and sets can be assembled for a reasonable sum. Early Proof Sets, 1858-1915, are also an interesting play for an ignored series. It’s very important to focus on coins with good eye appeal as many Proof Type coins can be darkly toned.
- Generic Gold Coins: I especially like the lower denomination coins that do not come from Europe on a regular basis. A 12-piece set that includes three gold dollars, two quarters eagles, three dollars, two half eagles, two eagles and two double eagles can be purchased for record low prices in Mint condition. Avoid coins with heavy copper stains; these sell for a discount.
- Walking Liberty Half Dollars: This series is much lower in price than several years. The latter date 1941-47 short set sells for a fraction of the levels seen 20 years ago. The series will probably receive considerable attention next year on the 100 anniversary of the 1916 issue.
- Commemorative Gold and Silver Coins: These coins are so cheap at current levels they are almost free! Pay attention to quality and these are sure to be a winner someday. Some collectors like frosty white coins, others prefer original toning. When assembling a set of silver commemoratives, try to purchase coins that are matched in appearance.
- Indian Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles: The Indian Head series is very attractive, can be completed with moderate effort, and are currently undervalued compared to a few years ago.
These are just a few suggestions, but with some research, the average collector can find incredible bargains in today’s market. As mentioned many times, seek the advice of someone with experience to help you with your collecting needs. Many dealers have been around for decades and have seen the up and down trends many times. Tremendous value can be found in numismatics at current levels, plus you can have the fun of assembling sets of these currently unpopular issues. You can set auction records or look for value—I know which Warren Buffett would choose!