HomeCollecting StrategiesCoin Collecting Strategies - ‘The World is Your Oyster’!

Coin Collecting Strategies – ‘The World is Your Oyster’!

News & Analysis – World Coin Rarities, markets, & collecting #400

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Pearls come from oysters, and the term pearl is often employed figuratively to refer to something that is refined, sophisticated, attractive, valuable and treasured by an individual owner. Rare coin enthusiasts of all income groups who really seek fulfilling coin pursuits can practically find their own pearls with sound coin collecting strategies.

Here, I refer to good values among world coins and to curiously expensive U.S. coins. World coins from the 1600s to the 1800s, however, are among many options in the realm of numismatics.

This is the 400th installment in my series of articles on coin rarities and related topics. I am now communicating some thoughts that gradually developed during my experiences, coin examinations and research. By next week, I will have had more time to analyze auction results. A purpose here is provoke thought about world and U.S. coins, while referring to market realities. The theme is the finding of pearls by collectors, rare coins that the individual collectors find to be particularly special for logical, cultural and emotional reasons.

Pearls, metaphorically, may be found in all of the more than five auctions that are being conducted in conjunction with the NYINC at the Grand Hyatt in New York this week, a hotel which is located adjacent to Grand Central Station. Undoubtedly, there will be some pearls on the bourse floor, too.

Those who cannot afford to buy pertinent rare coins may view them and/or learn about them. This proverb, ‘The World is Your Oyster,’ in the context of coin pursuits relates to opportunities and to coin related achievements that are products of persistence, ethical conduct and/or the use of imagination.

Why talk about ‘the world’ and refer to an ‘oyster’? Attractive, natural pearls are found in some kinds of mussels and oysters. “Natural (or wild) pearls, formed without human intervention, are very rare. Many hundreds of pearl oysters or mussels must be gathered and opened,” according to the Wikipedia, “to find even one wild pearl; for many centuries, this was the only way pearls were obtained, and why pearls fetched such extraordinary prices in the past.”

In the realm of pearls, the wild and natural pearls are contrasted with the farmed pearls that are formed with ‘human intervention’ in controlled settings. The analogy to coins is meaningful.

There are coins that take on natural tones while being stored in cases, cabinets, envelopes and albums of the types that coin collectors have often used for very long periods of time. There are also many coins that have been artificially toned, puttied, greased, oiled, repaired, buffed or just dipped in acidic solutions. Unlike pearls, rare coins are each characterized by a degree of originality, rather than as being completely original or artificially spawned.

The concept of a coin being a pearl does not only refer to quality. There are additional factors.

The phrase about the world being someone’s oyster was taken, before being twisted, from a play by William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, which was probably written around 1597.

In the play, a goofy comedy, the character Falstaff exhibits his lighter side. His wrongdoing is emphasized in other plays by Shakespeare where he is determined to employ unethical, simplistic and slimy means to procure his ‘oysters’ and enjoy the finer things in life.

In “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” another character suggests Falstaff change his approach, as there are so many opportunities in the world and so much that can be enjoyed in a fair and refined manner; there is no need to harm others or continually slither for gains.

Many buyers and traders of U.S. coins are so concerned about certified grades that they do not notice the pearls or the slime-filled shells. The market for classic U.S. coins has evolved such that major dealers and many collectors are angling for the highest certified grades, often without really inspecting the coins that are bought and sold.

There has been a pre-occupation with registry sets and there are endless quests to upgrade coins. The same classic U.S. coins are submitted over and over again to grading services.

Many dealers and quite a few collectors regard a coin that is certified as 64 as something that may eventually be certified as grading 65 or 66. It is the full-time or at least half-time jobs of many sharp coin graders to submit classic U.S. coins over and over again to the same grading services. It is even more of a concern that a coin that is justifiably rejected as non-gradable by a grading service may later receive a relatively high numerical grade from the same service, sometimes after having been modified.

Before the 1980s, few collectors in the U.S. thought about upgrading in the sense that the same coin would be represented in the future as being of a higher grade than it it was thought to be in the past. Collectors of world coins, especially those active in Europe, have never been very interested in trying to turn a 64 grade coin into a 65 grade coin. They learn about the positive and negative aspects of coins, or just ignore the negative characteristics of coins. In my view, it is a good idea for collectors to consult experts.

I reflected upon markets for U.S. coins while thinking about values and enjoyment in rare coin collecting during my experiences thus far during the ten days of the NYINC. Although important world coins are traded and auctioned at an annual show in or near Chicago during the spring and at the ANA Convention each summer, the multiple major  auctions and attendance by leading dealers from around the world at the NYINC places it well above the others in the context of rare coins that were not minted in the United States. Should more collectors of rare U.S. coins consider rare world coins?

What is meant here by ‘rare coins’? For reasons noted in many discussions, I have consistently employed the term ‘rare’ to describe coins or other numismatic items for which fewer than 500 pieces survive, in all states of preservation. The generic term, ‘rare coins,’ however often implicitly includes very scarce coins, too. A coin is ‘very scarce’ if fewer than 2500 survive.

Some of the world coins that I suggest could be regarded as pearls by many collectors may not be rare or even very scarce in absolute terms.  In my experience, the overwhelming majority of collectors of rare coins seek coins that grade at least VF-20 . Assembling sets of Good to Very Good grade coins is a different topic.

A coin has to grade at least Very Fine for the design to be fairly interpreted without inspecting other coins of the same type. Rare, artistically distinctive and historically important coins stand the test of time, especially those that are relatively original. These have the potential to appeal to a wider audience in the present and in the future.

A contrast between distinctive world coins and currently popular, highly certified U.S. coins may be illustrated with selections from the Heritage FUN and World Coin sales in January 2018. I mention crowns (silver dollars) and halfcrowns (half dollars) as examples. The concepts here can be applied to coins of most denominations.

Crowns, including silver dollars, are emphasized as these are the most popular with collectors throughout the world, and the most popular silver coins in the U.S. Also, such large silver coins played important roles in international trade over a span of several centuries.

Selections from these two Heritage auction events are appropriate at the moment. Usually, though perhaps not always, the primary Heritage auction of U.S. coins occurs at the FUN Convention in January and the primary Heritage auction of world coins is conducted at the NYINC in Manhattan, also in January.

The FUN Platinum Night event was held last week and the NYINC World Platinum Night event was conducted on Monday, January 8. Here, comparing of ‘apples and oranges’ is educational to illustrate options for collectors, especially since coins of similar sizes and denominations are being used for comparisons.

A half dollar, a half-taler and a Spanish Four Reales coin are all halfcrowns in international coin jargon. Uncirculated early U.S. half dollars frequently each sell for many thousands of dollars. A MS-63 1795 Flowing Hair half dollar would retail for more than $100,000. An 1806 or 1807, certified MS-63 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dollar (1801-07) could easily sell for more than $20,000.

In German speaking societies in the past, the equivalent of a half dollar (a halfcrown) was a half-taler. In the Heritage world coin auction this week, there was a Bohemian 1624 half-taler that was struck at the Joachimstal Mint. This half-taler was NGC graded MS-63 and realized $1800.

This 1624 half-taler was well struck. Further, the shades of green, gray, brown-russet and tan blended well together and are appealing. It was minted under the reign of King Ferdinand II, who was later Holy Roman Emperor. While this coin is not beautiful, it is exceptional, relatively original and historically important. Is $1800 a reasonable sum for it?

In contrast, a strong and surprising result in the FUN auction last week was the $24,000 paid for Dr. Duckor’s 1918-S half dollar. Although PCGS graded MS-65 and CAC approved, six other 1918-S half dollars are CAC approved at the MS-65 level and CAC has approved two at higher levels. PCGS and NGC have graded a total of six above MS-65. This is not one of those cases where bidders will pay astronomical amounts just for the highest certified coin for a PCGS or NGC registry set. PCGS has certified 30 other 1918-S halves as MS-65, a number which amounts to at least twenty different coins. Also, this is not a coin with amazing toning.

The toning is more attractive on the NGC graded MS-65, Argentina 1883 50 centavos coin in the Heritage world coin auction in New York. This 1883 Argentine coin is very similar to a U.S. half dollar and is of a type that was struck for just three years. NGC has graded just 45 coins of the whole design type; this is one of just two that were NGC graded as MS-65 and are the highest graded.

More than three times as many 1918-S halves were minted, 10.28 million, than the total mintage of all the coins of this Argentine 50 centavos design type, 2.75 million. Besides, Walking Liberty half dollars were minted from 1916 to 1947. There are tens of millions around now.

This 1883 50 centavos is an impressive coin, very attractive and very original, with minimal imperfections. It brought $900, which was a strong price, yet only a fraction of the value of a classic U.S. half dollar of similar scarcity. Some very common coins brought large sums in the FUN auction.

At the FUN Convention, a U.S. 1921 Peace silver dollar realized $111,000. It is not a Proof or any other kind of special striking; it is a business strike, one of more than one million produced.

The PCGS CoinFacts site puts forth an estimate that more than 100,000 1921 Peace dollars survive. My guess is that this number is an underestimate. Coins of the first year of issue of a new type are often saved, and Peace Dollars were not melted to the extent that Morgan silver dollars were melted.

Although this 1921 silver dollar was PCGS graded “MS-67,” Heritage recently auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-66” 1921 Peace dollar for $5170. A PCGS graded MS-65 1921 Peace would only retail for around $1600, and ‘a 64’ for $800 to $1200. Just last month, Heritage sold a PCGS graded AU-55 1921 for $144.

In the current Heritage world coin auction, $120,000 was paid for one of the most famous and artistically distinctive pattern crowns in the history of the British Isles. A silver crown is the British equivalent of a silver dollar. Eight Reales silver coins (‘Pieces of Eight’) and German Talers are also in the same category; the concept of a crown as a coin denomination was discussed last week in my essay on Petition and Reddite Pattern Crowns.

This British 1817 pattern crown that features an unmistakably beautiful reverse with the three graces. There could not be as many as 40 of these in existence in all grades, probably far fewer. This piece is NGC certified as ‘Proof-65 Cameo.’ Even if it was certified as 64 or 63, it would still be something that is far rarer and more distinctive than one of more than 100,000 1921 Peace dollars.

In the Heritage World Coin Auction, an 1831 British Proof set realized $108,000. This set includes 14 coins, three coppers, eight silver coins and three gold pieces. Generally, these 1831 coins were NGC graded 62 to 64.

While this is not the highest quality pre-1860 Proof set that I have ever seen, it is really cool. Besides, interested collectors in the U.S. would recognize the three gold coins in this set as Proofs that are really neat.

A PCGS graded “MS-61” 1893-S Morgan silver dollar brought even more than the 1921 Peace dollar, $204,000 in the FUN auction in Tampa.Yes, the 1893-S is the key business strike in the series of Morgan dollars. Nevertheless, it is not a rare coin. PCGS reports having graded more than 6000 and NGC more than 3000! While a total of more than 9000 may only refer to 5000 different coins, there are also hundreds of non-gradable 1893-S Morgan silver dollars and some that have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC.

Besides, ‘MS-61’ is not a high grade for a mint state coin and this 1893-S does not have a CAC sticker. The just mentioned 1921 Peace dollar does not have a CAC sticker either.

Curiously, the already mentioned 1883 50 centavos Argentine coin has a sticker from WINGS, a company that evaluates world coins that are already PCGS or NGC graded. Although WINGS has a good reputation, WINGS does not have the status in the world coin market that CAC does in the U.S. coin market.

Also, this is one of sixteen 1893-S Morgans that were in the January 2018 FUN auction. The rarest Morgan is the 1895, a Proof-only date. A PCGS certified “Proof-67 Deep Cameo” 1895 brought $187,200, while a PCGS certified Proof-63 1895 went for $55,200 in the FUN auction.

Probably around 800 1895 Morgan dollars survive, These are not rare, though are extremely scarce.

Proof 1746 British Crowns are far rarer and have far more historical significance. An 1895 Morgan does not have more historical significance than an 1897 Morgan, which is much less expensive.

On Monday, an NGC certified Proof-63 1746 Crown brought $13,200! While U.S. coin collectors covet special strikings before 1860, here is one dated 1746!

Some collectors prefer coins that were intended for circulation. Latin American coins from the 19th century tend to be rare and to have had roles in path breaking historical events.

Although some references provide the impression that 1815 Eight Reales coins of Argentina are of a one-year type, the 1813 pieces are similar enough such that the 1813 and the 1815 Eight Reales should be classified as the same type. These are scarce. Morgan dollars and Peace Dollars are super-common in contrast, even better dates. The PCGS graded MS-64 1815 in this world coin auction did not sell, though is or was available after the auction for $8400. A little friction on the reverse may have discouraged some bidders.

The natural tones and luster on this 1815 Eight Reales coin are very appealing. Indeed,  the apricot, russet, and orange-russet tones are memorable, as are some blue hues in the outer fields.

Dutch Three Gulden coins are crowns, too. The 1680 issue of Holland is a one-year type with a distinctive design, odd in the sense that the same animal logo appears on both sides. The Heritage cataloguer knows of only the piece in this auction and the one that was in the Millennia Collection. Even if there are several others, the total extant is extremely small. The NGC graded MS-63 1680 Three Gulden of Holland in this auction realized $12,000. The subsequent design type for such Three Gulden coins, which was introduced the following year, features an attractive female figure on one side.

This Three Gulden coin was minted more than a century before U.S. silver coins were first struck in 1794. In the FUN auction, a NGC certified 1794 silver dollar was said to have been “repaired” and to have the details of a Very Fine grade coin. This 1794 dollar brought $96,000. The most spectacular 1794 dollar was auctioned for more than $10 million in January 2013.

There are more than 150 1794 silver dollars extant and uncirculated coins literally cost millions. Interested collectors may wish to think about the gem quality silver crown of Queen Anne in this auction. Anne reigned from March 1702 to August 1714. This is the highest quality Queen Anne Crown of any date that I have ever seen.

This 1713 Queen Anne Crown is NGC graded as MS-65. The few imperfections are minor. This coin is very attractive and very original, really an amazing survivor. Like the already mentioned Argentine Eight Reales,

Queen Anne crowns are rarities, for certain. There could not be more than 250 gradable pieces that in the VF-20 to MS-66 range. Indeed, I cannot now recollect seeing another gem Queen Anne Crown of any date. The $24,000 realization for this coin was strong in the context of markets for rare coins, though a good value from a logical perspective. A gem quality, early U.S. silver would cost many multiples of the value of this Queen Anne Crown.

This Queen Anne Crown is a pearl, from my perspective. While life in general or any pursuit seems unappealing when difficulties and obstacles are emphasized, those who are persistent and imaginative will find pearls in many oysters, pearls which represent different wonders to different people, though are exciting and important to those who understand them.

© 2018 Greg Reynolds


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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  1. Are we as Americans just over bidding on common date early Americans coins? IT SEEMS THAT WE ARE OVER ESTIMATING the value of our coins compared to World rare coins. It does not make sense that a low mintage Morgan can be so much more expensive than a truly low mintage euro coin.

  2. I believe a major part of the astronomical prices of relatively common US coins is due to the rise of the grading service registry sets. Those who compete for the top of the rankings would need to be relatively wealthy, corresponding to a more competitive type-A personality (which is what helped them to become wealthy in the first place). Those with the money and drive to reach number one on the list will most likely pay whatever it takes to gain and then maintain that spot. To me this explains most if not all of the insane price inflation of high grade coins. Rarity has taken a back seat to ranking in US numismatics.


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