By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
Building a great collection starts with purpose but can only truly be realized with years of patience and informed pursuit of the best material available within one’s budget. Great collections can be built with top-pop condition rarities or carefully curated coins at any tier of the grading spectrum. Simply put, one doesn’t have to be a millionaire to assemble a collection of coins they can be proud of and from which they can derive years of enjoyment or advanced degrees of sophisticated numismatic insight.
In this article, I will discuss one coin from the popular Walking Liberty half dollar series, how it has performed in recent years, and what you should look for in terms of quality and price for this piece up and down the grading scale.
The coin I am going to talk about is the 1927-S Walking Liberty half dollar. The Walking Liberty half dollar series was struck beginning in 1916 and ending in 1947. The series is difficult to collect by date and mintmark (especially in Mint State) due, primarily, to the lack of supply for issues struck between 1916 and 1933. There are also a number of interesting and scarce varieties struck in this early period. Due to the size of the coin and the number of issues, Whitman coin albums divided the series into two parts, the first part running from 1916 to 1940 and the second part, colloquially known as the “short set”, running from 1941 to 1947.
The short set is markedly easier to complete than the 1916-47 set, since it contains none of the series key or semi-key dates. However, a more satisfying and affordable “short set” can be completed with issues struck in 1934 and onward.
The 1927-S is positioned at the tail end of the series’ run of tough dates. In terms of rarity, it sits in the middle for coins struck in the 1920s. It is neither a key date nor is it generally considered one of the semi-keys in the series.
It is, however, a difficult coin to find in high grade and in Choice Uncirculated (MS63) or better is uncommon, or R-2 in on the Sheldon Rarity Scale (501-1,250 known). In Gem (MS65) or better, the 1927-S is significantly more scarce, with the combined populations of coins graded by PCGS and NGC numbering just 132 grading events. Estimating that at least 10% of this number includes resubmissions (probably an under-estimate), the 1927-S is a mid-to-high R-4 in Gem.
Or to put it another way, the 1927-S Walking Liberty half dollar in Gem has roughly the equivalent Rarity rating of the 1916-D Winged Liberty dime in the same grade.
So which coins are available at the present moment in this series and what are the market levels for the 1927-S half dollar in grades MS66 (top pop), MS65 (Gem), and MS63 (Choice). To get a sense of the buying landscape for this issue, we turned to various auction websites, and then we turned to what’s being offered right now on eBay.
eBay is a leading sales channel for rare coins and counts amongst its participating sellers virtually every major dealer in the rare coin market. Our rules for buying coins off of eBay are simple. We buy only coins that we can verify are authentic (PCGS- and NGC-graded). We buy coins only from reputable eBay dealers (established feedback is a plus, but so is an affiliation with the PNG, CDN, or other industry organizations). And finally, we only buy coins where we retain the option to execute a return privilege if the coin in-hand does not meet our expectations. We also prefer to buy coins only if the listing has a quality photograph and a professional lot description. In many instances, we will poke around the internet to find other instances where the coin has sold publicly and we will match the coin’s image in the lot listing against photographs on file at PCGS or NGC.
The following coins that we discuss have been subjected to our typical degree of scrutiny, but it is incumbent upon any potential buyer to do their own homework before making a purchasing decision.
The Best of the Best
Let’s start with the best of the best.
NGC reports no 1927-S Walking Liberty in the grade of MS66 on their condition census. PCGS, at the time of publication, reports nine examples. eBay seller coinandbullion—Coin and Bullion Reserves out of Panama City, Florida–is offering a Top Population example, graded MS66 by PCGS, for $30,650 USD (or best offer). This example is housed in a current generation PCGS holder. It is attractive, mostly brilliant, and has the expected die lines in the fields and flatness on Liberty’s right hand. This is simply how these coins come and my remarks are not a knock on the coin, whatsoever.
The record price paid for an MS66 is $44,650, realized in August 2015. That coin was CAC-approved and had mostly brilliant surfaces with a few isolated areas of toning on the reverse. Two months later, another CAC-approved example sold at auction for dramatically less, $35,250. This coin was comparable in quality to the coin that sold in August and was purchased by a Legend Numismatics customer, who consigned the coin a year later in the Regency XVIII auction, where the coin didn’t sell.
A year later, Heritage sold another CAC-approved MS66 for a considerably lower price, $25,850. That example was toned on the obverse in reverse but has a pleasing look.
What explains the significant difference between the prices realized for three coins sold in 2015 and 2016, and what do we make of the MS66 currently on offer on eBay?
The example that brought a record price has the sharpest strike of the four pieces in our survey. Flatness is common on the left arm, hand, and knee of most Walking Liberty half dollars and the example that brought $44,650 has the characteristic flatness one would expect for the issue, but not so much that the thumb detail is completely missing. While other factors are mostly equivalent between the coin that brought the record price and the one that sold for $35,250 two months later, this thumb detail probably put the first coin over the top. That being said, the coin that sold in October for $35,250 is about as good as it gets for the series and is blast white. All things considered, we’d peg the actual market price at the time for an MS66 Walking Liberty (all but the best of the best) to be at the $35,000 this coin brought.
A month later, the bottom fell out of the rare coin market.
Perhaps it was a glut of major collections being absorbed into the market at the time, but after Heritage Auction’s November 2015 Eric P. Newman sale, the rare coin market experienced a significant downturn that sent prices of many rare coins down by 25% or more. Remarkably, Stack’s Bowers in a partnership with Sotheby’s was still able to sell the historic D. Brent Pogue Family Coin Collection for record prices despite this headwinds.
When Heritage offered the toned MS66 in August 2016, the price that it brought was in line with these declines. Twenty-five percent off of $35,250 is $26,437.50, and that was within a thousand dollars of the hammer price. Another factor worthy of mentioning is the presence of toning. Toning can dramatically ramp up the value of a coin on the market, but it can also diminish it. Experienced dealers and collectors see two extremes when it comes to coins that bring significant premiums for eye appeal: amazing rainbow toning and blast white brilliance. Some collectors, even sophisticated ones, do not want toned coins and will not pursue them for their collections, regardless of grade. Some do not mind but will discount a price for a coin that isn’t blast white. Toned coins that are not unbelievably colorful, CAC sticker or no, generally sell at a discount when compared to similarly graded blast white coins with CAC stickers.
So what do we make of the market now and is the $30,650 a fair price today for a PCGS MS66?
It’s difficult to imagine that we will again see another 1927-S struck up as nicely as the example that sold for $44,650 in August 2015. The present coin does not have that degree of strike but does compare favorably to the toned example that brought $25,850 and was CAC-approved. The present example does not purport to be CAC-approved and may not have been submitted to CAC. At the $30,650 level, a buyer may wish to submit the coin for CAC approval or use eBay’s BEST OFFER feature to make an offer. Our feeling is that the going price for a 1927-S in MS66 in today’s market is in line with the price the seller is asking for in this listing.
The market value of a 1927-S drops dramatically once you step down a grade to MS65. At this level, recent auction records indicate a trend of between $7,000 and $9,400. The higher-end coins in this price survey were sold at auction and are CAC-approved.
The 1927-S in MS65 is uncommon, but not rare. PCGS reports 77 grading events in MS65 with seven in MS65+. NGC reports 39 grading events at MS65 with none higher. When we observe the market for one step down from to coins, we generally think that 100 is a magic number. Once a coin reaches or exceeds the 100-coin threshold, collector psychology changes and whereas with fewer coins available, a collector might buy whatever comes onto the market (fear of missing out; targets of opportunity). With 100 or more, collectors see examples come and go frequently enough that they realize they can wait one offering out until another comes along that they really like. If too many “generic” looking, top-pop-adjacent examples come to market and linger, dealers and collectors get the impression that there are too many coins at this level on the market and this negative sentiment puts downward pricing pressure on all coins in this grade. The current population for MS65s is still within the safe zone and is likely inflated due to resubmissions, but still, it would be a good idea for invested collectors to keep an eye on the population numbers and ensure that they have positions in only the highest quality coins for the grade.
There are currently three 1927-S in MS65 listed on eBay. All three coins are being offered by nationally-known and well-respected dealers. The coins range in price from $8,245 for an NGC MS65 from seller coastcoin (Coast to Coast Coins and Currency), $8,399 for a PCGS MS65 from seller u.s._coins (U.S. Coins), and $11,075 for a PCGS MS65 from coinandbullion.
All three coins exhibit varying degrees of toning, with the coinandbullion example exhibiting the most brilliance. The strike for all three is typical for the issue and each piece has surfaces and eye appeal consistent with the grade. The NGC MS65 and the coinandbullion piece appear to have exceptional luster. The u.s._coins example exhibits a complex network of die cracks at the bottom of the design on the reverse, while the coinandbullion piece features a long die crack that bisects the eagle’s body from head to leg. When choosing a coin to purchase it is always beneficial to have multiple examples to review and to make your purchasing decision based on the coin that you like, not necessarily which coin is the cheapest. Coins with character are seldom offered for rock-bottom prices.
For about one-third of the price of an MS65, a quality-conscious collector can find a nice piece at the MS64 level. At this grade, you will have to accept a coin with more knicks and scratches, or perhaps a softer strike and a subtle downgrade in eye appeal. Not all MS64s belong in MS64 holders; some are very weak MS65s that have not upgraded. Some are very weak MS63s that did.
Once we drop our grade expectation to MS63, more coins open up to us and the price levels drop to $2,000 for a piece of typical quality.
Currently listed on eBay are two 1927-S Walking Liberty half dollars in the MS63 and MS64 band. The MS64 coin (pictured above, on the left) is offered by greatsoutherncoin (Great Southern Coins) out of Boerne, Texas and carries a price of $3,390 or MAKE AN OFFER. This coin features gallimaufry toning on the obverse and the reverse and has a nice, original crusty look. This is the type of patina that a coin develops after years of being stored in a coin album and if originality is your thing, then you might like the look of this coin – especially when you consider that this 1927-S has a strike that is above average for the issue.
The coin on the left is a choice MS63 offered by davidlawrencerarecoins (David Lawrence Rare Coins). A close-up examination of this coin reveals that at some point the coin has been professionally dipped. Some light rose/purple color toning appears in isolated spots on the coin’s obverse, notably in the exergue and in the flag area. David Lawrence is offering this piece for $2,650 or MAKE AN OFFER.
Choose a Coin that is Right for You
Ultimately, with a coin like the 1927-S Walking Liberty half dollar, time is on your side. With the exception of a truly remarkable example that may only come to auction once a decade or so, there are enough Mint State coins on the market at any given time that you can afford to be choosy.
eBay’s current inventory of six Mint State examples from five nationally-known dealers represents a significant percentage of the number of Mint State 1927-S half dollars currently on the market in dealer inventory, and each coin that we discussed in this piece is offered for sale at a price within the parameters of what one would consider fair for the current market given the quality of the coins being offered.