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Collecting Classic US Coins: Gem Circulated


Attractive coins can be found at all levels of the Sheldon scale

Much attention in numismatics is focused on quality. One of the most common pieces of wisdom dispensed by experienced numismatists is to buy the best you can afford. For decades this advice has served most collectors very well. Top quality coins have been all the rage. The popularity of registry collecting has focused an incredible amount of attention on the finest-known examples of 20th- and 21st-century series. An NGC MS 70 1999 Silver Eagle is more valuable than an MS 63 1907 High Relief Double Eagle.

The focus of this article is to highlight the fact that the pursuit of quality is not limited to the top end of the Sheldon scale. Now more than ever, collectors are demanding attractive examples of coins at all ranges of the grading scale. Eye appeal has become the driving force for values. Some collectors are very price sensitive, but most are more concerned with buying coins that look great for the grade. This concept includes everything from circulated Colonial coinage to Territorial Gold coins and everything in between.

Many collectors do not realize that they should keep quality in mind when purchasing circulated coins. Large cent collectors have known this since the beginning of organized numismatics. A beautiful chocolate brown, circulated large cent, sells for much more than the typical coin seen that has dark color and scattered porosity. Finding a circulated 19th-century large cent devoid of problems is a very difficult task. Nearly all show the scars of time to some degree.

The same collecting strategy employed by large cent collectors applies to nearly every area of the rare coin market. Circulated coins without problems are quite scarce and demand considerable premiums. Anyone who collects Lincoln cents in circulated grades know how difficult they are to find without problems. Many examples suffer from scratches, spotting, and rim problems. Uneven planchet colorations are also a commonly seen issue. As with any series, PVC residue is another issue that causes concern.

One of the biggest problems for collectors of nickel coinage is carbon spotting. Whether you collect Shield nickels or Jefferson nickels, carbon spots really devalue the price collectors are willing to pay. Most of these spots are nearly impossible to remove and doing so should only be attempted by conservation experts. For most of the earlier series, scratches and rim problems are the main areas that affect value.


Collecting circulated examples of silver coinage presents many challenges. Finding any issue with even wear and problem free surfaces is very difficult. Silver coinage is also more susceptible to tarnish and the metal is softer. The soft metal results in most circulated coins sustaining some sort of surface damage. Scratches and nicks are very common and are more likely than not on nearly all early issues. Early silver coins are also very susceptible to surface cleaning. Many buyers of uncertified early silver coinage find out too late that the coin they thought was a bargain is actually harshly cleaned. This is why certification is very important for even the lowest-graded coins if they are valuable.

1825 Bust Half Dollar ex Newman Collection NGC AU 58 sold $3,290 in 2013

1825halfdollarCollectors of circulated coins will also pay large premiums for attractive coins in circulated grades. The above 1825 NGC AU 58 Bust Half Dollar from the Eric P. Newman collection sold for $3,290 in 2013. The coin has a retail catalogue value of $3,900 in MS 64. The Newman collection featured dozens of circulated Bust Half Dollars with amazing color and surfaces that sold for record amounts. Circulated coins with attractive toning often bring multiples of catalogue valuations. This trend is not restricted to Bust Half Dollars. All denominations of Seated and Barber coinage experience similar results when extremely attractive examples come to market.

Collecting circulated gold coins is another real challenge. Gold is very soft and marks and scratches are the norm for most issues. Finding attractive examples with smooth surfaces is very difficult. Rim nicks are also a common nuisance and should also be an area of concern. Many uncertified examples of scarce issues can be found with filed rims that can often be quite deceiving. This is yet another reason to insist on NGC-certified coins regardless of the grades you collect.

1854-D Half Eagle NGC AU 58 “Original Surfaces”

fivedollar1854dBy far the biggest problem with circulated United States gold coinage is that a very large number have been cleaned over the decades. Finding examples with what many experts call “original skin” is very difficult. Serious collectors of scarce date circulated gold coins need to understand what this term means and how to recognize the difference. Original coins display rich, golden color and cleaned coins are more yellow in appearance. The coins with original surfaces will cost more, but when it is time to sell you will be well rewarded.

The message of buying the best quality you can afford is still solid advice, but this means coins at every grade level. The next time you purchase a circulated coin, consider the above advice and examine as many examples as possible before making a final decision. Your patience will result in a more attractive collection and one that is probably a better investment.

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to [email protected].

US Large Cent Coins Currently Available on eBay


Jeff Garrett
Jeff Garretthttps://rarecoingallery.com/
Jeff Garrett, founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, is considered one of the nation’s top experts in U.S. coinage — and knowledge lies at the foundation of Jeff’s numismatic career. With more than 35 years of experience, he is one of the top experts in numismatics. The “experts’ expert,” Jeff has personally bought and sold nearly every U.S. coin ever issued. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t call on Jeff Garrett for numismatic advice. This includes many of the nation’s largest coin dealers, publishers, museums, and institutions. In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Jeff Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries. His combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals — between Mid-American in Kentucky and Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida — total more than $25 million. Jeff Garrett has authored many of today’s most popular numismatic books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues; 100 Greatest U.S. Coins; and United States Coinage: A Study By Type. He is also the price editor for The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Jeff was also one of the original coin graders for the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He is today considered one of the country’s best coin graders and was the winner of the 2005 PCGS World Series of Grading. Today, he serves as a consultant to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest coin grading company. Jeff plays an important role at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Department and serves as a consultant to the museum on funding, exhibits, conservation, and research. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff and many others, rare U.S. coins are once again on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. Jeff has been a member of the Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. He has also served as the ANA President and as a member of the ANA Board of Governors.

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