By Bruce Smith, Senior Portfolio Director and Numismatic Writer – Blanchard and Company….
There was a time when collectors in the market simply bought a coin based upon its slab. Those days are over, and collectors should be glad they are
What many people outside of the numismatic profession don’t understand is how much the grading system has changed over the decades. This includes changes in standards, changes in technical study and changes in technology. Grading was largely developed in the 1980s, and as millions of coins made their way into sonically-sealed plastic holders, it became clear in the late 1990s and into the 2000s that there were inconsistencies in the grading systems and not every coin was properly graded.
In the early days the market was eager to see coin grading find a place in the industry, because it gave peace of mind to those buying coins. It was a huge step up from the days when every coin seller large and small had a different grade (and price) for any given coin. Having an established and credible coin grading system in place allowed dealers and collectors to feel secure in what they buy and sell. That value still exists, of course, but thankfully the market has matured even further. Grading is more precise, and value is determined by various nuances regardless of the grade.
Now it’s better than ever to be aware and engaged.
Have you ever met a person you thought you liked, only to find on second blush that something was missing? We all have. The same holds true for rare coins. Then there are those golden moments when a lovely person (or coin) becomes even lovelier the more one gets to know them.
It’s what’s inside that counts.
The plastic holder can say one thing–be mostly right, even–but look beyond the printed label and reality becomes clearer. For the smartest investors and collectors, this is an important part of identifying the best coins. Original beauty is the finest beauty, and it is prized. People or coins that might not be what they seem (maybe they’re enhanced, cleaned up, or altered) lack the originality and appeal of the real thing.
If you were to lay out 20 different MS-63 examples of a Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle gold coin–each with the same date and mint mark–and looked very closely, you would find different characteristics within the devices, fields, and rims of each one. Each coin has its unique features. These nuances can add to or detract from eye appeal and technical specifications that impact a coin’s value and desirability.
In the case of really rare and scarce coins, a good understanding of their various merits can mean a future of enhanced growth. Those with a seasoned and well-trained eye can spot under-graded and under-valued coins, natural and artificial toning, and potential upgrades or CAC candidates.
While the grading services have given the market stability and consistency, collectors shouldn’t buy coins based what the slab says about the coin. Savvy collectors often look for the oldest holders or slabs possible, knowing that in the past some coins were under-graded. Others, working with the rarest of coins, track their provenance, the number of past appearances on the market and price growth charts. They may also conduct special research on a given variety, a particular coin or a specific collection. Each particular coin’s story becomes important when real money is in play.
In my work over the years I’ve learned time and again how critical it is to review each real rarity with a focused lens. Whenever I evaluate specie to place in a client’s portfolio, I ask several questions:
- When did it last appear?
- Who were the previous owners?
- What is its historical significance?
- How many similar examples exist?
- How likely is it that we will get another chance at this price? and
- How does this specimen differ from others I’m aware of that are similar?
These questions and many more are critical to moving from a slab-only mindset to a better way of finding long-term value.
Knowing why a rarity is legitimately more important than its seeming counterpart can be incredibly important. Understanding why or why not to pay the next record price for a rare coin can be the difference between literal history or the loss of a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I’ve seen smart and resourced investors miss major opportunities because they placed too much emphasis on another coin’s value and allowed that to steer them away from the right coin.
For world-class rarities, collectors have to remember that the next big value jump is only one trade away. Each major sale can set the tone, but each sale also has its own inner realities at work.
I’ve been on the other side of that situation as well, when an investor paid too much because they knew of another coin in the same grade that traded for big dollars. That investor didn’t pay enough attention to the singular merits of each situation and each coin, and they missed an opportunity.
I have placed some significantly rare coins in my career. In more than one case, I’ve seen a lesser-graded coin of extreme historical importance generate greater returns and more significant prices than a higher-graded coin with better eye appeal and technical characteristics. I’ve seen coins bring a higher sale price than the same coin a grade higher.
How does that happen?
It happens because, when you get right down to it, coin grading is human, and humans are subjective.
Sometimes a coin receives a higher grade that it had previously. When adding coins of high value to a portfolio, it is critical to be aware of these market realities. Evaluate each coin on its own merits but in comparison to similar competitive realities and invest accordingly.
A coin is more than a slab, especially at the top.
For some immensely important historical specimens, the holders are left as they have been for decades because those who collect at the highest levels know the few coins that exist (unless it’s a fresh historical specimen) and their unique features. The rarest coins in the world usually have a population of only a few. All are valuable, and most collectors are willing to own them and their counterparts at any investment level.
Over time, the rarest and most valuable coins almost always move up. As with fine art, top-tier rarities usually have great competition for ownership. Do not be afraid to go all-in for a stunningly original and important specimen. It may be your most affordable (or only) chance.
One great addition to the world of investing and collecting numismatic rarities is the advent of Certified Acceptance Corporation (CAC). Founded by John Albanese, founder or co-founder of both major grading services decades ago, CAC puts its stamp and endorsement on the highest-caliber coins for any given grade and type. CAC coins represent a fraction of the coins in the market, and as such should be a top consideration for any collector or investor.
There is no greater insurance when considering a coin to add to your collection.
In a very real sense this is a “plus” acquisition. The plus here is equal to greater value, as CAC coins bring strong premiums when buying or selling. Be sure to talk to a numismatic professional if you believe your coins should be considered for CAC approval due to their superior eye appeal for the grade.
Collectors who understand that it’s what’s inside that counts always look beyond the holder. Always seek additions to your collection that meet the standards of time, consistent grading, extra endorsements, and superior characteristics. The best way to find long-term value is do the right research on each coin. Find a proven industry professional who can help you examine the critical market factors, including provenance, historical significance, benchmark status, condition census ranking, populations, trading history and any prevailing facts that may have critical implications in the future. Seek and secure those assets that have and will stand the test of time, and that tell a compelling story.
About Bruce Smith
For nearly 20 years, Bruce Smith has specialized in acquiring significant rare coin, precious metals and tangible asset investments for his clients, applying research and analysis to manage some of the most extensive and compelling portfolios in numismatics.
He specializes in coins of significant historical importance and high value, placing, among others, the 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel, for over $3 million.
About Blanchard & Co
Blanchard and Company, Inc., was founded upon and continues to be driven by the belief that precious metals and rare coins possess unique qualities that make them attractive holdings for any long-term investment strategy.
The hard work of two Blanchard visionaries — Jim Blanchard and Donald Doyle — helped pave the way for the millions of investors today who leverage these tangible assets to enhance and protect their wealth.
We are unequaled in terms of breadth of experience, personal service, inventory and expertise. More than 85 experienced and knowledgeable professionals focus on serving the long-term financial interests of our clients.
When investing in Blanchard rare coins, you are not merely acquiring an advantageous portfolio asset. You are also engaging in an investment relationship built upon the strongest and most reputable of cornerstones.
Our meticulous coin acquisition is unrivaled, and it reflects the union of our superior business principles and impeccable rare coin selection methods. We proudly offer coins handpicked by John Albanese, who is the top numismatist and coin grader working in the rare coin market today.