By Mark Ferguson – Publisher, CAC Market Values …..
While prices for many classic commemorative half dollars are at historic lows, some high-end commems are trading at record high prices. A great example is the sale of a 1936 York County, Maine Tercentenary half dollar that sold at last August’s Stack’s Bowers Galleries American Numismatic Association convention auction. With a mintage of 81,826, this coin issue certainly isn’t rare. In comparison, several other commemorative half dollars issued in 1936 had mintages of 20,000 to 25,000. Yet, the York that sold last August brought a record $102,000 USD.
Grade, eye appeal and the “registry collecting effect” pushed the price of this coin into new territory for a common issue commem. Graded MS 69 by PCGS, the coin also received a CAC sticker of approval, making this coin the only silver commemorative stickered by CAC in MS 69. As expected, coins at the highest grade levels possess extraordinary eye appeal, and with its rich multi-color toning, this “technically perfect” York half dollar is no exception.
This six-figure price is one more demonstration of strength in a particular segment of the early commemorative market: attractive MS 66 to MS 67 and higher-grade CAC commems. Rest assured, though, you don’t have to buy “top-of-the-CAC-pop” commems to participate, meaning the highest grade given to an individual coin issue as found on the CAC Population Report. Only one collector at a time can own the MS 69 York. Others will have to settle for an MS 68 or MS 68+ York if they want a top-grade coin. CAC has approved and stickered 13 York half dollars in MS 68 – which you should be able to acquire for $2,500 to $3,500, if you can find one.
Stepping down a notch, you should be able to find an MS 67 or MS 67+ CAC York half dollar for $300 to $500, depending on eye appeal and auction competition. In owning a CAC MS 67 or MS 67+ York half dollar, you’ll have an attractive coin in a high grade for which there is reasonably strong demand.
Weak demand and historically low prices for early commemorative half dollars are found in the lower grade coins: typically, MS 65 to MS 66 and lower, depending on the issue. If you want to put together a set of classic commemorative half dollars at a comparatively reasonable price, you can do so with coins in the lower mint state grades. Just don’t expect those coins to appreciate in value. In fact, following the historic price trend of classic commems in the lower Mint State grades demonstrates that they could soften even more in value. The primary reason is that most classic silver commemorative half dollars were saved as valuable souvenirs and they remained in Mint State. The available supply of commems in the lower Mint State grades outnumbers active buyers and that’s why prices have been softening.
The best chance for appreciation in the values of classic silver commems is in the higher-grade coins, those with CAC stickers of approval. As shown above in the York example, you can drop down a grade or half grade, with a plus-grade coin, and prices are often significantly lower than for the next higher grade. There are also many different collecting themes that allow you to limit your collection of commemorative halves to just a few coins. Popular themes include Civil War issues, geographic themes or famous people, to name a few. Of course, building a 50-piece design type set is another common alternative to collecting all 144 commems.
Last May, Legend Rare Coin Auctions sold a 1936-D Columbia half dollar graded PCGS/CAC MS 68+ for $15,863. It’s the only example in CAC MS 68+ that’s on record as having sold at auction. Its price compares to two PCGS/CAC MS 68 pieces that brought $4,556 last May in a GreatCollections sale and $4,320 last June in a Heritage sale.
In December, Legend sold an MS 67 PCGS/CAC 1926-S Oregon Trail half dollar for $7,050. That price compares to two PCGS/CAC MS 68 examples that Heritage sold last year for $4,800 and $7,800.
A PCGS/CAC MS 67 Spanish Trail half dollar was auctioned by GreatCollections for $13,250 last March. In comparison, the firm sold two other PCGS/CAC Spanish Trail half dollars last year that were graded the same for $3,094 and $1,997.
All three coins have similar looks, so why is there such a gigantic difference in price? The high-priced coin was housed in a first generation PCGS “rattler” holder and stickered by CAC. Besides being an attractive coin, the coin’s CAC-stickered, first generation holder is a collectible, too. People really do collect coin holders. Realize that some coin holders can add a large premium to the price of a coin, and if it has a gold CAC sticker, you might be surprised as to how much buyers will pay for it. A little research could pay off big.
Classic silver commemoratives have had a bad rap for years. As I stated above, this is because of the high ratio of the supply of medium- to low-grade Mint State commems to collectors (buyers). That supply/demand ratio has allowed values to slowly slide for that segment of the early commem market over a period of many years. If you want to collect and invest in early silver commemorative half dollars that have the best chance for appreciation, you’ll have to buy into high-grade CAC coins.
Again, you don’t have to buy “top-of-the-CAC-pop” coins. A grade or a half grade lower than a top-of-the-pop coin may serve you even better. Top-of-the-pop coins carry a downside risk in that their prices could fall if one or more others get graded the same or higher.
Determining how much to pay for those coins is another matter. As shown above, multiple coins of the same issue, graded the same by the same grading services routinely sell for different prices. Toning and overall eye appeal of the coins are the primary reasons for price differences, in addition to the makeup of bidders competing against each other in auctions.
My next article will discuss why valuing CAC coins using market value ranges versus single price points provides a better indication of value. I’ll also go into how to use market value ranges to help determine the value of a CAC coin. In the meantime, you can get “A Guide to Valuing CAC Coins” for free at www.CACMarketValues.com.
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About the Author
Mark Ferguson is a professional numismatist and publisher of CAC Market Values, an independent price guide for CAC coins. He has been an independent coin dealer since 1969, a former professional coin grader for PCGS, and the former market analyst for Coin World’s Coin Values magazine.