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HomeDealers and CompaniesHarvey Stack: My Thoughts on Rarity, Part I

Harvey Stack: My Thoughts on Rarity, Part I


By Harvey G. StackStack’s Bowers …..

Every hobby has rarities. In this way collecting coins is no different than collecting stamps, artifacts, paintings, trading cards or anything else.

In the early days of the United States, politicians, ambassadors and wealthy individuals in America started collecting coins for education and pleasure.

People, like the famous Adams Family, who traveled to Europe extensively on diplomatic ventures brought home with them various coins of other nations and saved them.  As shown by the early United States coins sold in 1964 as part of the Lord St. Oswald Collection in London, visitors to America sometimes did the same thing in reverse.

As wealth grew in the United States, and time was available to some, the search for different coins and dates became more of a hobby.

At first the number of collectors of American coins was quite limited, but toward the middle of the 19th century numismatics began to have much broader appeal.

This is often traced to the changeover from copper large cents to small size cents that happened in 1857. This new coinage fostered a sense of nostalgia for the “old days” and the old coins and many searched for examples. By this time the designs of United States coins had changed a few times making older coins more interesting and desirable.

As the country grew, new United States mints opened, such as those in Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, San Francisco and Carson City.

The search grew as there were more possible coins to seek for a collection.

Interest flourished and the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia struck special coins for collectors that they called “specimen strikings.”

dahlonega1At first this was done on a more casual basis, but eventually “Proof” mintages became an important part of the Mint’s business. These could be purchased or “traded for,” and the Mint Cabinet came into existence, causing the Mint itself to become a collector.  Coins even found their way into diplomatic circles, as they were used as gifts to officials of foreign governments. These beautiful, superbly struck examples also became symbols of how the United States had advanced technologically.

So early U.S. coins were mainly a method of exchange to replace barter, foreign coins and other means of trade. They became an important part of daily commerce, as they still are today. But for some people, coins became much more and this is where rarity gains importance, as for collectors, coins ceased to be a means to an end, and instead became the end itself.

Because of their use in trade, many coins were made of precious metal such as gold and silver.  The production of each coin was limited to how much precious metal arrived at the first Mint and, in some cases, the desires of the person depositing that metal. This situation led to many rarities in early United States coinage. The use of gold and silver coins in international commerce also resulted in some of these coins becoming scarce. Adding to this was the fluctuating balance (or imbalance) of value between gold and silver that could lead to coins being melted for bullion.

Likewise measures used at the Mint to contain costs such as reusing dies and striking over already used planchets created unusual and often rare varieties. Record keeping at the time could be imprecise, and rarities were not necessarily recognized until much later when collectors realized how difficult some issues were to find in daily change. Also, some coins were used and reused, became badly worn, went with the pioneers to distant places or for some other reason were lost and not saved. These factors can affect the rarity of any given date, denomination or mintmark.

Next week I will be back with more of my thoughts on rarity.


Stack's Bowers
Stack's Bowers
Stack's Bowers Galleries conducts live, internet, and specialized auctions of rare U.S. and world coins and currency and ancient coins, as well as direct sales through retail and wholesale channels. The company's 90-year legacy includes the cataloging and sale of many of the most valuable United States coin and currency collections to ever cross an auction block — The D. Brent Pogue Collection, The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, The Joel R. Anderson Collection, The Norweb Collection, The Cardinal Collection, The Sydney F. Martin Collection, and The Battle Born Collection — to name just a few. World coin and currency collections include The Pinnacle Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection of World Gold Coins, The Kroisos Collection, The Alicia and Sidney Belzberg Collection, The Salton Collection, The Wa She Wong Collection, and The Thos. H. Law Collection. The company is headquartered in Costa Mesa, California with galleries in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Offices are also located in New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Hong Kong, Paris, and Vancouver.

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