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HomeCollecting StrategiesJeff Garrett: Whether It's Coins or Video Games, Try 'Playing the Spread'

Jeff Garrett: Whether It’s Coins or Video Games, Try ‘Playing the Spread’

By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
Jeff GarrettAbout two weeks ago, Heritage Auctions sold an unopened example of a John Madden Football Electronic Arts video game for $480,000 – a stunning price for a video game that was produced by the millions. I’m pretty sure my son had a copy at one time. But his, like 99.999% of the others, was opened immediately and saw extensive use. Plus, the game was discarded when the next edition came out.

My knowledge of 1980s video games is limited, but the amazing part of this story is the staggering plunge in value for examples of this game that have been opened and gently used. A quick search on eBay found listings in the range of $200-$300.

A Lesson for Coin Collectors

Luckily, rare coins do not follow the exact same pattern of diminished value, but there are some similarities. Morgan Dollars are one of the most collected series of United States coinage. There are several dates that literally crash in value from MS 65 to circulated condition.

Jeff Garrett: Whether It's Coin Collecting or Video Games, Try 'Playing the Spread'

One example is the 1901 Philadelphia issue, of which there are very few Gem coins known. The last NGC MS 65 coin sold at auction in 2012 for about $150,000. You can purchase a Very Good example of the date for under $50. There are several other date-and-mintmark combinations of Morgan Dollars that follow this same pattern: 1880-O, 1883-S, 1884-S, 1893-O, 1894-O, 1895-O, 1896-O, and 1897-O, to name just a few.

One of the most frequently dispensed pieces of numismatic advice is, “Buy the best you can afford.” I have often given this same advice to anyone new to collecting rare coins. History has shown that over time, the highest-quality coins have performed best in terms of price appreciation. This has been especially true in recent years with the insatiable demand for coins as part of set-registry programs.

The supply-and-demand factor comes into play as more collectors enter the market searching for the small pool of high-quality rare coins. Anyone who cares about coins as an investment should remember the fact that common coins will always be common, and the supply will eventually satisfy demand.

The question becomes deciding what grade range you want to collect for the series you have chosen. Some collectors make the decision on what to collect based on being able to afford nice examples of the series that interest them. Starting a set of MS 65 Red Lincoln Cents would be challenging, even for those with a robust budget.

Lincoln Cents are a perfect example for those trying to decide what condition to collect. For these and many other series, you might call this “playing the spread.” Assembling a complete set of MS 65 Red Lincoln Cents would cost well over a quarter-million dollars and take years to accomplish. The 1926-S alone is over $100,000 if you can find one. A much easier and doable goal would be to acquire a set in MS 63 Red Brown. In this condition, the 1926-S can be purchased for under $1,000. The complete set in MS 63 Red Brown would set you back around $10,000 and be achievable.

My good friend and mentor, Q. David Bowers, has probably sold as many Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars over the course of his career as anyone. This is especially true for better date and rare issues. For years, he would espouse the wisdom of buying the “spread coins” for each series. Those are the ones that skyrocket from one grade to the next. Why pay $25,000 for an MS 65 1925-S Peace Dollar when an MS 64 is only $500, and you can barely tell the difference. Besides, adhering to the conventional wisdom of buying the best you can afford, it just makes common sense, which Dave was famous for pointing out over the years in his weekly Coin World columns. Dave recently retired from this responsibility and his sage words of wisdom will be missed.

Before You Start Collecting

When you start your next numismatic mission, carefully consider the costs for the various grades of the series you have chosen. You may also do research on grading service population numbers to gauge availability. If there are just a few examples graded for the coin you might eventually need, it could take years or decades for one to appear for sale. When that happens, fireworks often ensue. Collecting coins is fun and exciting, but with a little research, you can be better prepared for the journey you have chosen.

Circling back to the Madden game that sold for $480,000, the one nuance of collecting vintage video games is the total emphasis on the quality of the outside plastic wrapping. This would be like demanding perfect packaging that had not been opened for your 1995-W Proof Silver and Gold Eagle set to be worth more than melt value. It seems like “playing the spread” on vintage video games would be much more difficult.

I’m sure you are like everyone else, wishing they could find one of these lost in the back of a closet. It just better have not been opened!

Jeff Garrett bio

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Rare Coin Gallery


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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