In the Rare Coin Market, Quality is not Everything

Posted by Jeff Garrett on the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation Weekly Market Report …..

There is plenty of demand for major rarities in any condition.

For much of the last few years nearly everything you read about in numismatic market reporting is the insatiable demand for top quality material. Nearly every auction held has coins bringing record prices in Gem condition. This phenomenon, however, ignores another interesting part of the rare coin market. There is plenty of demand for major rarities in any condition. A recent auction offered a well worn 1792 Half Disme that had been damaged, with just VG details certified by NGC. The coin sold for over $28,000. Obviously the buyer of this coin was more interested in the history of the coin than its condition. This same $28,000 could have been spent on a much more pedestrian issue in Gem condition. Not everyone goes crazy for coins based solely on quality.

1792Other examples of lower grade coins bringing big bucks are circulated 1895 Proof Morgan Dollars. A choice example of this date sells for under $60,000. Surprisingly, even a coin with some signs of circulation still brings over $35,000. An NGC PF 58, 1895 Morgan Dollar sold in the 2014 FUN auction for $35,250. There are plenty of Morgan dollar collectors who have always wanted to own any specimen of this classic issue. These collectors are not extremely quality conscious, and will pay substantial sums just to acquire one. That being said, even collectors looking for rarity still appreciate lower grade coins with good eye-appeal. Coins lacking stains, dark surfaces, or major damage will sell for premiums.

These issues have also been great investments over the years. An 1895 Morgan Dollar in circulated condition could have been purchased for less than $20,000 a decade ago. These coins may not have the stratospheric rise some Gem coins have experienced, but they have made solid gains over the years. You can also be sure that in the future there will always be a demand for classic issues in any grade. Anyone who collects a series will eventually get down to the really tough issues. They can decide to mortgage the back forty, or settle for a lesser quality example. Many go the less expensive route when the opportunity presents itself.

In the last few weeks I purchased a collection of scarce date United States gold coins. The collection contains many interesting coins, many of which are high grade and nearly finest known. One coin that will sell almost instantly is a 1929 Double Eagle graded AU 58 by NGC. The coin is one of the lowest grade pieces of this date I have ever seen. Most of the 1929 Double Eagles were melted in the 1930s. A small number survive, nearly all of which grade MS 63 or better. This particular coin entered circulation for a brief time and is quite unusual. The coin will sell for around $20,000, which is 50 percent less than what a Choice example would bring. What makes the coin so desirable, however, is that the coin is the least expensive example of the date. Not everyone is trying to assemble the finest known set of a series.


Probably the best example of a great coin selling for a large sum in lower grade is a circulated 1804 Bust Silver Dollar. A circulated example sold a few years ago for over $2,000,000. The buyer of this coin was attracted to having their names attached to one of the greatest US coins ever minted. Even though the buyer saved a few million by purchasing a circulated example, the pride of ownership is probably just as great. Even at the multi-million dollar level, there are people who see a bargain and are cost conscious when assembling their collection.

Another hot area of the market for less than spectacular Gems is the demand for perfectly circulated coins. At the most recent Long Beach show I saw an NGC AU 58 Bust Half Dollar sell for over $1,000. The coin had great color and evenly circulated wear. Circulated coins with great eye appeal can sometimes sell for more than a Mint State example. Lower grade copper coins are particularly desirable when found with mark-free, chocolate brown surfaces. Anyone who has collected circulated coins knows how difficult it can be to find problem free coins.

The next time you see another auction record fall for a superb coin, try to remember that is not the only active area of the rare coin market. Quality brings a premium, but it can sometimes be found on a well worn coin.


About Jeff Garrett

jeff garrett Exploring US Proof Coinage with Jeff GarrettJeff 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 Issues100 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 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. We urge everyone who visits Washington, D.C., to view this fabulous display.

Jeff has been a member of the prestigious Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. In 2009 and 2011, Jeff ran successfully for a seat on the Board of Governors for the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the leading numismatic club in the world. He is currently serving as the Vice President of the ANA.


Related Articles


  1. Absolutely agree with “Lower grade copper coins are particularly desirable when found with mark-free, chocolate brown surfaces” I had the most fun collecting putting together a nice XF40-45 problem free two cent set with nice even (and matching) chocolate brown surfaces. Wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

  2. I wouldn’t say that older copper coins chocolate brown are highly sought after. I had I 1909 VDB MS64bn and was told by several dealers that the BN designation detracted much from the numerical price in the book. It was a nice chocolate brown, very pleasing, but problematic it seems. Also, you said “You can also be sure that in the future there will always be a demand for classic issues in any grade.” Well of course there will be some kind of demand, but I think price increases are doubtful in most cases. 1st, you kind of have to guess what problem coins are worth because they’re not listed in most mainstream price guides (otherwise, you have to do a research project to find past auction sales, if available). 2nd, anytime you sell these you will likely get half or less of what you paid. Most of us have probably experienced this. Rare or not, I wouldn’t pay thousands for a problem coin unless less than a thousand were minted.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.