by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
There has been some interesting discussion on this web site recently about the need for more accurate pricing information about U.S. coins. For example, Vic Bozarth recently wrote about the Coin Dealer Newsletter (CDN), commonly known as the Greysheet (www.greysheet.com), and said that its data is skewed by the inclusion of too many sales of lower quality coins.
Others, such as Mark Ferguson, Laura Sperber, and Doug Winter, have all suggested that the Greysheet, Coin World’s Coin Values Price Guide (www.coinworld.com), and other sources include information that is not accurate about coin values. Mr. Winter recently (https://coinweek.com/market-reports/first-quarter-2012-rare-coin-markets-a-quick-recap/) noted how he paid more than $30,000 for a coin which is valued at a fraction of that in Coin World Trends.
To be honest, I rarely refer to Coin World’s retail value information. I know that they say it is based on the value of coins that are solid for the grade and that it draws on multiple sources from auctions to retail sales, but in my view older coins are valued too high there, and the valuation data for many better modern coins is often too low based on my experience as a collector and market analyst.
I find similar problems with Numismatic News’ monthly Coin Market section (www.numismaticnews.net) that provides pricing information, but I do find it to be useful. I know it is hard to update so much information, and for older collector coins, I often agree with these values (which are prepared by Harry Miller). But many times I have found gold coin prices that were below current melt value and other errors.
Michael Zielinski, editor of Coin Update (www.coinupdate.com), recently published an article (http://news.coinupdate.com/a-few-errors-in-the-red-book-1317/) which points out multiple errors in the Red Book, or Guide Book of United States Coins, published by Whitman (www.whitman.com).
Last year I wrote a review of the 2012 Red Book for Coin Update (http://news.coinupdate.com/review-of-the-guide-book-of-united-states-coins-0748/) that made some constructive criticism, particularly on the need for more accurate mintage information on modern U.S. coins. The Red Book, even in the 2013 edition, continues to publish incorrect mintage data on the First Spouse $10 gold coin series that has been available for years from the Mint and various web sites.
One point to keep in mind about the Red Book, or coin bible, as many call it, is that it is only a starting point. To know more, one needs to consult other sources from web sites with modern mintage data to specialized books like Jeff Garrett’s excellent book on pre-1933 gold coins (The Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933). And Whitman’s own professional edition of the Red Book (the third edition came out towards the end of 2011) includes a lot more information about the classics such as auction data, but it is geared towards higher end and higher grade coins.
There is no question that the Greysheet, Red Book, Coin World Trends, PCGS and NGC online prices, etc. are all useful resources, and I am certainly not suggesting that they have no value for coin collectors and market analysts. Each of them generally serves a different purpose, and one should check many different resources before reaching a conclusion.
But I believe that the coin market needs better, more accurate resources, especially on coin values and mintages.
And it is my contention that the coin market and the entire field of American numismatics is held back by the lack of such information. We try to compile it from multiple sources, as best we can, but with no readily available, accurate information that everyone can check, it is difficult to know much a coin is really worth, or many such coins actually exist.
That can suppress market values, lead buyers to overpay for coins, or result in them under or overvaluing their coins for insurance purposes.
Those two data points, value and mintage, are at the heart of coin collecting and investing, and without them one is in the dark.
To be sure, there are many different values to a coin, depending on whether it is a wholesale, retail, or auction price.
And mintage data is also quite complicated for older and more recent coins, and compiling it is an enormous undertaking.
For older coins, one needs to first know how many were made, and then attempt to factor in the number that have been melted over the years, especially when it comes to coins like Morgan dollars, which were melted in the millions under the Pittman Act and other laws. And a lot of pre-1933 gold coins were sent to Europe over the years when America was paying off debts, and many were also melted because of FDR’s executive order that made it illegal to own all but $100 face value of gold coins, or coins with significant numismatic value.
For modern coins, one starts with the Mint’s sales numbers, which are then adjusted to account for returns and other factors. The Mint generally issues a tentative number when sales end, and those numbers are often adjusted substantially at a later date.
This happened, for example, a couple of years ago when the mintage data for the low-mintage 2008 Buffalo gold coins and American gold and platinum eagles were revised significantly by the Mint in 2009. I think that the new, lower mintage numbers played a major role in the subsequent increase in values for those coins.
For many coins, like the spouse gold coins, there is a dearth of published, accurate pricing data. So for those coins I like to use e-Bay sale prices and retail prices at a company like John Maben’s Modern Coin Mart www.moderncoinmart.com to get a sense of what the coins are actually trading for.
The bottom line for me is that the market and collectors spend so much time trying to track down all this data, and a lot of it changes quickly. We could all therefore use an online resource that covers retail, wholesale, auction, and slabbed coin values as well as the known information about mintages.
The closest source that exists to this ideal would be the data that is available at Heritage Auctions (www.ha.com), or perhaps PCGS Coin Facts (www.pcgs.com), and NGC’s Coin Explorer (www.ngccoin.com).
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.
I am very interested in what readers, collectors, dealers, etc. think about the issues discussed in this column based on their experiences using the resources I mentioned. Are there ones that you find your turn to more often than others? What improvements do you think we need?
As a foreign dealer who does not benefit from the standardized sheets, it’s very difficult to make accurate value determinations on my material. However, when I do come across US coins, I find that a search of completed listings from online auctions is more helpful than the greysheet. Circulated US Key dates VF and below trend well below bid, but as always, quality certified items do better. Disparities are even greater when you talk large size US paper. High grade 1923 horseblankets don’t do what greensheet says that the should, yet certain types such as the tombstone, the bison, Chief Oncpapa, the porthole, the pokerchip, and especially the 5 Morgans issue of 1886 all do far better, even in Good to Very Good.
I agree with you about the need for consumers to have better products. The problem, the way I see it, is that the industry really hasn’t developed a more scientific approach to price guides. We are still in the dark ages, I think, when it comes to what gets reported and factored into price guides.
Price guides have come a long ways since I started collecting over fifty years ago. Back then the only guide was the Red Book when it came out on July 1st.
We need to remember that these prices are GUIDES, it always depends on what the willing buyer wants to spend and the willing seller wants for the numismatic items. At the same time, if these guides like the Red Book, Grey Sheet or the various “phone books” do not show realistic prices they need to be adjusted. We also need to realize that most high priced (over $10,000) coins are sold in auctions or by private treaty and in the later case prices are not typically published.
The obvious problem we all realize is setting prices for those items that are close to bullion value in this up and down market. Maybe these items should be quoted in terms of a percent over/under bullion.
I focus mainly on ancients where there is no set price guides made. What I do with them, as well as moderns, I use “recently sold” on ebay as a guide. For moderns I know it can be a bit tougher due to things like VAM, Overtons & toning premiums but I dont collect in those areas. If ebay is a fail then I use Numismedia/NGC. I do have a redbook and consult it as needed.
I dont think there will be better resources cause the market is constantly changing.
I doubt if there will ever be a “perfect” pricing mechanism. In a numismatic field, not U.S. coins, I am aware of a dealer who has a proprietary data base in his field of specialization based on auction records, dealer price lists and I am not sure what other sources. I know that he is respected in his field as the authority…the go to guy for best pricing information. This data base is his advantage in buying and selling. Dealers and collectors who are looking for a easy to access, free or nominally priced source, might do well to realize that hard work is the basis for best pricing information and no one “owes” the industry this information. I do agree that the Heritage data base is the best public source.
Thanks, Martin. I think a lot of people would be willing to pay a fee for something along the lines of what I suggested.
Thanks to Adam, Charles, and Mat for sharing your insights. I agree that e-Bay sales are useful, maybe more so than auction prices with some of the more specialized firms where buyers include dealers and more advanced collectors if one is trying to gauge retail values or replacement value for insurance. And it helps also to look at trends over time to reduce the impact of unusually high or low closing prices.