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Twelve Months of Writing a Weekly Column on Coin Rarities & Related Topics

News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #52

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

While I previously wrote hundreds of articles about coins over a period of many years, I am startled by the fact that it is now been nearly a whole year since my weekly column commenced. In any event, I very much enjoy writing about coins and related topics every single week. As this is column #52, the present seems to be a logical point in time to reflect upon my fifty-one weeks of columns and to provide relatively new readers with information about the range of topics that I have covered.

In addition to surveying past topics herein, clickable links are provided. I hope that current readers will refer to columns of interest that they missed or forgot about.

Despite my affection for rarities, I trust that no one is under the impression that I am aiming to cater only to very wealthy collectors. I have written several columns and articles that are directed at beginners and/or at non-rich collectors. Moreover, I have written many pieces that are designed to be of interest to collectors of all income levels. I strongly maintain that, to understand the values in the coin collecting community, there is a need for a collector to learn about coins that he or she cannot afford.

Similarly, to understand the coins that a collector owns, he must have an understanding of coins that he does not own, including many that he may never be able to own. It just does not make sense to solely view coins in isolation and ignore the values that have evolved within the culture of coin collecting in the U.S. I am not implying that inexpensive coins do not matter. On the contrary, there are many genuinely scarce, naturally toned, circulated scarce coins that are affordable and important within the value framework of the coin collecting community.

There is a need for coin buyers to understand the reasons why some coins are regarded as more important and/or more desirable than others. More expensive coins are not necessarily more important or more desirable. Even so, learning about particular, very expensive coins enhances a collector’s understanding of the culture of coin collecting.

Art enthusiasts frequently learn about paintings that they will never personally acquire. In many fields, learning about Great Rarities and discussing them with other enthusiasts is part of the process of becoming a knowledgeable collector.

Of course, collecting coins should be fun. I suggest that it is fun to learn about a variety of coins, including those of various types, old and new, business strikes and Proofs, and of grades ranging from Fair-02 to 68+. It just does not make sense for collectors to learn only about coins that they are currently seeking.

I very much enjoy learning about coins that I will never own. I hope that I convey my enthusiasm for rare coins in my writings.

I also hope that I have provided interesting facts and worthwhile analyses regarding coin auctions, coin markets, specific rarities, great collections, grading practices, and buying strategies. Reflecting upon a year of columns may shed light upon topics that should be further investigated or better explained. I invite comments, both positive and negative, from readers.

I. General Points

Just two weeks ago, I addressed a question that has been asked often over the last six months, Is There a Price Relationship between Gold Bullion and Rare Gold Coins? There is much less of a relationship than most buyers realize. (As always, clickable links are in blue.)

The Advertising of ‘Choice’ or ‘Gem’ Uncertified Coins is a topic that I recently discussed, with examples. I feel compelled to address this topic again in the future. I am very concerned about the fact that many “choice” or “gem” uncertified coins would, if submitted, be deservedly rejected by the PCGS or the NGC, or would be fairly assigned grades that are significantly lower than corresponding advertised grades for the same coins.

Even when advertisers make clear, in fine print, that their respective grades do not conform to mainstream standards and criteria, many buyers do not understand the underlying issues. Indeed, buyers of raw, meaning not certified, coins are often under the impression that the raw coins advertised are of higher quality than these are in actuality.

Imagine that there is an advertiser who regularly sells coins described as ‘Choice Uncirculated’ and the PCGS or the NGC would not grade any of these same coins as high as ‘MS-61,’ if these received numerical grades at all! Would such advertising be a problem?

Usually, experts think of ‘choice’ coins as grading at least 63 and buyers may think that coins represented as being “choice” would be graded at least 63 by most experts. Of course, it is important to take prices and overall demand for certain kinds of coins into consideration as well.

My March 16th column on Changes in Demand for Rare U.S. Coins So Far in 2011 attracted some attention. I continue to conclude that prices for rare or very scarce U.S. coins are about the same as these were during corresponding months last year, on average. Prices for rare gold coins are slightly higher.

What are Auction Prices? I believe that I answered this question in my columns of March 9th and Jan 26th. I have always been intrigued by auctions. I had been thinking about the meaning of coin auction prices for a very long time. Please read these columns.

My impression is that most coin buyers do not really understand how to even begin to interpret auction prices realized. Indeed, I have recently been startled that a few experienced collectors, who I know, do not understand the meaning of a ‘strong’ auction price. A coin may bring a strong auction price even if the market value for the same coin remains the same or goes down.

In addition to auction phenomena, other topics that I addressed during the last twelve months have been ‘on my mind’ for years. Since I was seven years old, I have been thinking about the dividing line between classic and modern U.S. coins. As a kid, I noticed that pre-1935 U.S. coins were scarcer and more expensive, and were taken more seriously by dealers and relatively advanced collectors who I knew.

I hope all will consider my two part series on 1933/34 being the one true dividing line (part 1; part 2). I really do not consider this point to be strictly a matter of opinion. Several arguments, which I honestly believe to be logical, and clear facts are presented in support of this historical reality.

Certainly, there is a role for the collecting of modern coins. I am not against the collecting of modern coins. One of my purposes, though, is to discourage people from paying a lot of money for coins that are very common. By ‘a lot,’ I am referring to the respective amount that each individual collector regards as ‘a lot’ to him or her. Generally, it makes sense to learn about modern coins before spending a considerable sum on them. My column of Oct. 27th is devoted to Collecting Modern Coins. (Remember that clickable links are in blue.) For that column, John Albanese, Jeff Ambio and Kris Oyster contributed opinions about modern coins.

In contrast to the growth of the number of articles on modern coins in the ‘print’ coin publications, there has truly been growth in the collecting of classic U.S. coins. In my column of Aug. 25th, I put forth a series of points on the growth of coin collecting. I was hoping that this column would attract more attention than it did. Relevant pessimistic points, in other publications, are wrong. From around 1998 to early 2008, there was a boom in coin collecting that was halted by a severe recession. A very large percentage of the people who started, or returned to, collecting during this period continue to collect classic U.S. coins.

Also, in my earlier mentioned column on gold bullion and rare gold coin prices, John Albanese emphasizes how well coin values fared during the recent severe recession in comparison to how markets for rare coins fared during the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s. John is the founder of the CAC and the growth of the CAC is discussed in my column of June 16th.

There is ample evidence to suggest that there are tens of thousands of people, including adults of all ages, collecting RARE OR VERY SCARCE U.S. coins. Despite all of the negative political and economic news over the last three years, including the destruction of considerable wealth by a severe recession and terrible unemployment nationwide, tens of thousands of collectors continue to spend vast sums on rare U.S. coins. Plus, new people have joined the coin collecting community. One of the leading dealers in rare, and I mean ‘rare,’ U.S. gold coins recently informed me that a substantial number of “new collectors” are buying coins from him so far in 2011.

II. Beginning & Intermediate Collectors

I intended for most of the general columns just cited to be of interest to beginning, intermediate and advanced collectors. Indeed, I suggest that all collectors of U.S. coins give some thought to the concept of 1933/34 being the dividing line between classic and modern U.S. coins. Furthermore, even collectors who do not feel comfortable bidding in auctions, may benefit from learning about What are Auction Prices? I have, though, focused on providing introductory information in other columns.

My column of Oct. 13th, Advice for beginning and intermediate collectors of U.S. coins, covers collecting concepts and relatively inexpensive coins. John Albanese, Kris Oyster, Nick van der Laan, and Andy Lustig contributed advice. In Feb. 2011, my column on Basics for Beginners offers advice for true beginners, especially including those who have yet to start collecting.

Though not solely geared towards beginners, my report on The Jan. 2011 FUN Convention in Tampa contains much information that many beginners, I hope, would find to be educational. It is worthwhile to learn about the trading, atmosphere, events, and attractions at one of the two leading coin conventions.

Similarly, my column on The Ten Leading Topics of 2010 is not directed at beginners. Even so, it may be helpful for beginners to learn about major topics and controversies in the coin collecting community last year.

Also, while not designed for beginners, I mention my column on Super Premiums for Common Silver Dollars with Attractive Toning. An understanding of coins requires some knowledge of the role the attractiveness of a coin plays in determining its market value. In some cases, extreme examples serve as effective illustrations of a general concept.

III. Auctions

In the history of coin collecting in the U.S., no one has written anywhere near as much as I have about coin auctions. I have written too many auction reviews to count. Only a small percentage of my weekly columns, however, are reviews of auction events. I am more likely to focus upon great collections and specific rarities, in my columns.

Nonetheless, I recently devoted a two part series to the first auction conducted by the new Spectrum-Stack’s-Bowers combination, part 1 was on copper and silver, and part 2 was on U.S. gold coins sold in this event. Just last week, I wrote about the Spink-Smythe auction of the ‘Magnolia Collection.’

As I discuss Heritage auction events and/or specific coins in Heritage auctions in so many articles and columns over the past year, it would not make sense to list them here. My column on The CoinFest and the Heritage auction at The CoinFest features some unusual and distinctive points.

I am particularly proud of my coverage and analysis of the 1907 $10 gold piece that Heritage auctioned for more than $2 million. In my column of Feb. 2nd, I discussed the sale of this 1907 Eagle and listed all U.S. coins that have traded for more than $2 million each. The following week, in my column of Feb 9th, I analyzed this 1907 $10 gold piece itself and put forth my own theory regarding its identity, meaning and importance.

In my column of Jan 26th, in addition to analyzing the results of the sale of Henry Miller’s Proof Gold coins, I put forth a list of criteria as to why, on average, some coins fare better than others in the same auction. It is my hope that my analytical framework in this regard, plus my explanations in my ‘What Are Auction Prices?’ column, will enable collectors to understand the meaning of and reasons for ‘strong’ auction prices.

In two columns, those of Nov. 17th and Dec. 15th, I covered different parts of the ‘Malibu Collection’ that B&M auctioned. The Dec 15th column also includes some explanations for beginning and intermediate collectors. A few of the prices realized for the Proof Liberty Seated Quarters in the Malibu collection are mentioned in my column of Jan. 5th, which is an auction review.

My column of Nov. 10th is another auction review, on the Stack’s sale of the W. L. Carson collection. I enjoy writing about ‘fresh’ collections of scarce and rare coins, and these are often, though not always, especially newsworthy. Matt Kleinsteuber, Laura Sperber and Greg Cohen are cited in that column.

Auctions by the Goldbergs received coverage, too. A 1795 Reeded Edge Cent and results for the “Davy Collection” of half cent errors are discussed in my column of Sept. 29th. Two weeks earlier, in my column of Sept. 15th, two rare gold coins in this same Goldbergs auction extravaganza are analyzed and some explanation of “Davy” half cent errors was put forth.

In my column of June 9th, Goldbergs and Heritage Spring Southern California auctions, which were separate, are covered. Also, in several columns and articles, I provided extensive coverage of the Heritage and B&M auctions in Boston in August.

IV. Specific Rarities

It would be hard to imagine another publication providing as much coverage as I have of specific rarities that have sold at auction OR privately over the last twelve months. In the very first installment of my weekly column, I reported on the private sales of the amazing, Specimen-63 1856-O $20 gold coin, a ‘fresh’ 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece, and the PCGS graded MS-67 Thaine Price-Stellar-Simpson 1924-S $20 gold coin.

Back in June, I wrote about the private sale of the unique Proof 1876-CC dime. I had written about this same coin before. It is one of my favorites.

In my column of July 14th, I wrote about the private sale of a collection of Carson City $5 gold coins and the transacting of the “WPE” set of vintage commemoratives. Two weeks later, I discussed, at length, a Proof 1804 $10 gold coin (Eagle), including a history of this specific coin and some analysis of the rarity of the issue. In my column of Aug. 18th, I mention that the NGC had this Proof 1804 Eagle ($10 gold coin) on display in Boston, along with an 1804 Eagle ‘pattern’ that was struck in silver! I was delighted to view these 1804 Eagles.

Over the last twelve months, I wrote about too many specific rarities in auctions to even begin to list here. A few Great Rarities were auctioned in Boston by B&M and Heritage, including an 1817/4 Capped Bust Half Dollar, an 1870-S Liberty Seated Dollar and an 1854-S Quarter Eagle ($2½ gold coin).

The Boyd-Cardinal 1794 silver dollar, now in the collection of Bruce Morelan, was covered in three different columns. Before June 23rd, I knew that it would be auctioned in Boston in August. In my Aug. 11th column, I wrote about the auction result for the Boyd-Cardinal 1794 dollar. In my column of Aug. 18th, I devoted eight paragraphs to the story of this silver dollar trading again, after it was auctioned.

More recently, I wrote about other coins that were privately acquired by Bruce Morelan in my column of March 30th, The Spectacular Nevada Accumulation and the Morelan Collection of Type Coins. A PCGS certified ‘Specimen-65’ Chain Cent is featured.

In a large number of columns, I talk about, or at least allude to, important rarities that I have seen over the course of my life. When I listed all the U.S. and pre-Federal coins, plus one American medal, that I know have sold for more than $2 million each, I felt fortunate to have held all of them. When I wrote about the fresh 1856-O Double Eagle ($20 coin) that Heritage auctioned in September, I remembered examining other 1856-O Double Eagles. I then could not resist reflecting upon many of the Great Rarities in general that I have closely viewed over the years.

V. The PCGS SecurePlus Program

The PCGS SecurePlus program was introduced in March 2010. I mentioned it and the NGC’s metallurgic analysis program in my column of May 26th. Later, I wrote a detailed explanation of the SecurePlus program, which was followed by a column on reforming the program. Views of John Albanese, Ira Goldberg and Mark Feld were presented.

The issue of reform and the future of the SecurePlus program are discussed again in my column on the introduction of the PCGS Coin Sniffer and ‘Ray Gun.’ Scientific comments by Richard Haddock are included. In relation to PCGS policies, opinions are put forth by John Albanese, Dr. Steven Duckor, Wayne Herndon and Stewart Blay.

Yes, I covered other topics that are not mentioned above. A year of columns cannot be surveyed in one column. I trust, though, that I have provided more than just an impression of the purpose and scope of my weekly column. Moreover, I hope that readers click on the links above to reach past columns. I aim to share my enthusiasm for coins and project my belief in very much objective criteria for interpreting rare coins. Of course, I hope to educate readers about the culture of coin collecting in the U.S and I will continue to cover newsworthy events.

Also, I hope my writings help collectors fulfill their own objectives or form new and satisfying collecting plans. Rare coins are fascinating and collecting coins is a great deal of fun.

©2011 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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