by Louis Golino
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Steve Estes is a Portland, Oregon coin dealer and a professional numismatist who has been in business since 1963. He and his wife, Debbi, sell primarily PCGS and NGC-certified and some raw coins, especially Morgan and Peace dollars, Walking Liberty halves, and a wide range of other U.S. coins. He conducts business through his web site, www.steveestes.com , advertises regularly in publications such as Coin World, and attends coin shows.
Mr. Estes has developed a 1-10 scale for assessing a coin’s overall eye appeal, and this forms the heart of his coin philosophy. The scale represents his view of how a coin compares to one that is average for the grade and issue. Average coins would get a 5 on his scale, but he specifically looks for higher end coins that are further up the scale for his clients, especially what he calls EA-9 and EA-10 coins, which represent some of the best coins for the grade. EA stands for eye appeal.
He has also published a lot of very useful information for coin collectors on his web site that draws on his numismatic expertise and business experience, such as recommendations on coins which may be undervalued and suggestions about what grade to buy when putting together a collection of a specific series and overall budget. He also has numerous articles about Morgan and Peace dollars, Walking Liberty halves, and other series that focus on the main surface characteristics of specific years and mint marks, such as strike, luster, and contact marks, and other issues. I have found this information, especially that on silver dollars, to be extremely useful and comparable in many ways to Q. David Bowers’ Guidebook of Morgan Silver Dollars without all the historical background.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Estes.
1.) What led you to become a coin dealer? Did you begin as a collector?
A small accumulation of coins from my grandmother led me to the coin business, which I began as a dealer. I have always been intrigued by the artistic, historic and intrinsic value of coins.
2.) What do you like most about Morgan and Peace dollars, and what led you to specialize primarily in selling those coins as well as Walking Liberty halves?
Though I like all series of U.S. coins, silver dollars always held a special fascination. In the early 1960s I would rush to the bank on my lunch hour, purchase a $1000 bag of silver dollars, scan the contents for better dates and grades, then sell the remainder back to the bank before returning to work. The “good stuff” was quickly shipped off to dealers with buy ads in the back of coin publications. I learned a lot about Silver dollars very quickly!
I’ve enjoyed learning about and being part of major coin meltdowns and hoard discoveries. Though the silver dollar series ended in 1935, there were still lots of coins available. When the U.S. government removed the gold backing from our currency in 1973, I felt certain Silver dollars would remain popular for their bullion and numismatic values.
3.) Common-date graded and raw Morgan and Peace dollars in grades up to MS66 have had an amazing run recently, although they are still below their all-time highs from the late 1980’s. The remarkable rise in the price of silver clearly plays some role in this, especially for the lower-end BU coins whose price is more sensitive to the price of bullion. What do think is driving these increases? Do you believe they are driven in part by dealer promotions and telemarketers? Do you think these prices are sustainable, and do they still have more room to increase in the near future, as Laura Sperber of Legend recently predicted?
The coin market is typically driven by two forces: collectors and investors. From 1992 to 2005, collectors drove the coin market. Investor participation dramatically increased during 2010 and is strongly affecting the current market. Some of this investor interest is created by promotions and telemarketing.
Common date dollars are usually the first to rise in price, followed by all the better dates. As long as demand for silver remains strong and the overall economy improves, I see continued potential for price increases in all Morgan and Peace dollars.
4.) As prices for common-date silver dollars continue to rise, prices for lots of better date dollar coins appear to be undervalued. For example, 1881-S MS65’s graded by NGC or PCGS are retailing for about $230, while a 1903 MS65 is still $300, as it has been for a long time. Do you agree with this view, and are there any dates you would recommend besides what is listed on your web site?
There are definite disparities when looking at price levels of various dollar issues and grades. A few dates I think have special potential due to current pricing include: 1879-S R78 (MS-63, MS-64), 1892 (MS-63, MS-64), 1897-S (MS-64, MS-65), 1899-S (MS-63, MS-64), and 1902 (MS-64, MS-65). Buy these issues in NGC or PCGS holders.
5.) Do you have any other advice for Morgan dollar collectors?
I recommend collectors continue to hold better date issues and wait for the cycle to peak. I suspect better date dollars will increase in price between 50% and 200% within the next 3 years.
Postscript: Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics posted a market report on April 29 in which she reversed her previous view on the near-term outlook for common-date, or generic, silver dollars. She said that current prices are being driven by telemarketer demand, that generic dollars are in a bubble, and that she recommends people sell now while prices are high. Although I agree with this view, I do not believe it changes the medium to long-term outlook for silver dollars, especially for better dates, as Mr. Estes explains. During the month of May the wholesale market for generic dollars has declined, as silver declined from almost $50 to about $35. But so far the retail and auction market has not yet caught up with the decline at the wholesale level. Over time, reduced demand at the wholesale level should drive retail prices down. Dealer buy prices already reflect the decline.