HomeCollecting StrategiesWhat do Coin Auction Prices Represent?

What do Coin Auction Prices Represent?


By Doug Winter RareGoldcoins.com

CoinWeek Content Partner ……
For better or worse, the current market has come to heavily rely on auction prices to determine the value of a wide range of coins. I am often asked: do auction prices represent wholesale or retail? A one word answer: both.

The coin market is quite possibly the most transparent market there is in any hobby or collectible. PCGS, NGC, and Heritage provide comprehensive databases for nearly any major issue of United States coin, in a variety of grades. In theory, even an unknowledgeable collector now has access to records which only the most sophisticated dealers and collectors could access as recently as a decade ago.

1847-o_10_obvBut with millions of data points for United States coins comes a big, hot mess: what does this data mean? Without the ability to interpret this data, we are left with a range of numbers.

For very rare coins, which may have many years between auction appearances, it is easy to conclude that the most recent record (or APR) is a clear indication of value. As an example, I recently paid $42,300 for a PCGS MS64 example of an 1847-O eagle in the Legend 9/15 auction. This is a common date, but it is extremely rare in MS64 with exactly three known. The last time this date had appeared for sale was February 2009 when the same coin sold for $51,750. There is no clear-cut distinction about this being a “wholesale” or a “retail” value. The coin is worth at least $42,300, and it would have cost at least 5-10% more for a collector or a dealer to have purchased it from me.

But the exact same date albeit in a lower grade has less clear cut values based on auction appearances. Let’s take an 1847-O eagle in AU58; a coin that isn’t really “scarce” in the true sense of the word but one which isn’t readily available either.

In 2015, there were two 1847-O eagles in AU58 sold at auction. A nice, original NGC AU58 sold for $1,645 while a PCGS AU58 which was also above-average for the grade (but not CAC approved) sold for $2,056. Does this mean that the wholesale/retail value of this date is $1,645 to $2,056?  In my opinion, it clearly does not.

For nearly every rare coin, there are now four distinct ranges of appearance and subsequent value:

  • NGC, non-CAC
  • PCGS, non-CAC
  • NGC, CAC approved
  • PCGS, CAC approved

In the case of the 1847-O, a very low-end NGC AU58 with no CAC sticker might have a wholesale value of considerably lower than the $1,645 auction record cited above; maybe as low as $1,300-1,400. And an extremely nice PCGS AU58 with a CAC sticker might be worth $2,500 or even $2,750 to a sophisticated collector; certainly far more than the $2,056 which a nice (but non-CAC) coin recently sold for.

1847-o_10_revSo for even a relatively unsophisticated coin like an AU58 1847-O eagle, we have a potential range of value running from a low of $1,300 for a really poor example for the grade to a high of $2,750 for a crisp, eye appealing example. And this doesn’t even bring into play a clearly undergraded AU58 in an old holder which might bring $4,000 or even $5,000 if it appeared at auction.

To really determine the significance of an auction record, the collector or dealer has to do some detective work. If the finest known 1838-D Dahlonega half eagle in PCGS MS64 comes up for sale in the coming year (note: this coin doesn’t exist but is being used as a hypothetical) the chances are close to 100% that it is either being bought by a collector or by a dealer as an agent for a collector and the APR will reflect this. If a 1901-S eagle in PCGS MS65 CAC sells at auction, the chances are good that it is a wholesale transaction.

And this brings us to yet another fork in the road: in today’s market—with transparency and collectors doing their own thing without dealers—is there such thing as “wholesale” or “retail” anymore? Maybe we’re just better off stating that a range of values exist for every coin, and the low-end coins (like the $1,300 1847-O eagle) are what we traditionally refer to as “wholesale,” and the high-end coins (like the $2,750 1847-O eagle) are what used to be called “retail.”

Doug Winter Numismatics, specialists in U.S. gold coins

* * *

About Doug Winter

Doug_Winter2Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was ten years old,  buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.

In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare United States coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.

Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and the recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins has made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality and fair and honest pricing.  Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small.  He can be reached at 214-675-9897.

Doug has been a contributor to the  Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Redbook”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins,  Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues

In addition he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:

  • Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
  • Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
  • Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
  • The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
  • Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
  • An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
  • The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
  • A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
  • The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
  • Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis

Finally Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.

If you are interested in buying or selling classic US coins or if you would  like to have the world’s leading expert work with you assembling a set of coins? Contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 or by email at [email protected].


Doug Winter
Doug Winterhttps://www.raregoldcoins.com
Doug Winter founded Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) in 1985. The nationally renowned firm specializes in buying and selling rare United States gold coins. He has written over a dozen books, including the standard references on Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans gold coinage, and Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. Douglas has also contributed to the A Guidebook of United States Coins, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars, and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues. He is a member of the PNG, the ANA, the ANS, the NLG, CAC, PCGS, and NGC - among other professional affiliations. Contact Doug Winter at [email protected].

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  1. Interesting article on the market and pricing. There is no precision in pricing coins, but understanding coins attributes, grading and how the market works are essential in pricing any rare coins.


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