PCGS Specials

HomeCollecting StrategiesWhat Gives a Coin the “Wow” Factor?

What Gives a Coin the “Wow” Factor?

By Doug WinterRareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
At shows or while viewing auctions, I look at a lot of coins. Most leave no impression, some make me pause for a moment before I resume looking at more coins and a small number get me to stop everything else I’m doing (I’m a notorious multitasker), exclaim “wow” and get my thoughts immediately oriented towards How do I buy this coin and what will I have to pay for it?

What Gives a Coin the “Wow” Factor?

There are not a lot of coins with this “wow” factor, but I find that nearly all the coins that excite me have one or more things in common. What are some of the things that make a coin special for me and how do they affect my decision to purchase them?

Great Scarcity

I deliberately didn’t say great rarity.

Obviously, if I’m looking at lots in a Heritage sale and I see an 1854-S quarter eagle that looks like it was run over by a train, I’m still going to stop, look at it carefully and probably figure a bid. But I’m more likely to be impressed by a coin with great relative scarcity within a series.

In other words, if I see a real Uncirculated 1870 quarter eagle (a date which is almost never available in true Mint State), I’m likely to be “wowed”. This isn’t necessarily an expensive coin but I’m more likely to be stopped in my tracks by a CAC-quality MS62 1870 quarter eagle than I am a far more expensive but far more often seen issue.

As you become more familiar with a series, you learn what dates are seen with regularity (even if they are perceived to be “rare”) and which just don’t turn up very much. As an example, I was at a show recently and was offered a Proof example of a date that I hadn’t remembered seeing in some time. I did a quick search through auction records and noted that this date became available at a rate of about once every four or five years. The coin itself wasn’t a Gem but it had a decent appearance and it was priced fairly. I was happy to buy it for my inventory.

Great Eye Appeal

Eye appeal is best defined as a combination of factors (strike, luster, color, preservation of the surfaces) that combine to make a coin attractive. Most savvy buyers have one or two hot buttons which, if they are pressed, have a greater impact. For me, these tend to be thick, frosty luster and deep, rich even coloration.

Luster is the reflection of light from the surface of a coin. When a coin is worn, dipped, cleaned, or processed, the luster is impaired and the eye appeal is impacted. As I look through coins at shows and at auction, few have nice original luster and, as a result, when a coin with “booming” original mint frost is available, it tends to look great.

But part of a weakness for luster is also knowing the series which you collect. As an example, 1847-C quarter eagles are sometimes seen with thick, frosty luster and higher-grade pieces can have really good eye appeal as a result. An issue such as an 1848-C quarter eagle is not known for good luster and I can’t recall having seen more than two or three coins that had a “wow” factor as a result of good luster.

I can love a coin if it isn’t sharply struck or if it shows an average number of non-detracting bagmarks but I have a hard time with coins that have bland, washed-out color. To me, a coin with no definable color has no character and this sort of “blah” appearance is hard for me to embrace.

As with what I mentioned above for luster, the same is true with color: as you learn your area of specialization, you learn what color(s) a coin should show. As an example, the proper color for an early date Dahlonega half eagle is much different than that for a date from the mid-1850s. But when coins have been processed, they tend to look alike; meaning an 1841-D half eagle will look virtually the same as an 1858-D. And this is why when I see an 1841-D with the “right” shade of green-gold color, I get excited and it gives me the wow factor.

Great Pedigrees

I’ll come right out and admit it: I’m a sucker for a great pedigree.

A few years ago, I read the auction descriptions for the Eric P. Newman coins that were sold at the 2013 CSNS auction. The coins were impressive, the grades were impressive. What excited me most about this deal, though, was the pedigrees that many of the coins have. As an example, the star in this first group of Newman coins was an 1852 Humbert $10 graded MS68 by NGC. Not only had Mr. Newman owned that coin since the 1920s, but it also came from the famous Zabreskie sale of 1907 and, even more impressively, has a direct pedigree that goes back to Augustus Humbert’s estate. In other words, this coin belonged to the man who struck it. How cool is that?

But not every pedigree means that much to me. There are a few that have personal significance and I will stretch to buy nice coins from these collections even if they are a bit “out of the box” for me. Amongst sales from my lifetime, the ones that impact me the most are Bass, Eliasberg, Milas, Norweb, James Stack, Duke’s Creek, Green Pond, and Dingler. Just about any coin from a Chapman Brothers sale (with a verifiable pedigree) would have a high wow factor for me as would coins from “name” collections sold prior to 1945.

Great Historical Significance

As a child, my interest in coins was predicated on my love of history.

As an adult, this has, if anything, intensified. A coin with Wild West association is of interest to me and that’s why a nice Carson City double eagle from the 1870s has more of a wow factor for me than a nice CC double eagle from the 1890s. Other historic eras which send a shiver down my numismatic spine? Certainly the Civil War and, a bit less so, World War I. I’d also give high wow marks to San Francisco gold coins from the 1850s and antebellum New Orleans issues from the 1840s.

Numismatic significance goes hand-in-hand with historic significance. Sure, I’m a coin weenie but I will admit that factors like a coin being a first-year-of-issue or a one-year type excite me.

Another dimension that can increase the wow factor of a coin for me is its age. An eagle dated 1799 just seems older (and therefore cooler) than one dated 1800 or 1801, and this tends to get my attention when I’m looking at coins. I think this is the case with most collectors. A nice coin dated in the 1790s has more appeal than just about any other American issue, regardless of denomination.

Great Backstory

I’m a sucker for a coin with a great backstory. Let me give you an example.

Perhaps you’ve seen the small red presentation boxes which people used to give gold coins in as Christmas gifts. They were typically for gold dollars and quarter eagles and they were reasonably common from the 1880s until the 1920s. On a few occasions, I’ve had people email photos of otherwise-common Liberty Head or Indian Head quarter eagles housed in these boxes. Sometimes, the boxes are inscribed, and sometimes they come with letters that feature ornate notes from a grandmother to her grandchild. I like the sentimental value that these have, and because of the backstory, I will always buy them and sell the peripherals alongside the coins to add to the wow factor.

Years ago, Heritage sold a Gem gold dollar from the 1880s (I think it was either an 1885 or an 1887) that came in a lovely little presentation box with a beautiful, ornate inscription inside of it. I didn’t buy it but the dealer who did (hint, he’s tall, from Oklahoma and his last name rhymes with Barter…) is someone who is as easily swayed by a coin’s backstory as I am.


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 10 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 US Gold 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 a recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have 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 “Red Book”) 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.


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].

Related Articles


  1. I bought a relatively common i/2 of a mint set which was part of the Eliasberg collection which had been auctioned by Bowers and Morena. They had bought in the entire lot of mint sets and sold them and included a certificate of authenticity which they both hand signed. While the set itself is inexpensive, the WOW factor of the pedigree was worth more than the small premium I paid for the set. And even worth having it professionally framed. I have it to this day along with the auction catalogs and the book (also autographed) by David Bowers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

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

Heritage Auctions Consign

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

Blanchard and Company Gold and Precious Metals