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Prices

Prices are the mother’s milk of numismatics. Most collectors faithfully follow the values of their holdings and the coins they hope to buy. They scour price guides such as Coin Market and helpfully point out typos to me when a decimal place is accidentally moved and the like, or when one price guide seems to be significantly different from another on one coin or another.

With so much focus on prices, it has always been a wonder to me that some buyers seem to willfully ignore all of the data and experience out there.

The traditional ignorer of the wisdom of pricing is the buyer who thinks he is getting a deal when he pays half or less of catalog value. Usually these bargains turn out to be overgraded or doctored coins and their values are usually less than what was actually paid. The old line about there being no Santa Claus in numismatics is true.

The other ignorer of pricing information seems to be the excited gold buyer who didn’t know he wanted ever to own gold last week, last month or last year but the headlines about record prices finally got his attention. He has no more knowledge of the market than what has been published in the price guides of the last week or two.

It seems to me that this is the kind of buyer who is paying $2,135 for the proof one-ounce gold American Eagles listed on the first page of our monthly Coin Market price guide. That works out to a premium of nearly 75 percent over bullion value. There is nothing inherently wrong with paying a premium over bullion for a scarce coin, but when these prices are being paid for coins that in less exciting times were selling essentially for the price of the metal in them, it is likely that the buyers are going to be seriously disappointed when the premiums over bullion value return to normal levels.

That day will come and then I will be contacted by people who will be upset to learn that they overpaid to get into the market. They will point to today’s price guide price, which they checked.  I will respond that the price guide price was an accurate reflection of the market when the information was compiled. The guides don’t control what is paid, they only report current activity. Right now buyers are paying those high premiums for what had previously been considered common proof gold coins.

It is hard to make money even on a good potential investment when the entry price point is already way too high. Even when the price guides report a value, it also helps to check the past and see if there is any historical reason why premiums should be so high.

Over the long run, historical pricing relationships matter as much as current prices in any buying decision and longtime collectors know this.

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