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Charts show what collectors know

On Friday the task at hand was updating 41 line graphs that are used in the book, North American Coins and Prices. These will go into the 2008 edition, which is in preparation now. My name is on the cover, so I take a very personal interest in the project.

The line graphs show the price performance of 41 coins or sets that represent a cross section of what collectors over time are interested in. There is no 1913 Liberty Head nickel. There is a 1914-D cent. There isn’t a 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece, but there is a 1933 Saint-Gaudens $10, which is not quite as rare, but it has been legal to own it from the start.

There are also various other coins across the denominational range.

What do the charts show? Well, they show that coins have basically gone up in value since 1972. That is good news. The fact that they rise in value means that most collectors won’t have to worry about selling for a loss, but that doesn’t necessarily make them good investments. It must be remembered that prices generally have risen by a factor of 4 since 1972. Coins just to stay even with the cost of living need to quadruple, too. Not all of them do.

The 1914-D cent, which we track in Fine-12 grade, has done well by staying ahead of inflation. What is more, the average collector probably owns it, or at least could have owned it given the widespread popularity of Lincoln cents. The 1914-D price has gone up by almost 8 times, from just under $50 to just under $400. Not bad, the owners have all the collector enjoyment for 35 years and a profit that keeps them ahead of inflation.

An 1856-S Seated Liberty quarter in F-12 did not keep up with inflation. It has risen from just over $40 to $110. It is a good solid collector coin, but the price performance lagged inflation. Still, what amusement can you find that retains so much value after 35 years?

Sure, we have some high priced rarities. There is a 1794 silver dollar in XF-40. This is a good solid, collector coin, but not flashy, liked slabbed MS-67 coins. It has gone up by a factor of 5 just since the year 2000. Currently it is valued at $235,000 in the price guide, but if you own one, don’t take my word for the current price. Get out there and test the waters.

Doing the charts for me is a bit of a distraction from my normal weekly newspaper duties, but it does get me in touch with the basics and it makes me think.

Every collector can name a coin that he has that did particularly well for him. Most can also name a bad purchase, too.

The charts in North American Coins and Prices try to show the good, bad and ugly without skewing results to the point of being totally unrepresentative of the experience of the average collector.

Naturally, I hope you buy the book when it is published at the beginning of the autumn collector season.