Numismatic price guides and reporting services are just that – guidance on value rather than absolute guarantees of price. In even the best circumstances, there is not any single price guide or reporting service that can tell a collector or a dealer what any particular coin or piece of paper money is worth right now.
Part of the problem with relying on annual catalogs and even the weekly price guides is that there is always a time lag between calculating values and that same information being published. Then there is the lag between when prices change and when the guides and reporting services reflect the new levels. If any collector or dealer relies on a single source of price guidance, be it A Guide Book of United States Coins, the Coin Dealer Newsletter, or even the Coin Market published in Numismatic News (overseen diligently by my friend Harry Miller) there will always be prices that are too high and some that are too low. Even dealers who may subscribe to the Certified Coin Exchange (CCE) or CoinPlex certified coin trading services need to interpret data provided on recent trades and auction sales.
Let me give you just one example of how even up-to-the-minute reporting services are unable to necessarily provide accurate information. Leading up the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., two weeks ago, the Certified Coin Exchange posted quantity wholesale bids for untoned PCGS/NGC-certified Mint State-65 early Morgan silver dollars at levels in the high $140s to over $150. As dealers left for the show, many of them removed their bids from CCE so that they didn’t have to try to stay on top of the market while away from home. By the time that the ANA show started, high bids were down to $132, even lower than the high bids for any MS-65 early Morgan.
At the ANA, there was something of a vacuum of information about what MS-65 early Morgans were worth. One dealer was paying $140-145 for any PCGS or NGC-certified MS-65 early Morgans and selling them for $5-10 over his bid. Another dealer was paying $154 for untoned coins.
Now, 10 days after the end of the ANA, bids for untoned MS-65 early Morgans have risen slightly, but are still less than they were before dealers withdrew their bids before the ANA. A telling market indicator is that no dealer is posting a wholesale ask on the Certified Coin Exchange for quantities of these coins. Yes, dealers will pay their posted bids. However, since no coins are available in bulk quantities, it is possible that other dealers may be willing to pay more for such coins. It might take another couple of weeks before reporting services can give accurate information on the wholesale buy/sell spread for these coins.
Collectors and dealers need to be careful. There are many key-date collector coins that have jumped in price multiple times over the past decade. At the ANA, I encountered dozens of instances where lower grade specimens of these coins traded between dealers at levels well below those posted in any price guides. A collector who thought he got a good deal because he picked up one of these coins for less than his regular price guide just might have overpaid.
In contrast, there were a number of specimens of U.S. large size paper money in high quality that were trading between dealers at levels well above the published price guides. A collector who passed up such a note because it was priced “too high” may have missed out on a fairly priced item.
There is no single reference that provides sufficient price guidelines. Coin dealers and collectors need to actively check a variety of sources, talk with a variety of other numismatists with the same interests, then augment that by walking the floor of a large coin show to compare price and quality. Trying to determine fair value for the quality will always be a challenge, which can bring numismatists both enjoyment and frustration at the same time.
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. His radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).