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Graduate to a higher collecting level

The last few years have not been treating circulated grade collector coins well.

While we are all dazzled by new heights for the top graded Mint State and proof pieces, values of coins that the circulation finds generation put in its Whitman albums are eroding quietly.

Gold and silver coins whose values are heavily influenced by the price of the metals themselves have also been hit since the record high prices of 2011.

I can see this as I perform one of my annual tasks.

There are 41 price graphs in North American Coins and Prices, a value guide book to U.S. Canadian and Mexican coinage.

The base year is 1972 and the prices of each year have been faithfully assembled.

I added the latest data yesterday.

Of the 41 U.S. coins that are tracked, 35 went down, 3 went up and 3 held steady in the past year.

The three that went up are not likely to be owned by average collectors.

When I was delivering newspapers a half century ago, none of my friends found a 1794 silver dollar in XF-40. But that particular piece went up from $245,000 to $300,000, according to our data.

This coin is very rare. Mintage is just 1,758.

My friends also did not find an XF-40 1846 half dime in their change. It rose from $2,475 to $2,900.

The third coin to rise in value is a 1911-D $2.50 gold piece in MS-60 that added $50 to reach $7,700.

Much more likely in the set of my friends is a 1932-D Washington quarter. Its F-12 price dropped from $140 to $100.

There were also drops in circulated Lincoln cents, Buffalo nickels and Mercury dimes as well as other series. These were definitely circulation finds era staples.

Holding up better are prices in top grades – naturally.

In my time, numismatics has evolved from one where participants followed the conventional wisdom of buying the best they could afford to simply buying the best.

What is the rational thing to do in light of this transition?

Trade up.

Why have an album of circulated coins that are declining in value or simply holding steady when you can unlock their value and acquire some top graded pieces?

You will end up with a more focused collection of fewer pieces. That's not a bad thing. Even 50 years ago it was the ultimate goal.

Besides, if you have had your coins since 1972 or earlier, you have had more than 40 years to enjoy ownership and prices are still higher now than they were then.

We have nearly arrived at the high school and college graduation season. This year it looks like it is time for circulation finds collectors to graduate as well.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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