Price guides have always been popular. They help newcomers get a sense of values. They help longtime collectors keep generally abreast of market movements.
However, whether they are retail price guides or wholesale price guides, they are not like stock tables that report actual trading.
Coin price guides simply are the best approximation of what a coin might be worth in any given week since trading for most coins is at best sporadic.
When active buying slows down, because dealer cash flow is declining (such as during bullion downturns), price guides perform another function. Price guides are hand-holders.
What do I mean by that?
Well, coin markets are not like trading in oil. You know oil is up or down because cargoes or futures contracts change hands day by day and the prices can be reported.
For many coins, when dealers stop buying something, prices often are not marked down. They simply stay at the level where they last changed.
There are exceptions of course. Modern proof sets and bullion coins can be moved up and down and nobody bats an eyelash.
But when something with numismatic value presents itself and a dealer knows it cannot be resold at an immediate profit, then the rationalizations begin.
Buyers sometimes will tell would-be sellers that they won’t buy a coin because the grade is not what it is represented to be.
Saying something along those lines simply means no transaction will take place and the market can maintain that numismatic prices are stable.
Without the evidence of transactions, price guide editors simply continue to cite their most recent information.
The price guide price therefore becomes a source of reassurance for all those who own temporarily unsalable coins at the stated price because they see it from week to week or from month to month in price guides in Numismatic News and elsewhere.
Near the beginning of my career in the early 1980s, I once suggested to Coin Market editor Bob Wilhite that certain coins should be marked down dramatically. To me, the market was dead. That meant prices should be lower.
He did not call me nuts, but he did hem and haw in a way that indicated that such things just are not done.
Price guides provide a valuable service to collectors, but if certain series go to sleep and there is no price movement indicated for a prolonged period of time, a savvy buyer with cash can often negotiate deals at prices rewardingly below posted values.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."