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Rarity is a slippery concept

What is rare?

Most of us reflexively think in terms of low mintages.

But of course, what is considered to be low might be elastic.

Collectors know there were just five 1913 Liberty Head nickels.

They know there are just 15 1804 silver dollars.

Those are low numbers.

You have to be well-heeled to afford to buy them.

For those of us who inhabit the popular hobby, a low mintage is a much higher number.

How high?

Back in the 1960s, I learned about these concepts.

The 1950-D Jefferson nickel was the key to the series.

The mintage of 2.6 million was considered low.

That is why a BU roll of 40 coins reached almost $1,000 at the peak of the market in 1964.

That is $25 a coin.

When I bought mine in 1969, it was half that figure, $12.50. But it had a low mintage, I told myself.

Are you laughing yet?

Low has changed.

Something with a mintage of 2.6 million is now considered to be hopelessly common.

In 1973, I bought a 40 percent silver proof Eisenhower dollar.

It had a mintage of a low one million.

It took off like a rocket. It soared well past $100. I remember $140.

Look at it today.

In 1992, I eagerly joined others in buying proof and uncirculated White House commemorative silver dollars.

Mintage was a low 500,000.

It sold out quickly.

Have you seen the price today?

Suffice it to say that the market does not consider it to be low mintage.

What is low today?

The future generation of collectors might consider the 3,000 and 4,000 mintages of First Spouse gold coins to be low.

The secondary market today is much less enthusiastic.

While every collector wants to buy a low-mintage coin, it pays also to buy what you know and what you are interested in.

Because a coin might truthfully be said to be a low mintage today, it might not be how a future collector will see it.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."