Skip to main content

Try to explain a price guide

Price guides have long been the most popular items offered by numismatic publications.

Having an idea of what something is worth is an important part our hobby/community.

But what should the price guide show?

Numismatic News publishes a monthly retail price guide called "Coin Market" as well as a much shorter version in each issue called "Coin Market at a Glance" that lists the most widely traded coins in the business.

These are prices collectors should expect to pay when they encounter these coins at typical collector venues, like shows.

Prices, however, are not set in stone, they are merely a point from which the buyer and seller can begin negotiations.

In a hot market or series, final sale prices tend to be higher than what appear in price guides and during slow times or in sleeping series, prices usually drift lower.

Now I don’t think I have written anything here that an average collector hasn’t seen or heard before many times.

I used the term retail price guide to mean what a collector should expect to pay a dealer for supplying a coin to him. And that is where the emphasis also should be, a single coin.

Unlike goods that can be ordered in quantity at lower prices, coins are different. To buy quantities of collector coins usually means paying more.


Because dealer inventories of classic collector coins are usually limited. They are limited by the rarity status of the coins themselves. They are limited by the unwillingness of dealers to tie up working capital for prolonged periods. The exceptions, of course, are modern bullion coins and other new issues that trade as investments. Quantity in these cases is the name of the game.

If you want to buy 500 VG 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents today, you are probably going to have to pay a premium to the list price to persuade the nation’s dealers to find them for you. The same is probably true even for the more common 1909-S.

Normally, and price guides are written for normal circumstances, a collector is looking for only one piece at a time.

In short, a retail price guide offers a starting point for finding the value of a single coin sitting on a dealer’s case in front of you.

Where it goes from there depends on how badly the dealer wants to sell or how badly the buyer wants to purchase.

It seems that the more that is explained about price guides, the more needs explaining as you consider all the many factors that influence the price of a coin, but I guess that means I can write about his topic again.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."