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What will they sell for?

I had a telephone call from an individual who wanted to know what the prices in his newly purchased U.S. Coin Digest represented.

I told him they were prices that he would expect to pay were he to go out into the marketplace. In other words, they are retail prices.

What about selling, he wanted to know? What kind of prices would he get selling?

That, of course, depends on the coins, I replied, and how rapidly dealers could expect to be able to resell them.

In the case of coins that are priced close to bullion values, the discount from retail to wholesale levels is not that large. Often sellers can capture 90 percent or more of retail prices, depending on whether the coin is a circulated 19th century Liberty Head gold $20, or a Mint State American Eagle.

Coins that are genuine collectibles, but not part of the bullion frenzy might bring around 60 percent of the listed retail price.

Less actively traded material drops to perhaps a third of retail price depending on how long a dealer might be expected to keep it in inventory. I cited mid-level Lincoln cents in circulated grades – not key dates.

The caller asked for clarification and then volunteered that he had what he considered to be an 1864-L Indian Head cent in good condition.

Now I do not know whether his use of the word “good” was the general public’s all-purpose use of the word, or whether he had a concept of proper numismatic grading. I thought the latter because the general public is usually not aware of coins like 1864-L cents.

I replied that the coin in question in my view fell into the genuine collectible area and the 60 percent figure is a good ball park to begin with.

The caller was thoughtful and polite at all times. I don’t know if he had just the one coin or was considering using the book to evaluate an entire collection.

I could tell he was a man on a mission. I just was not informed what that mission was.

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."