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Ultra-Grade Common Coins

by Douglas Nyholm

Recently a 1938-S Mercury Dime was sold at auction by Legend Rare Coins for an astronomical sum of $364,000!  This is mind-boggling and I as well as many other collectors, are asking themselves ‘why’?  Yes, it is the finest known, beautifully toned, and a very attractive classic design but who would pay such a sum?  The ‘Coin Market’ in Numismatic News gives a value of $160 in MS65 FB.  Recently I have followed several relatively common coins which have sold for hundreds of times what one would expect with many making headlines equal to classic rarities.  Just to mention one other example is the 1958 MS67+ FBL Franklin Half which sold late last year for $129,000.   

Generally, these Ultra-Grade coins are being sold at major auctions and, as with any auction, in order to climb to such a sum there must be at least two bidders. Someone else also vying for the lot will become the under-bidder. As such, there must be a demand for these coins, however small.  Common or not there also is a fascination with ultra-grades.  Everyone likes and admires a properly graded MS65 coin but when coins reach rarefied air with grades of MS67, 68 or 69 it seems that the sky’s the limit.  Maybe there is a difference between a MS68 or MS69 but I would wager that very few people could discern the difference, and if placed before a panel of experts there would not be anywhere near a 100 percent consensus. In all reality, it is a number on a slab and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Finally, after spending this kind of money on a coin such as this, what is the purpose?  Is it for future investment, financial gain, or an attempt to assemble the finest known Registry Set?   I have to believe that ego must enter the equation, but this has to be accompanied with a substantial bank account and the desire to own the best.  How many of these Ultra-Grade common coins, if consigned to another auction in a few years, would realistically see much of an advance in price, if any?

This is a wonderful hobby but if everyone had identical collecting interests it would also be a boring hobby.  I appreciate rare coins and love to study and read about them. Another recent quip in Numismatic News reported that a 1792 Silver Half Dime in MS64 recently sold at the Goldberg auction for $370,000.  I would personally scrape up another $6,000 to purchase that coin instead.  Just my thoughts.

This Viewpoint was written by Douglas Nyholm, the Editor/Publisher of The Mint Master.

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