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Coin Clinic: Why do some coin rarities bring lower prices?

There are coins rarer than the 1804 silver dollar and others that have price tags exceeding a million dollars, yet some of these rarities don’t command much of a price. Why the difference?
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2014 U.S. Coin Digest

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By Richard Giedroyc

There are coins rarer than the 1804 silver dollar and others that have price tags exceeding a million dollars, yet some of these rarities don’t command much of a price. Why the difference?

There simply isn’t sufficient interest in, for example, an early Christian dated European coin, compared to what well-financed U.S. coin collectors are willing to pay for a well-touted U.S. coin. At one time I owned a 1492-dated silver coin of Brabant, one of perhaps a dozen known – it cost me $100 during the early 1980s. Supply may be limited, but so is demand for this coin.

One coin is simply publicized more than is another. People in other countries don’t typically pay as much for their own coins as will Americans buying U.S. coins. This, too, becomes a factor.

Is it possible for a coin to begin appreciating significantly in value due to some recent effort to publicize that coin more than in the past?

Absolutely. During the 1960s silver dollars typically sold for a fraction of what they do today. The interest in grade rarity certified Eisenhower dollars is increasing due to a recent effort to publicize this grade rarity coupled with the founding of at least one club for people who want to collect this specific coin type. The late Kam Awash sparked a serious interest in Seated Liberty coinage through publicity during his lifetime. No one has filled that void since he passed. Publicity is good for marketing any collectible.

How is it that some coin auction houses can sell coins for very high prices?

When an auction house sells a coin, a painting, or anything else for an astronomical price the auction results get media publicity. What isn’t seen by the general public is the behind-the-scenes effort put forward by the auction house in making people they know from past experience who have the money and the interest in buying the item aware of its availability. These auction houses don’t wait until the day of the auction, hold their breath, and hope someone is in the audience is willing to pay a lot of money for something.

Coin dealers I know are willing to purchase groups of circulated Wheat cents for a modest premium, but show little interest in circulated Lincoln Memorial cents, even though through 1982 these too are copper. Aren’t they overlooking a market for these coins?

You may have noticed there are coin dealers willing to sell $50 face value bags of Wheat cents, but few if any willing to sell a bag of miscellaneous circulated Lincoln Memorial cents. It is economics that counts here. Who is going to spend the time going through Lincoln Memorial cents to check dates to separate the copper from the clad cents? It is a lot easier to count Wheat cents since the reverse indicates these are copper coins regardless of the date.

How does a dealer know none of the cents in a $50 Wheat cent bag aren’t premium date coins?

Most dealers likely don’t know for a certainty that there isn’t some better date in the mix. It would cost more money in labor and time to examine each cent than the likely reward for the effort. Dealers are quite willing to purchase a better date cent when this labor has been done by someone else, but their cost of labor is too prohibitive for them to have an employee do it. When purchasing a better date Lincoln cent the person who discovered the coin has already committed the labor to that effort.

I’m confused. What is the difference between a doubled die and a coin that is doubled? Do each bring a premium value?

A doubled-die coin is a coin produced from a working coinage die on which the image on the die itself is doubled. A coin displaying doubling can be produced from a die that has no doubling due to a momentary production problem, the coin having been struck more than once, creating a doubled image sometimes called chatter, or machine doubling damage. Collectors tend to place a much greater value on a doubled-die coin than a double-struck coin. Every coin struck from the doubled die will display that doubling, while a double-struck coin may be the only one. Collector interest is usually focused on any coins struck from a specific die that has a problem.

Some 19th century British coins carry a number identifying the specific die from which they were struck. Is there anything like this in the U.S. coin series?

A number appearing on a coin indicating the specific die from which the coin was struck is useful for quality control purposes, but nothing else. If such a die identification was to be placed on U.S. coins it would only encourage hoarding, which in turn would likely result in a circulating coin shortage. Historically the U.S. Mint has never followed the British example. Certain coin series, such as half cents and large cents, are popularly collected by die variety even without the assistance of a number representing each die appearing on individual coins.

Can you explain the practice of placing coins over the eyes of the dead?

There is both superstition and practicality to placing coins over the eyes of the deceased. Due to rigor mortise it is much more pleasant to see the corpse without it seeing you in return. Superstitious people were concerned that the deceased individual might have even more of an agenda, looking for someone to take with him. This also encouraged placing coins over the eyes. Furthermore, the eyes are one of the first body parts to decompose or to be attacked by insects following death. This wouldn’t be too pleasant for people paying their last respects.

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