I have had a number of emails in the past couple of months from a collector who is apparently trying to figure out pricing relationships among coins.
It’s not easy.
What puzzles him most is that certain coins with higher mintages are priced higher in certain instances than the ones with lower mintages.
Collectors early on become familiar with mintages. They are the rough and ready approximation of how one coin should relate to another in terms of prices. Right from their beginning attempts at filling a coin album, new collectors see a connection between the totals listed for each date and mintmark and the length of time it takes to fill the hole.
My first coin albums provided my basic instruction in this almost 50 years ago. For the most part, the variation in mintage told the scarcity story.
But then we collectors spoil it by getting more sophisticated. Once we fill a hole in an album, we start to notice that some coins are in better condition than others and we desire to have the best.
We learn grading and realize that the better the coin, the higher the price. When we get into the numerically expressed variations of Mint State, we enter a realm where mintages can mean nothing.
Some dates have mostly mediocre strikes and relatively few better ones. This pushes up the price of the better pieces. We need to review the population reports of third-party professional grading services to see which date and mintmarks have these condition rarities. Condition rarities are coins whose scarcity is mostly dependent upon their quality of strike and their state of preservation. Mintage hardly enters into it.
It’s also not just about the quality of strikes.
Usage patterns at the time coins were struck can mean that virtually an entire mintage was saved in Treasury vaults, or put entirely into circulation.
Those that were saved, tend to be more common and have lower values than those that were not.
Collecting patterns at that time of issue also influence these condition rarities.
My last emailed question had to do with 1951-D and 1951-S Jefferson nickels. The Denver coin has a mintage of over 20 million while the San Francisco coin has a mintage under 8 million. Yet in the top Mint State grades, it is the more common Denver coin that commands the higher prices.
Collector saving had a lot to do with it. When I was young, we were almost mesmerized by the “S” mintmark. It was harder to find. When we found it, we tended to save it. A half century later, those early collecting preferences have preserved relatively more of the “scarcer” “S” coins than the “D” coins. Our actions as collectors turned the mintage relationship upside down.
Naturally, mintage is still important, especially the further in the past a coin was made, but it is not the only factor in determining scarcity.