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This Week's Letters (5/16/08)

Are shipwreck coins worth more than identical coins not from wrecks?

From the May 16 Numismatic News E-Newsletter:

Q. Are shipwreck coins worth more than identical coins not from wrecks?

Market prices clearly say yes.
The reason for this is the interest in the shipwreck and association with pirates. Let me rephrase the question?
Would a pair of shoes from the Lady Diana collection fetch a higher price than the same pair of shoes would otherwise?

Herman Blanton
Mount Vernon, Ohio

I don’t think the provenance of a coin is particularly value setting unless it comes from some famous collection or hoard, especially if there are many others that were on the same boat. Some specialty collectors or speculators may see such connections as desirable, but I would not pay a premium just because it was sunk.
That said there are flashy coins that have come from wrecks, but they have probably been cleaned. Cleaning seems to be value-killer at other times. Should it be any different for coins cleaned from sea junk or dug coins retreived by metal-detecting?

Lynn Bernhard
Taylorsville, Utah

As a 60-year collector, I can say absolutely not. An 1861 half dollar made in New Orleans is just that. Why would it be worth more because it sank on a ship? One that could have been held in Jefferson Davis’s pocket would be worth more if you could prove it.
Let us say a shipwreck had 1,000 coins on it. They may actually cause the value to go down because it could flood the market. The finder could sell 2,000 and who would ever know?
Of course as long as someone will pay more, then they are worth what you can get. Silver or gold is worth so much. A big gold nugget brings more per gram than a small one. But only to a collector.

Joe McDonald
Sorrento, Fla.

I feel that while most of us are fascinated in some way with shipwreck coins, we are being asked to pay more than the coin is actually worth. These coins have been in salt water or submerged for generations and have corroded the finer points of them.
I would like to have a few shipwreck coins in my collection, but it is the price that they are asking that is outrageously overpriced for me.

Collin Cagle
West Jordan, Utah

From a practical standpoint, fungible items should be worth the same. For example, two bushels of corn from the same part of a field should have the same value because they are indistinguishable. A shipwreck coin, if indistinguishable from a non-shipwreck coin, is identical to it and therefore the items are fungible or interchangeable. Therefore their value should be the same.
But are these two items truly the same? Value may be added to the shipwreck coin if it is accompanied by a certificate from a governmental or other presumably reliable authority stating its circumstances of origin. The lore and romance of the sea may add something to the coin that was recovered from the sea. It is well known that the provenance of an item may distinguish it from another similar item and add value to it.
This would make a great law school or Bar exam essay question.

Robert H. Libman, M.D., J.D.
Chicago, Ill.

Shipwreck coins are absolutely worth more than the identical coin without pedigree. Look at auction records and this fact will be blatantly obvious. Shipwreck coins have sold at an average of more than 30 percent above the non-wreck counterpart. I could send you a chart documenting this fact if you’d like. Love the topic. Thanks for the exposure.

Neil P. Sharkey
Newport Beach, Calif.

This should be a no-brainer. Coins that have been subjected to the elements sitting at the bottom of the ocean are probably in much worse shape than coins that were not subjected to such adverse conditions. There for anyone that pays a premium for coins just because they were found in a shipwreck is as P. T,. Barnum said” A sucker is born every day”.

Roland C. Gauvin
Cumberland, R.I.

Yes,They now have a pedigree.You can think about where ths coin has been for all those years.

Richard Gaetano
Pittsburgh, PA

Of course shipwreck coins are worth far more then coins not from wrecks when I’m the seller.
Most seem to be damaged by the “salt water effect” though when I’m buying! Hardly worth more than melt.

Joseph Schmidt
Boyne City, Mich.

The heartache of the sinking; The fact that the last hands to touch the coin(s) may have perished while trying to save others; The romance of the sea; Yes, shipwreck coins are worth more than identical coins not from wrecks. Say, provenance!

Jim Amberg
Lexington, Ky.

I belive that sea-salvage silver coins cannot be valued the same as to
non se-salvage, because silver suffers
when it is in contact with salt water. However, this does not happen
with Gold.

R Valentin Nunisrev
Odessa Fla.

Not in my book, speaking as a coin collector. But I suppose some history buff might bid the price up above normal levels.

Gregory Kipp
San Mateo, CA

As a general rule, no they are not. But that is based on the assumption that
examples of the given coin are available in both categories - shipwreck
variety and regular variety. Yes, shipwreck coins may have the extra allure
and romanticism that coming from a shipwreck can attach to a coin. But any
particular increase in value attributed to a shipwreck provenance can easily
be offset by the damage done to a coin by being immersed in salt water,
often for centuries. Silver coins in particular are highly susceptible to
corrosion, sometimes severe, caused by salt water and the encrustation of
the coin that can come with it. Gold coins of course are less susceptible
but even they can suffer the ravages of salt water to a limited degree. This
is what differentiates coins with a particular pedigree that are often
deemed more valuable than similar examples without the pedigree from
shipwreck coins.

The one exception whereby a shipwreck coin would have more value than other
similar examples would be those cases where the entire mintage of a given
coin from a particular date and mint was lost on a shipwreck. This is the
case with several examples of world coinage, but I am not aware of any US
examples that would fit the bill. And thus the only way that a collector
might have an example of that date and mint would be for the collector to
obtain one recovered from the shipwreck. And because examples recovered from
the wreck would be the only source for that particular coin, that would
increase the rarity and decrease the availability for the coin thus boosting
the value. And of course you have the added bonus of the romanticism because
the coin came from a shipwreck.

Doug Prather
Salt Lake City, Utah

Are shipwreck coins worth more than identical coins not from wrecks?

NOT only a firm NO, but in some cases the shipwrecked coin may be worth less than the same COIN not from a shipwreck... for various reasons.

I would say that treasure coins have a certain pedigree similar to coins that come from some famous collection. Hence if you value treasure finds in general or a specific treasure wreck then you may be willing to pay a premium for a treasure coin over a non-treasure coin with the same grade. Personally, I don’t usually value a coin’s pedigree hence I wouldn’t tend to pay more. However, I must admit that if I had an opportunity to acquire a particular coin on my check list that was from a treasure and I really liked the coin’s looks, then maybe I would pay a little bit more.

Robert H. Ball, Jr.
Detroit, Michigan USA

In my opinion, no. (This is with the understanding that I’m no expert. )

The original coins have a high value to begin with if they are as old as the dated coins on the shipwreck.
It would seem that unless the shipwrecked coins were in worse condition as when
they were sunk, for instance, if being altered by years in sea water, they would be equally as valuable as those that weren’t in shipwrecks. Granted, one must consider the cost of searching, finding and retreiving them from the depths of the sea, but now there would be a larger population of them available.
If mint state shipwrecked coins are designated worth more than the unshipwrecked coins,, than what is to prevent people from claiming they have a shipwrecked coin if the coin they have is identical?...
The same circumstances surround those highly priced coins from people who claim their coin was found at ground zero after the WTC attack.
Kenyon Miers, Esperance, NY.

Shipwreck coins values should still be based upon their grades. If there is money to be made someone is going to counterfeit them, maybe not right away but soon. Consider other hobby collectibles, baseball cards, coins, tokens, etc.

Robert Maisch
Mobridge, South Dakota

I think that shipwrecked coins and regular coins are in two different categories and should not be mixed. First, for those people who are treasurer hunters, let them buy and sell treasurer coins. Second, those people who collect and or invest in regular coinage should stay away from treasurer coins unless you want to loose money. I personally believe that a nice XF 1858 Seated half dollar is worth more than one found in a ship wreck and costing $1800.
Tony Swicer
West Palm Beach, Fla.