The Joys of Collecting column from the Nov. 7, 2016, monthly issue
As I like to add little-known facts and diversions to my columns, I
mention here some numismatic series in which worn pieces are more
desirable than Uncirculated examples.
Among the tens of thousands of varieties of paper currency issued by
about 3,000 state-chartered banks from 1782 to 1866, there are many
Uncirculated bills — as nice as the day they were printed. These were
kept in bank vaults and never signed by the cashier and president and
As a general rule, these are less desirable and valued far below the
same varieties if they are signed and in a circulated grade such as
Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated.
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Among counterstamped coins, a well-worn example is often more
desirable that a counterstamped coin in high grade. The reason is that
a coin worn nearly smooth, if counterstamped, displays the advertising
lettering much more clearly.
Numismatist, February 1921, a letter signed by “An Average
Collector” included this:
“While it may be treason from the advanced collector’s standpoint to
champion the collection of circulated coins if the unused are at all
available, to me there is a mystical suggestion of romance and history
surrounding a used coin that is utterly lacking in the virginal
perfection of the unblemished specimen. What a story some of these
battered coins could relate if they could speak!
“How many of my humble coins have passed through the hands of George
Washington, Lincoln or other great figures of history. How many have
sniggled in some soldier’s pocket during the Battle of Gettysburg, the
burning of the Capitol, or have been present at innumerable thrilling
events of the past. It does not entail an unusual imagination to
envision myriads of untold stories in the life of the used coin not
possible to the secluded career of his sheltered brother who has been
reclining in some cloistered vault since his inception.”
The above brought to mind one of my favorite tokens — a well-worn
10-cent piece issued by W.A. Farr, the sutler or merchant who with his
tent traveled with the infantry troops during the Civil War and sold
various supplies such as books, medicine, games, stationery, and the like.
Would I trade this for a Gem Uncirculated example? I don’t think so.
Changing the slant slightly: From day one many have advised, “Buy
the best grade you can afford.”
For most collectors this makes sense, at least in the federal
series. The “you can afford” part of the sentence is often ignored as
some chase the best grades “that have been certified,” which to me is
Take the 1921 Peace dollar. The
Grading Service Population Report states that PCGS has
certified 4,310 as Mint State 64, 1,400 as MS-65, 179 as MS-66, and
just seven as MS-67. PCGS’s price guide suggests that an MS-64 example
is valued at $775, MS-65 at $2,250, MS-66 $5,900, and MS-67 $65,000.
I have a complete set of Peace dollars, all certified by PCGS, and
assembled for me over a period of two years by Melissa Karstedt. The
strategy was to examine a lot of MS-64 coins and pick out “high end”
coins that were just as nice as or even nicer than some MS-65s.
If you are endeavoring to complete sets of 20th century coins, if
you seek only the finest you had better be a millionaire, else you
will end up with not a collection but just a handful of coins. On the
other hand, for most sets, hand-picked MS-63 to MS-65 coins will yield
a splendid display.
Under such a program most sets can be 90 percent or so completed,
and the remaining key issues can be added in high circulated grades.
The result will be a collection that can be contemplated and enjoyed.