I keep a little clipping file of things that amuse me. A recent
Wall Street Journal article referred to a startup company, Planetary
Resources Inc., stating that the amount of gold yet unmined would last
only 18.9 years. Personally, I thought it was 23.62 years!
There is enough oil in the earth to last 46.2 years, the article
continued, and enough natural gas for 58.6 years, enough copper for
136 years, and other estimates.
If you want to turn a guess into a fact, add a number to it. Or so
If I stated that 2,742 numismatists were interested in Connecticut
copper coins dated 1785 to 1788, Coin World readers would think that
this was information they could take to the bank, the result of a
No one would question me at all, feeling I had done in-depth
research. If had said “several thousand people collect Connecticut
coppers,” the statement would go unheeded.
One of the most curious “facts” in numismatics is that population
reports of certified coins are an accurate estimate of how many exist.
In my opinion, the larger amount of scarce and rare coins, including
in high grades, have never been sent to the certification services.
Take Carson City Mint silver dollars for example. For some issues
in the 1880s, hundreds of thousands of Mint State coins were sold by
the General Services Administration to buyers who paid a sharp premium
Only a tiny fraction has ever been certified.
Moreover, for certain series — 19th century gold coins being a
poster example — many coins that were graded About Uncirculated years
ago are now certified Mint State.
If you read the excellent series of books on gold coins produced
by the late David Akers from 1975 to 1982 and compare population
report figures to, for example, the number of Mint State Charlotte and
Dahlonega Mint coins he estimated, you will scratch your head. Mint
State coins have multiplied in all directions.
As if that were not enough, population reports refer to submission
events, not different coins. As I have mentioned before in my column,
a dealer acquaintance sent the same 1916-D Winged Liberty Head dime in
for certification 24 times until on the 25th it was certified as
MS-65. This was a win-win situation for the dealer, as the value
jumped by thousands of dollars — more than offsetting the fees. The
grading service hit a home run as well by charging 25 times to review
the same coin.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.