I always enjoy getting letters from readers, although in recent
years many have been email messages, with only a few typed or
hand-written commentaries sent through the U.S. Postal Service. A nice
email arrived the other day from A.H., who enjoyed the remarks in the
Aug. 27 column.
Commenting on my observation that a dealer sent a Mint State 64
1916-D Winged Liberty Head dime to a grading service 24 times and, on
the 25th time, it came back graded MS-65, he said, “All it shows me is
that this third-party grading is mostly a win for the people who do
A.H. asked, “Would anyone really spend thousands more now to buy
this coin?” The answer is “yes,” without question. Probably 95 percent
of people assembling collections of certified coins look at what the
holder says. Very little is done beyond that. The buyer of such a coin
need not worry, for when he or she wants to sell it, someone else will
gladly buy it.
While all of this is going on, “cherrypicking” is alive and well.
This term, popularized by Bill Fivaz, refers to looking at a coin in a
certified holder or in some other holder, and seeing if there is an
added value that can be obtained. Sometimes, as with the 1916-D dime,
it can be an insight that a coin can be graded higher.
Beyond that, many coins, such as an early Flowing Hair, Draped
Bust or Capped Bust silver coin, can be of a very rare die variety
worth multiples of the regular price. Or, a seemingly ordinary Lincoln
cent can have die doubling, a repunched Mint mark or some feature as
described in The Cherrypicker’s Guide to Rare Die Varieties
(by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton), making it worth dozens of times more
than it would seem at first glance.
Virtually limitless opportunities also exist among certified
coins. Although in recent times Professional Coin Grading Service and
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. have become sophisticated and have listed
die varieties for many issues, millions of coins certified from 1986
to date simply state the date and grade of a certain coin, yielding
thousands of dollars in opportunities.
Equipped with knowledge, easy enough to obtain with all of the
excellent books and other guides available, you have an equal chance
with everyone else.
If you have even a modest numismatic library — say a couple dozen
books — you already have an advantage, for 90 percent of the buyers in
the marketplace consider only what is written on a holder and its
price. There is so much more!
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.