Buying coins in Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic
Guaranty Corp. holders, plus those of a small number of other services
(check them out before buying), has given a level of confidence to
buyers that has no counterpart. Newcomers can buy without having any
knowledge of grading or authenticity. However, if you are a seasoned
numismatist you know that grading is only part of the desirability of
a coin, and that such factors as eye appeal and sharpness of striking
can be equally or more important.
For a few series the sharpness of striking is noted on a certified
holder. A Jefferson 5-cent coin can have six full steps. For some
issues usually weakly struck, one with six full steps can be worth
hundreds of times more. A Winged Liberty Head dime can have full
bands. Certain dimes that usually are weak, such as the Philadelphia
Mint 1945 issue, can be worth hundreds of times more if bands are
full. Certain Standing Liberty quarter dollars with full head can be
worth much more than if not with this feature, and Franklin half
dollars with full bell lines, ditto.
The secret is that some other series will be recognized for
sharpness, and certain examples will break out and zoom to be worth
much more than you can buy them for today.
Among Mint State Liberty Head 5-cent coins, only a few have
sharply struck corn kernels in the reverse wreath. One can be
certified as MS-68 and be weak in this area. If you set about
collecting gems that are sharply struck, you will have hardly any
competition at all and will pay no more. I well remember that this was
the case years ago before full bands Winged Liberty Head dimes were popularized.
Indian Head 5-cent coins are another area with enormous
opportunities if you hunt for full strike coins with sharp fur on the
bison and other well-defined details. Among Walking Liberty half
dollars, especially of the early years, ones with sharply struck
features such as skirt lines and Miss Liberty’s hand range from scarce
to very rare. I’ve never seen a sharp 1923-S half dollar, but if I
were to find one tomorrow I would not have to pay a premium to buy it!
I could mention other series.
Eye appeal is another secret. For my money, I’d rather have a
certified MS-63 1923-S Monroe Doctrine half dollar, with nice eye
appeal, than an MS-65 piece that is as ugly as a toad.
Certification is essential for unsophisticated buyers, but for
knowledgeable collectors, certification is the key to finding many
treasures without paying extra for them!
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, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.