The other day I had a discussion with a gentleman regarding the
rarity of Coronet gold $20 double eagles in various grades.
Information is plentiful — what with population reports, auction
offerings and so on. However, it is somewhat of a puzzle to find out
how many different coins there are.
Today, the numbers that many people use in making judgements have
two major characteristics that are often overlooked. First,
resubmissions are the rule. Someone with a Carson City double eagle
graded, say, About Uncirculated 55, often finds it profitable to send
it back two or three times to a grading service, hoping that it might
come back as AU-58 or MS-60.
In a previous column, I told of a dealer who had a Mint State
1916-D Winged Liberty Head dime that he wanted to have certified as
MS-65, but it fell slightly short each time.
Finally, on its 24th submission, it was returned with the grade he
wanted. This was a win-win situation. The grading service collected 24
fees instead of just one. The owner of the coin saw the value of his
coin jump by thousands of dollars. But its population count increased
As if this were not enough, years ago the concept when acquiring
rarities was “buy and hold.” Someone seeking a 1794 Flowing Hair
dollar, an 1879 Stella gold $4 pattern coin, or a 1901-S Barber
quarter dollar typically sought it to add to a collection. With Wayte
Raymond, Whitman, and other holders and folders, you could watch your
At long last, that empty hole for the 1877 Indian Head cent was
filled! Once purchased, such a coin was apt to stay put for many years
— until the collection was sold. As most collections of expensive
coins today are housed in slabs and rattle around in plastic boxes,
the concept of watching collections grow is lost.
Along the way, some of the magnetic attraction of an 1877 Indian
Head cent, 1867 Shield, With Rays 5-cent coin, or other key issue is
Because many buyers do not “bond” with their purchases, many
“trophy coins” crossing the auction block are soon available for sale again.
In conclusion, while rarities are as rare as they ever have been,
if population reports and auction appearances are used, rare can seem
to be common!
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.