Q. David Bowers: How to be an astute U.S. coin buyer in 2016

The Joys of Collecting: Don't always worry about the numbers
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 10/15/16
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The Joys of Collecting column from the Oct. 31, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

Today, coin buyers can be divided into two categories: (1) informed and aware of the nuances of the marketplace and (2) uninformed and don’t care — the labels on holders are all they need.

I believe we all know or agree that no expert or group of experts can consistently tell the difference between, say, Mint State 66 and MS-67, or MS-64+ and MS-66. For this reason the same coin graded by the same service on two different occasions can have two different grades. 

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When seeking an expensive coin, look for a Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corp. certified example, as these services guarantee authenticity. I am not aware if other services do, but if so, consider them as well. 

Also, treat grades as being approximate. They are not precise or scientific. In that way you can look at coins in the general range you desire and can ignore ones graded much lower or higher, saving time.

Say that you want a gem 1926-D Indian Head 5-cent coin, 1882-CC Morgan dollar, 1908 Saint-Gaudens, No Motto $20 gold double eagle, or 1923-S Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar.

Examine images of coins certified from MS-64 to MS-66. Consider the prices asked. Consider the eye appeal and striking sharpness. You will find that some MS-64 coins are nicer than those marked MS-65 or MS-66. You will also find that nearly all 1882-CC dollars are very attractive, but that many 1923-S Monroe half dollars are anything but! You will also see that most 1926-D Jefferson 5-cent coins are weakly struck, and can ignore them.

Pick a nice coin, with decent sharpness of strike, and at a price that seems to be a good buy, again remembering that the highest number is often different from the highest quality or the best value. 

What you are doing is exactly what the sophisticated buyers of years ago did to build great collections before numbers.

When selecting a special coin for myself or a discriminating client, I take my time and carefully select an excellent combination of high quality and good value. I have a lot of fun chasing such things. Works every time!

Postscript: In some specialties, such as counterstamped cents, early tokens, and medals, numbers are sometimes used, but play a minor part in comparison to overall characteristics.

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