US Coins

Can a Modern commemorative $1 outshine a 1907 High Relief $20?

A 1989-D Bicentennial of Congress commemorative silver dollar graded MS-70 by PCGS sold for an astounding $7,150 at an Oct. 5, 2014, auction.

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Would you believe that a modern era commemorative silver dollar with a mintage of 135,203 pieces could sell for more than a representative 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief gold $20 double eagle with a mintage of 12,367 pieces? 

At an Oct. 5, 2014, auction a 1989-D Bicentennial of Congress silver dollar graded Mint State 70 by Professional Coin Grading Service brought $7,150. This past summer a different example sold for $7,485.50 in another auction.

In contrast, examples graded MS-69 sell for $30 to $35 at auction. 

Looking at the population report published by PCGS establishes that this is not an issue that “comes nice.” The report lists 136 PCGS MS-68 examples, 2,038 in MS-69 and just 10 in MS-70. 

There is a variant on this dollar that is a rarity, but the coin just sold is a “normal” one. 

According to commemorative coin expert Anthony Swiatek, around 40 to 50 examples of this issue are known that have medal rather than coin alignment. In other words, on typical examples when the obverse is pointing up, the reverse is pointing down. In medallic alignment, both the reverse and obverse point up. These appear in the marketplace infrequently, but can sell for $2,000 and up. 

Collectors are often surprised at the high prices achieved by the conditionally rare, high-mintage issues. Part of the surprise regarding their rarity can be attributed to broad changes in the rare coin industry. 

Back in the late 1980s, third-party grading services like PCGS and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. were not certifying huge quantities of modern coins. Dealers weren’t buying large quantities of new commemorative issues directly from the Mint and submitting them directly to grading services as they do now. 

Also, some issues are produced better than others at the U.S. Mint, having a higher percentage of coins that are without the sorts of minor imperfections that separate a MS-69 coin from one that gets a “perfect” MS-70 grade.

In a Dec. 14, 2014, sale, a 1984-S Los Angeles Olympic Games dollar also graded PCGS MS-70 brought $3,850. PCGS’s population report shows just nine examples of this issue in this grade, with the vast majority at the MS-69 level.

Depending on one’s perspective, this sale may be seen as a good value. 

In an April 26, 2013, Heritage auction a different example in PCGS MS-70 sold for $9,400. At that time, PCGS had graded just six examples MS-70. 

Lest someone think that the top prices are reserved for silver dollars, in an April 6, 2014, auction, a 1989-D Bicentennial of Congress half dollar in PCGS MS-70 condition sold for $4,180, and in a July 20, 2014, auction by the same firm a different example in the same grade brought $4,400. 

The population of this issue in PCGS MS-70 is just 15 pieces, representing a tiny fraction of the 1,811 examples graded MS-69 by PCGS. 

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