What’s the optimal grade for value? The answer depends on what issue you’re looking at

Market Analysis column from April 7, 2014, issue of Coin World
Published : 03/21/14
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When one is buying a coin for his or her collection, it’s natural to want to maximize the value of a purchase and buy a coin that a future buyer may want. 

For example, take the 1935 Old Spanish Trail commemorative half dollar. It has a small mintage of 10,008 pieces and it’s an expensive coin in all grades. However, when one considers that a relatively unattractive example costs nearly $1,000, a Mint State 64 representative at the $1,200 level seems reasonable. 

At a 2013 auction, one graded Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned, brought $940. That same week, two handsome MS-64 examples sold at auction for $1,116.25. The difference between a so-so coin that may be hard to sell and a nice coin seems relatively modest in this case. 

The jump to MS-66 is, again, rather small, with attractive examples selling at auction at the $1,450 level and oddly toned ones selling cheaply at the $1,200 level. 

This commemorative provides a useful case study on when it makes sense to pay a little extra for something nicer, especially when buying an issue that is inherently expensive due to a low mintage.

Take another commemorative half dollar: the 1928 Hawaii Discovery Sesquicentennial. It, too, has a low mintage of just 10,008 pieces and is an expensive coin in any grade.

For Hawaiian commemorative half dollars there are two points of entry. A problematic coin can be found with some searching at the $1,200 level, such as an example graded ANACS Uncirculated Details, Environmental Damage, with uneven coloring and an odd salmon pink color, that brought $1,116.25 at a 2013 auction. 

For several hundred dollars more, a collector can buy a more presentable example with light wear or other minor problems.

The next substantial quality-jump is for a problem-free MS-62 representative that may cost $2,000, or so, or an attractive MS-63 that coin can be found at the $2,500 level. 

The Hawaiian half dollar is a prime example of the study that the classic commemorative series requires to make smart buying decisions. 

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