US Coins

Bargains galore

Images courtesy of the author.Two 1928-S Peace dollars: The one on the left is certified Mint State 64 and catalogs for $1,200 and the one on the right is certified MS-65 and lists for $25,000. Assuming that you are a dedicated collector (not an investor), which would seem to be the best use of your budget?

Images courtesy of Q. David Bowers.

I recently received a copy of the Coin World 2012 Guide to U.S. Coins – Prices & Value Trends, 24th edition. Although more free pricing information is available on the Internet than anyone can possibly assimilate, it is nice to have a printed book.

The more good reference books that are available, the better it is for all of us. The Internet is ephemeral, but a printed book is forever, or at least is useful for a long time.

Three truisms in collecting can spell B-A-R-G-A-I-N-S for you:

(1) Little difference exists between a certified Mint State 64 coin and one labeled MS-65. Take 10 coins in each grade and put them on a table, masking the information. I dare say that not one dealer in a hundred could correctly match them.

A high-end (above average) MS-64 coin is usually nicer, sometimes much nicer than a low-end MS-65 coin.

(2) Most investors do not like the MS-64 grade, as they have been brainwashed to think that “investment quality” begins at MS-65. Accordingly, they are not in the marketplace for MS-64 coins.

(3) Often, a huge price differential exists between MS-64 and MS-65.

With these points in mind, if you are a smart buyer you can multiply the effectiveness of your budget by cherrypicking MS-64 coins.

Consider these prices from the Coin World 2012 Guide:

? 1920-S Lincoln cent, MS-64 red and brown, $700; MS-65 red and brown, $2,300.

? 1885 Indian Head cent, MS-64 red and brown, $350; MS-65 red and brown, $900.

? 1886-O Morgan dollar, MS-64 $10,000; MS-65, $200,000.

? 1928-S Peace dollar, MS-64 $1,200; MS-65 $25,000.

Even if you don’t address high-end versus low end, a typical or average MS-64 coin is apt to be nearly as nice visually as an MS-65 coin.

If you explore MS-63 in comparison to MS-65 the spreads are even more dramatic. The typical MS-63 coin is not as attractive as an MS-65 coin, but if carefully chosen, the differences can be less than you expect.

One of my favorite series is Peace silver dollars. For this design, MS-63 is the entry point at which coins with good eye appeal can be found. MS-60 coins are apt to be scruffy.

One scenario does not fit all, and for copper cents of, say, 1816 to 1857, an MS-60 brown coin can be nearly as attractive as an MS-63 brown coin. It pays to know the territory if you are serious about becoming a smart buyer. Each series is different.

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,, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

Community Comments