US Coins

The Joys of Collecting: Certification offers protection

The illustrated coin is a typical Mint State 1923-S Walking Liberty half dollar. All seen by Bowers are weak in one area or another. However, if a sharply struck one could be found, likely it would command no special premium!

Images courtesy of Q. David Bowers.

Buying coins in Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corp. holders, plus those of a small number of other services (check them out before buying), has given a level of confidence to buyers that has no counterpart. Newcomers can buy without having any knowledge of grading or authenticity. However, if you are a seasoned numismatist you know that grading is only part of the desirability of a coin, and that such factors as eye appeal and sharpness of striking can be equally or more important.

For a few series the sharpness of striking is noted on a certified holder. A Jefferson 5-cent coin can have six full steps. For some issues usually weakly struck, one with six full steps can be worth hundreds of times more. A Winged Liberty Head dime can have full bands. Certain dimes that usually are weak, such as the Philadelphia Mint 1945 issue, can be worth hundreds of times more if bands are full. Certain Standing Liberty quarter dollars with full head can be worth much more than if not with this feature, and Franklin half dollars with full bell lines, ditto.

The secret is that some other series will be recognized for sharpness, and certain examples will break out and zoom to be worth much more than you can buy them for today.

Among Mint State Liberty Head 5-cent coins, only a few have sharply struck corn kernels in the reverse wreath. One can be certified as MS-68 and be weak in this area. If you set about collecting gems that are sharply struck, you will have hardly any competition at all and will pay no more. I well remember that this was the case years ago before full bands Winged Liberty Head dimes were popularized.

Indian Head 5-cent coins are another area with enormous opportunities if you hunt for full strike coins with sharp fur on the bison and other well-defined details. Among Walking Liberty half dollars, especially of the early years, ones with sharply struck features such as skirt lines and Miss Liberty’s hand range from scarce to very rare. I’ve never seen a sharp 1923-S half dollar, but if I were to find one tomorrow I would not have to pay a premium to buy it! I could mention other series.

Eye appeal is another secret. For my money, I’d rather have a certified MS-63 1923-S Monroe Doctrine half dollar, with nice eye appeal, than an MS-65 piece that is as ugly as a toad.

Certification is essential for unsophisticated buyers, but for knowledgeable collectors, certification is the key to finding many treasures without paying extra for them!

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.

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