US Coins

The Joys of Collecting: Values change over the years

In 1961, generic Mint State gold $20 double eagles cost $50. A Mint State 1903-O Morgan dollar, like the one shown, would cost $1,500, if you could locate an example to purchase.

Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

Welcome to 2014! I hope it will be a great year for you, yours, and numismatics. And thank you for being a reader of my column — a Coin World feature since 1961.

In 1961, electronic bid and ask prices were unavailable, the hobby had no agreed-upon grading system, certified grading services hadn’t been invented yet, the Professional Numismatists Guild was, in effect, a private club open only by invitation, and the American Numismatic Association “headquarters” was the desk of Lewis Reagan in Wichita, Kan.

You could buy an Uncirculated gold $20 double eagle for $50 or less, but if you wanted an Uncirculated 1903-O Morgan dollar you were completely out of luck. At $1,500, no Morgan dollar listed higher in A Guide Book of United States Coins. Even if you wanted to spend $5,000, no chance. Most dealers, including me, had never seen one! An 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar would have been easier to find.

As a recent (1960) graduate with a degree in finance from the Pennsylvania State University I had never used a computer — although there was one on campus, filling two large rooms and with its own air conditioning system, that punched out paper cards for registering in classes. I recently bought my first car, a 1961 Cadillac convertible, for $6,000. Flying from New York to California nonstop usually involved a DC-7 or Lockheed Constellation, flying low enough that the pilot had to swerve around to dodge thunderheads. A fine dinner in a boutique New York City restaurant, not including drinks, cost about $10. A room in a fine hotel at Hyde Park Corner in London might cost about $30.

Empire Coin Co., owned by Jim Ruddy and me, was the largest advertiser in Coin World. We had sales of more than $1 million in 1961 — unprecedented.

In 2014 things are a bit different. $6,000 might buy you a snowmobile, but not a new Cadillac. The ANA has a great headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Double eagles cost $1,500 or more. Many single coins have sold for more than a million dollars. The Internet offers zillions of coins for sale. Most of us have computers. Mint State 1903-O dollars are common. Grading is so precise that experts can determine what Mint State 67? is.

What do you think of all of that?

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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