US Coins

Market Analysis: Looking beyond price guides for the damaged and odd coins

Price guides like the “Red Book” make valuing coins seem easy. All you need to do is match a coin to a grade and you have a retail value. But many coins in the marketplace can defy such easy valuation. 

A collector on a budget who wants an example of the earliest Philadelphia Mint gold coins will have to accept some lack of perfection — some problems. The Red Book starts listing 1795 Capped Bust, Small Eagle $5 half eagles in the Fine 12 grade at $21,500, going up to $25,000 in Very Fine 20. So what to make of one graded Very Fine Details, Damaged, Repaired, by Numismatic Conservation Services that was offered earlier this year at Heritage’s Florida United Numismatists auction? Heritage called it a “thoroughly smoothed and thickly hairlined example of this widely collected, introductory half eagle type,” noting that it was of the slightly scarcer BD-4 variety as described in Harry W. Bass Jr. and John W. Dannreuther’s Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties book. 

The Red Book prices assume undamaged coins, so a collector must look to comparable sales of similar coins in a similarly damaged state for guidance in valuing “problem coins.” A problem-free VF-25 coin graded by Professional Coin Grading Service realized $22,800 in 2018, a price close to the Red Book listing, but more useful are two heavily polished examples graded VF Details, Net Very Good 8 and Fine Details, Mount Removed, Polished, by ANACS that each sold for $6,600 at a Dec. 13, 2018, Heritage auction.

The subject coin is nicer than those two, but not quite as nice as one graded PCGS Genuine, Extremely Fine Details, Repaired, that brought $10,800 in an earlier session of the same 2019 FUN auction. 

Based on these comparables, the $8,400 the subject coin realized in Orlando makes sense. The Red Book’s first edition, published in 1946, interestingly shows a value of just $100 in Fine and $150 in Uncirculated. 

How does one price a coin that isn’t even listed in standard references like the Red Book? Stack’s Bowers Galleries offered an uncertified 1795 Capped Bust $5 half eagle pattern of the same BD-4 variety, listed as Judd 23 in the pattern reference, struck from regular issue dies on a copper planchet and graded Very Fine Details, Defaced. Several are known, and they were possibly struck to test dies, since a bronze planchet was much cheaper than a gold one. Or it might be counterfeit, as ANACS, NGC and PCGS all declined to certify it. 

“We showed the coin to some prominent numismatists at a recent coin show, and they had no objections to the coin’s authenticity, nor do we,” Stack’s Bowers wrote, suggesting bidders use caution. The curious piece went unsold at a $6,000 reserve. 

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