US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Dec. 6, 2021: What is my coin worth?

A price guide is useful in determining values, but other factors need to be considered. For example, a new collector might not realize that this 1919-S Walking Liberty half dollar has been cleaned, which would be a factor in determining its market value.

Original images courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the numismatic community and who is seen as an “expert” has gotten the same question at multiple times: “What are my coins worth?”

While it is easy for us to advise the person asking the question to consult a standard price guide, such guides are published for the informed — collectors who have some understanding of the hobby. For the uniformed, abbreviations like VF-20, EX-45 and AU-58, and maybe worse yet, MS-65 and MS-65D, might as well be written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Noncollectors who maybe inherited some coins often are inclined to look at the line representing the values for a piece and immediately focus on the upper range of grades and prices. Explaining the 1–70 grading scale to a noncollector can be challenging, even impossible.

A particular problem, even for a more knowledgeable collector, lies in understanding how the market treats different coins in the same numerical grade. There are ugly Mint State 65 coins and pretty Mint State 65 coins, and some Mint State 65 coins that might grade Mint State 66 if resubmitted to a grading service. Should a value for a specific numerical grade in a price guide reflect the market value of an ugly coin, a typical coin or a coin that is exceptionally pretty for the grade?

If valuing analyst use prices brought by coins at the lower range for the grade as the basis in determining a value, coins at the upper range will seem overpriced to a beginner. If a price guide uses coins at the higher range of the grade in determining the value, then unscrupulous or clueless individuals might try to sell ugly coins in that grade at the same prices as the better pieces. Basing a list value on a coin that is solid for the grade, but maybe not exceptionally pretty, might be the best solution.

Collectors seeking to determine what their coins are worth might want to consult multiple grading guides to see whether there is rough consensus. However, that may not assist someone with no understanding of the market, and that is why those of us with years of experience get calls and emails from noncollectors. Just don’t be surprised if we decline to give you a precise number.
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