US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for July 3, 2023: Scarcity and prices

The 1856 Indian Head gold dollar is available in two date styles, the Slanted 5 and the Upright 5. Despite differences in availability, prices are nearly the same in lower grades.

Original images provided by Craig Krueger.

By sheer coincidence, this week’s “Readers Ask” and “Guest Commentary” columns both have featured comments and questions from collectors wondering why certain variants of U.S. coins do not sell for higher prices than they currently bring in the marketplace.

In his question featured in my “Readers Ask” column, Thomas Wettstaedt wonders why 1916 and 1916-D Barber quarter dollars sell for roughly the same prices in most grades even though the available numbers of the Philadelphia Mint coin are much lower than for the Denver Mint coin. Similarly, in his “Guest Commentary” below, collector Craig Krueger states his belief that the 1856 Indian Head, Upright 5 gold dollar should be priced higher than the more common Slanted 5 coin, yet is not.

Thomas is correct that the 1916 and 1916-D Barber quarter dollars show little deviance in prices across most grades, despite the differences in availability.

For Craig’s area of interest, it should be noted that in higher grades, the 1856 Indian Head, Upright 5 gold dollar does bring considerably more than the Slanted 5 coin in identical grades. However, in lower grades, values are nearly identical or just slightly different.

So, what is happening here?

The level of popularity for Barber quarter dollars and Indian Head gold dollars may be at play here.

By some estimates, gold dollars as a denomination rank among the least-collected series of U.S. coins, topping only the “odd” series (half cents, 20-cent coins, $3 coins). Demand for the denomination is already low, and that may be especially true for coins in lower grades. Even the scarcity of a date variant is not enough to translate into higher prices at lower grades.

The same is true for Barber quarter dollars. By some estimates, they rank in the bottom tier of quarter dollar series, topping only Seated Liberty quarter dollars and “early quarters” (those pieces issued before the Seated Liberty series). Again, supplies of Barber quarter dollars are sufficient to meet demand, even for coins of significantly different scarcity, prompting little deviation in value.

Heavy promotion of either series in the future could encourage new collector interest and thus apply pressure to the market pricing.
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