US Coins

What’s the optimal grade for value?

When one is buying a coin for his or her collection, it’s natural to want to maximize the value of a purchase and buy a coin that a future buyer may want. 

For example, take the 1935 Old Spanish Trail commemorative half dollar. It has a small mintage of 10,008 pieces and it’s an expensive coin in all grades. However, when one considers that a relatively unattractive example costs nearly $1,000, a Mint State 64 representative at the $1,200 level seems reasonable. 

At a 2013 auction, one graded Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned, brought $940. That same week, two handsome MS-64 examples sold at auction for $1,116.25. The difference between a so-so coin that may be hard to sell and a nice coin seems relatively modest in this case. 

The jump to MS-66 is, again, rather small, with attractive examples selling at auction at the $1,450 level and oddly toned ones selling cheaply at the $1,200 level. 

This commemorative provides a useful case study on when it makes sense to pay a little extra for something nicer, especially when buying an issue that is inherently expensive due to a low mintage.

Take another commemorative half dollar: the 1928 Hawaii Discovery Sesquicentennial. It, too, has a low mintage of just 10,008 pieces and is an expensive coin in any grade.

For Hawaiian commemorative half dollars there are two points of entry. A problematic coin can be found with some searching at the $1,200 level, such as an example graded ANACS Uncirculated Details, Environmental Damage, with uneven coloring and an odd salmon pink color, that brought $1,116.25 at a 2013 auction. 

For several hundred dollars more, a collector can buy a more presentable example with light wear or other minor problems.

The next substantial quality-jump is for a problem-free MS-62 representative that may cost $2,000, or so, or an attractive MS-63 that coin can be found at the $2,500 level. 

The Hawaiian half dollar is a prime example of the study that the classic commemorative series requires to make smart buying decisions. 

Most Spanish Trail half dollars were saved; many Hawaiian ones were spent. For both types, those that survived unspent often have odd toning or impaired luster.

As with most coins, the best way to train one’s eye as to what’s attractive (and considered by the market to be original) is to look at many different coins. In this case, both the Spanish Trail and Hawaiian half dollars have distinct looks. 

Knowing the distinct original look of a coin type can refine your eye and help you select coins that will be easier to sell when the time comes.

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