• Michael Bugeja

    Online Coin Auctions

    Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood and professor of journalism, guides new and beginning collectors through fun-packed and enriching experiences in "Home Hobbyist."

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  • Grading key to big online wins

    Any serious Morgan aficionado knows not only that the 1889-O is a condition rarity in high Mint State but also must know how to grade, to determine what the coin in high Mint State grades looks like.

    Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

    In October 2017, I reported in this post on an uncertified 1889-O Morgan dollar I won with a $330 realized bid on the portal Proxibid. With only a tenth of the 11,875,000 examples of the coin struck that year surviving today, few such coins are preserved in the relatively high Mint State that this particular coin appeared to be in.

    I predicted that this coin would grade as Mint State 64 or MS-65. As you can see from the PCGS certification number, the dollar graded MS-64+, making it worth $1,250 retail.

    In Uncirculated grades, prices go up dramatically, from about $300 in MS-62 to more than $4,000 in MS-65.

    The coin fell short of gem condition because of a typical weak strike and a faint scuff mark on the obverse at about 10 o’clock. The reverse is an easy MS-65, but PCGS pays more attention to the obverse in Morgan dollars, so a clean field was necessary for the premium grade.

    To score big in online auctions, you have to know grading standards, not only for specific coins, but also grading criteria of your preferred holdering company.

    PCGS, for example, defines MS-64 or Proof 64 as suitable for a coin with an “average or better strike with scattered marks or hairlines, though none severe,” while coins earning an MS- or PR-65 grade will have “above average strike with minor marks or hairlines, mostly out of focal areas.”

    My scuff was in a focal area, explaining the 64+.

    You also should know that big wins such as this happen infrequently. In the whole of last year, with my bidding on hundreds of coins (mostly failing to win, as I never bid above current auction prices, available on PCGS CoinFacts), I can claim only a dozen or so such numismatic prizes. Those were offset by bad bets on coins, typically caused by poor photography by sellers.

    It goes without saying that the best way to ascertain condition is to hold the coin, in person, by the rim in good lighting at a coin shop or show.

    Thus, bid wisely!