“What’s it worth and where do you find these things?”
Rob Frechette tells us...
I am frequently asked these questions by collectors and the curious. The simplest answer to what a coin is worth is: what ever someone will pay for it. Coin collectors are told: “buy the book before the coin”. This is common sense. You should not buy something unless you know what you are buying. Also, only buy from someone you trust and who has been and or will be around for a while. They will often belong to organizations that have them stand behind their coins and will refund money for the coin sold in a reasonable time frame under certain conditions. Coins in newspaper, magazine, radio or TV ads are rarely worth purchasing. The hype makes it seem like you’re getting a deal, when most folks do not know what they are buying. It looks pretty and/or it is silver and old therefore it must be worth something, right? WRONG. This also, does not even get into fakes, forgeries and copies!
The most basic concept for any collectible is to understand value which is often equated with, but frequently not related to, cost. U.S. coin collectors usually have precise figures on mintage (not always the same as the surviving population) and a fairly comprehensive guide on rating condition. You cross index the coin with its condition and many coin magazines, catalogs and The Red Book will give you monthly or yearly retail prices. These are snapshots in time on averages and are not necessarily what you can buy a given coin for from a dealer or other collector. A dealer will almost never come close to paying such a price, since they have to turn around and sell it for a profit, if they are lucky. There are weekly guides, called Grey Sheets, and other publications, like The Blue Book, which give an idea of what dealers might pay for such a specimen. Bullion value for many modern gold and silver coins changes every moment and may be what a piece is worth. The internet has lots of individual coin stores and auction sites, like E Bay, where you can get an idea of what coins are selling for. You can also visit a coin store or a Coin Show where there are usually a dozen to 50 dealers with 100 or more at the biggest shows.
It is difficult to assess the rarity of ancient and medieval coins since there are no mintage figures. Also, many were destroyed, re struck or melted. Recently someone surveyed most coin auctions 1894 – 2014 and looked at about 700,000 ancient Roman coins to give an idea of rarity from 27 BCE to 470 CE. This gives a useful guide to rarity, but is not determinative and has several faults. It is estimated that at least 80% of ancient & medieval coins have been discovered. Also, there were thousands of ancient & medieval coin types made and hundreds to tens of thousands of some of these. This went on since about 600 BCE to about 1600 CE. Let’s say there are 3 coins known of a particular type, but only 2 people care, then the coin is affordable. On the other hand there are many thousands of Constantine the Great coins available and even non coin collectors want them because he is famous as the 1st Christian Emperor. This keeps the prices stable and a bit higher than a better condition, rarer, yet less well known emperor. I understand why U.S. coin collectors want to complete a denomination set and will pay thousands of dollars for a low condition (ugly) rare date or die mark. However, I would rather pay good money for rarer coins of folks from history, that tell a story, then for another almost exactly the same looking U.S. coin to “fill a hole”. To each his own…
Happy Collecting, Rod Frechette (505) 247–8558 and firstname.lastname@example.org