Huge prices for finest knowns are just part of the modern coin market.
For most of my career I have dealt almost exclusively in vintage United States coinage. This would be defined as coins struck from 1793 to around 1947. To me, series like Roosevelt Dimes and Franklin Half Dollars were modern coins of little value and hardly worth the trouble, unless you were talking mint bags. Much has changed in recent years. Now those series are considered vintage issues by most collectors and the definition of modern coinage has shifted to coins struck after 1964. No longer are any of these coins considered of little value in the highest echelons of grade. It is not headline news when a Washington Quarter or American Silver Eagle sells for tens of thousands of dollars. Incredibly, there are now dozens of rare coin dealers who sell nothing but modern coins. Some of these companies have annual sales in the millions of dollars!
So what is the attraction?
The advent of the coin registry concept has been one major influence. Collectors now have the opportunity to compete with one another in assembling the finest and most complete sets possible. Owning the number one set of a series is sort of like trophy hunting for the serious collector. The bragging rights and the financial rewards are considerable. Many of these sets are promoted heavily on the merits of their ranking when offered at auction. After the sales, the coins will often carry the pedigree from these collections as a badge of honor. For coins with a low population or the designation as finest known, money seems to be no object for collectors obsessed with assembling the best set. These incredible prices have also given dealers a huge incentive to submit coins of these modern series in an effort to produce a top quality example worthy for the registry race.
Huge prices for finest knowns are just part of the modern coin market phenomena. Collectors are also attracted to the affordability of completing a set of so-called modern coins. A complete set of Morgan Silver Dollars would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in average Mint State condition. The set would also take years to assemble. A complete set of Eisenhower Silver Dollars in Choice condition can be purchased for around $1,000 and completed with relative ease. A set of American Silver Eagle bullion coins can also be completed in Choice condition for a price most collectors can afford. This series has become extremely popular, and are now one of the most highly collected United States coins. Many collectors become interested in the series because of the advertising efforts of large retailers. They become hooked and begin looking for the older dates of the series. Many call Silver Eagles the “gateway” coin for new collectors.
Another attraction for modern coinage is that they are more complex than anyone thought years ago. Many of the series contain interesting varieties, some of which are extremely rare and sell for huge sums. A 1969 Double Die Cent is worth six figures in Choice condition. A 1995-W Silver Eagle has a very low mintage for the series and is highly desirable, especially in PR 70 DCAM. Several great books have been produced on collecting modern coins in recent years. My book, 100 Greatest Modern Coins, which I wrote with Scott Schechter, has been well received. When we were assembling the list of coins for the project, I was amazed at how many issues had very interesting stories attached to them. The United States Mint continues to produce interesting and rare issues. This year the Mint is producing a two coin set of American Silver Eagles, one with a finish that has not been done before.
Modern coins are also filled with classic condition rarities. A 1999 Silver Eagle sells for around $150 in MS 69. The same coin in MS 70 commands over $20,000. The physical difference of the two coins is minute, but the price difference is astounding! As mentioned earlier, the competition from registry set collectors is the main driver of this phenomenon. No one can dispute that collecting modern coins can be challenging. A few years ago I was approached by a client interested in assembling a complete set of American Gold Eagles in MS 70. The coins were first struck in 1986 and were made in four denominations. Years later after exhaustive searching we are still missing over two dozen coins to complete the set. The task is extremely difficult as many of these issues rarely come to market. I have new respect for the series!
How to get started
Collecting modern coins can be done with almost any budget. For absolute beginners, young collectors, or those with minimal funding, you can start by filling an old fashioned coin album. There are several interesting series such as the expanded State Quarter series and the Presidential Dollars being issued regularly by the United States Mint. More advanced collectors and those with a bigger budget can choose a series that is of interest and seek coins in the best condition they can afford. Many series are quite affordable in anything less than Mint State 70 or Proof 70. For ideas on what series to collect I would suggest visiting the NGC website and the NGC Registry. They have a multitude of ideas on how to collect modern coins. You will find a list of sets collectors’ have registered and you can check out the competition if you choose to enter that arena. Collecting modern coins can be fun, exciting, and financially rewarding. Give it a try, you might get hooked!
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