What is a Fresh Coin?
Come, take a trip with me. We are going to your favorite coin dealer's shop to look at what's new.
As we walk in, you see a row of glass cases. Glittering coins lay there, sparkling in the bright lights. You see a row of ancients, some cool world coins, and an entire case of Morgan dollars. As you look at the Morgans, you notice a few in the back that you recognize. Those dollars have been there every time you’ve come into the shop, and you’ve been there once a month for two years now. They are a bit overpriced, which is why you haven’t really paid much attention to them. One of them is dipped.
Now, we get the attention of the shop owner. He comes over, and you exchange pleasantries. You have a good relationship with the dealer, and he likes you because you are regular, returning customer. He knows just what you like. He tells you that this weekend, a real old-timer came in to sell off his entire collection. This guy started building his collection back in the 40’s, after he got back from the War. Most of these coins haven’t been on the market in decades. The dealer pulls out a tray of Bust Halves with circ-cams that would make Lord Marcovan cry. He pulls out a tray of Morgans with beautiful toning, acquired from careful storage since the 50’s. You take a look at them, and pick out quite a few. You get a little carried away, but these coins are worth it!
Which of these coins did you get excited for? Did you get excited for the Morgans you’ve seen dozens of times, languoring in coin purgatory? Or did you get excited for that brand new, untouched set that hadn’t ever been seen before?
In the coin market, that’s the difference between a “stale” coin and a “fresh” coin. Stale coins have been traded back and forth, made a few recent auction appearances, or have some sort of problem.
Picture a somewhat generic, but accurately graded and eye appealing Barber half dollar. This half shows up in a Heritage auction, but it doesn’t sell. 3 months later, it goes to auction again, and sells. A month later, you see it show up on Ebay, where it sits for 6 months, and then back to Heritage. Are you going to be excited about that coin? After it’s been traded and flipped and tossed about, it isn’t really that interesting. If you watch certain items on Ebay, or some auction house, or dealer inventories, you often see this pattern. There is a coin on Ebay that I’m watching right now that was listed in 2013. It’s just been sitting there. Nobody is excited for it – the price is too high, and it’s stale.
However, imagine that I can talk the dealer into letting my buy that coin (at a reasonable discount). I hold onto that coin for 10 years. People forget about it. I put it into an auction 10 years later, but nobody has seen that coin in a long time. It’s new and interesting again – it is “fresh.”
The exact time frame for how long something has to be off the market to be considered fresh varies depending on who you talk to. The general consensus is about 7 years, but I think 10 years is better. Clearly, the old timer’s decades old collection is fresh. And clearly, something sitting in inventory for several months is not fresh. The line for “fresh” is somewhere in between.
So why do collectors care about “fresh” coins?
The cynical will say that it’s just a marketing term to get people excited. They’ll say it has no meaning at all, and you shouldn’t pay attention. To a certain extent, they are right – some dealers will use the term liberally and without meaning.
However, there are aspects of “fresh” coins that are appealing:
First, a fresh coin often means that it hasn’t been messed with. There is some sort of originality implied with freshness. The old-timer’s collection that we looked through hadn’t been doctored or processed to make things look better. They haven’t been dipped. They haven’t been cracked and resubmitted a half dozen times for a higher grade. They’re just honest, well cared for, attractive original coins that nobody has picked over.
And that’s the second part of it – with fresh coins, you’re the first person to look at them. You have the chance to pick the best. They haven’t been offered to anyone else. I’ll bet you that in that old collection, there are some real winners. But, 6 months later, after everyone has looked at the collection and picked out the best, what do you think will be left? There probably will not be much great stuff anymore. That once fresh collection has now gone stale!
A lot of this is psychological. When a new collection comes to market, there can be a lot of excitement for it. Take the amazing Newman collection, for example. Many of these coins had been in his collection for decades, and had only been sold once in the last hundred years. They were completely unmolested, perfectly original, and a once in a lifetime opportunity. They were the very definition of Fresh! There was little surprise that bidding was intense for these coins, with collectors and dealers both competing for some of the freshest material they’d ever seen.
However, after the auctions, a few of the coins wound up in dealer’s inventories. The prices were, of course, higher than the auction (the dealers have to make a profit, after all). Some were dipped. Some were crossed to other holders. Some sold, and some didn’t. Some appeared again, consigned to later auctions by people hoping to flip them. These second appearances generally weren’t quite as successful. The coins weren’t fresh anymore.
Doug Winter discusses more scenarios here
So what do you think? Do you care about fresh coins? Do you avoid stale coins?
How do you define fresh coins?