What's a Point Worth?

Posted on 6/23/2011

In numismatics, one point can make a huge difference.

Sometimes one point does not make much difference. Your credit score might be 720 or 721, but the one point difference really does not matter. On the other hand, if the Super Bowl is tied with seconds left in the game, and the kicker needs to make the extra point after a touchdown, one point makes a huge difference. Rare coins are not quite on the scale of a Super Bowl, but in numismatics, one point can indeed make a huge difference. In some cases, the price jump from one grade to the next can mean six-figure amounts. Does one point really mean that much? For some, the obvious answer is yes!

Decades ago, rare coins traded hands based on grades such as Extremely Fine and Uncirculated. There was nothing in between. The introduction of Almost Uncirculated was deemed radical. Even today, some of the old school British dealers still operate under the “good EF” system. It was not until the mid-to-late 1970s that the numismatic community adopted the Sheldon 1 to 70 grading scale. It was another decade or two before the MS scale was broken down point by point. Many thought it impossible to be so precise. Today, numismatic items trade hands with significant value changes based on each point. A common date MS 66 Morgan Dollar sells for around $400, while in MS 67 the same coin brings about $900. In MS 68 the coin brings nearly $5,000. This scenario plays out with nearly every popular series of United States coinage.

One of the best pieces of advice ever given to collectors is “buy the best you can afford.” The theory is that over time, higher quality coins will out perform lower quality selections. This has most certainly been the case over the last few decades. I would never have dreamed of some of the prices that super Gem coins bring at auction. A few decades ago, the idea that a Franklin Half Dollar could be worth $30,000 would have seemed ludicrous! Prices such as this are now almost common place. This is especially true with series that are popular such as Lincoln Cents, Buffalo Nickels, Mercury Dimes, Washington Quarters and Walking Liberty Half Dollars. There are hundreds of individuals attempting to assemble high grade sets of these series. The competition is fierce for superb examples.

The advent of registry collecting has had a tremendous impact on numismatics. Now collectors not only attempt to complete sets, but they compete with others doing the same. It is probably the biggest boost to coin collecting since the Penny board concept sparked a surge of collecting in the 1930s. Modern day collectors want to complete their sets and have the highest ranked set possible. In the past most collectors quietly built their sets in relative privacy. Some famous collectors, such as John Ford, were actually super secret about their holdings. Only when they passed did the numismatic community discover the extent of their collection. Many of today’s greatest collections are listed on the NGC Registry for all to see.

This very public competition for the finest sets has created astounding prices for many of the most popular series. These high prices might seem like a bubble or in some cases bordering on insanity. There are isolated instances of seemingly crazy prices, but for the most part, the demand for these popular series is broad and deep. Only the collectors themselves can judge the value of having claim to the number one set! There is also some value added to assembling a pedigreed set. As I have covered in a previous article (What's in a Name?), coins from a famous collection will bring a premium when offered for sale. When a finest known example of a popular series appears at auction, strap on the seat belt, the price may be headed to the moon and you will truly see the value of one point!

Jeff Garrett bio

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