Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Posted on 10/13/2011

My numismatic career began over 35 years ago. With the exception of a few mega-rarities, I have had the pleasure of handling nearly every United States coin issued...

My numismatic career began over 35 years ago. With the exception of a few mega-rarities, I have had the pleasure of handling nearly every United States coin issued. I pride myself in being knowledgeable in everything from Colonials to Territorial gold coins and all that falls between. Actually, trading in coins is the best way to truly understand values. I have talked before of the great advantage of working with a dealer who has decades of experience; additional knowledge can be gained by consulting a specialist in a particular field. Although I might know enough about Large Cents to appreciate a great deal when I see one, my knowledge pales in comparison to many of the experts in early United States copper coinage. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of numismatics: there is always something new to learn.

Last month my son, Ben Garrett, left NGC after four years in the grading department. He now works with my partners at Sarasota Rare Coin Gallery. Ben had the chance to thoroughly learn a segment of the rare coin market that I have very little knowledge of: modern coins. The modern coin market has become a large part of the numismatic scene over the last decade. Many dealers have decided to specialize in modern coins, and the mass market appears to be huge for this new area of numismatics. Check any Coin World, Numismatic News, eBay auction, web search, or Cable TV show selling coins and you will get an idea of the depth of this market. It would be safe to say that a majority of the coins graded by NGC these days are moderns.

I remember well when my late, great friend, Bob Lecce, decided to sell his rare gold coins and start to specialize in modern coins. Like coin grading in 1984, I thought this was just a fad that would pass. My perception of both was horribly wrong! Bob went on to sell untold millions of dollars in modern coins. His son, Rich continues the business today, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Over the years, many others have joined in the business of supplying this gigantic market. Whenever the United States Mint issues a new series, a flood of coins find their way to Sarasota for certification.

One might wonder why so many coins are being graded that have recently been minted. The answer is simple: demand. There are thousands of collectors who have decided to specialize in modern coins. Many entered the market by responding to an ad, or other solicitation, and became hooked. Modern coins appeal to collectors for several reasons. First, they are simply superb in quality, MS 69 or MS 70 in most cases. Second, the coins are usually part of a set that can be completed on a relatively modest budget. Third, the coins fit nicely into the set registry concept, and are readily available. And, fourth, many collectors become frustrated by the difficulty in locating choice vintage coins.

Critics of modern coins like to state that there is no difference in an MS 69 and an MS 70 modern coin; some even seem to think the coins are randomly assigned these grades. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical myself. Because of my son’s experience with modern coins I decided to have him teach me the difference between an MS 69 and an MS 70 Silver Eagle. I needed to start somewhere, and this extremely popular series seemed like an appropriate beginning. During a recent coin show, I brought a few Silver Eagles from a set that had been sitting around my office for years. I picked 5 to 6 coins out of 24 that seemed to have a good chance for MS 70. Several of the coins were struck in the 80s and would be quite valuable if assigned the grade of MS 70. Coin by coin my son, Ben, pointed out tiny flaws that would disqualify my selections; he also explained to me the problem of spots that are so prevalent on many vintages of Silver Eagles. I was disappointed, but eager to learn more.

In the last few months I have been trying to learn about this exciting area of numismatics. There are many aspects of the field to master, but that is what makes the effort so fulfilling. Remember: every coin was a modern issue at one time. It can be safely stated that modern coin collecting is here to stay, and as the field matures, many more will be drawn to it. It’s always exciting to locate a great rarity or a stunningly beautiful, early, gold coin. Now, I can’t wait to find an early Silver Eagle that would grade MS 70. You really can teach an old dog new tricks!

Jeff Garrett bio

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