Proof Type Coins at 30-Year Lows
Posted on 1/25/2018
We have all read the headlines about the astounding performance of mega coins in the last few years. Every major auction seems to have a six- or seven-figure coin sell for a record price. An NGC PF 67 1880 Flowing Hair Stella sold for $750,000 in the January FUN sale. Coins at the top end of the market are clearly in demand.
The reality, of course, is that very few collectors can ever hope to purchase coins in this price range.
For the last few years, coins in the middle part ($500-$5,000) of the numismatic market have declined in price almost across the board. Some have fallen to prices not seen in 30 years.
There are a lot of factors to explain this, the simplest being the law of supply and demand. In the past 5-10 years a LOT of collections have come onto the market. There have not been enough collectors for some segments of the market to absorb the material being offered.
The enormous success of set registry collecting has had a negative impact on coins in less than stellar condition. A coin in Proof 65 is not desired by those who need a Proof 67 to improve their set standing. The same scenario plays out for many series of United States coinage in a wide range of grades. This lack of demand has driven down prices on many series to what are now incredible bargains.
In the last few years, one of the most out-of-favor segments of the rare coin market has been Proof United States Types Coins 1858-1915. Prices for nice examples have fallen to levels last seen in the 1980s.
At the 1988 Heritage ANA Mid-Winter Sale, a Proof 65 1892 Barber Half Dollar sold for $1,500. An NGC PF 65 of the same date recently sold for $1,760. At the peak of the market in 1989, Proof 65 Barber Half Dollars sold for more than $8,000.
|1897 Barber Half Dollar, graded NGC PF 65, pedigreed to Rev. Dr. James G.K. McClure. Realized: $1,560 in December 2017.
Click images to enlarge. (Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions)
Most people are familiar with the Proof Sets produced by the US Mint each year. They are our circulating coinage struck for collectors using carefully polished dies and planchets. What many do not know is that the Mint has been striking these specially prepared coins since at least 1821.
In the early years, just a few examples were struck for presentation purposes or for placement in the Mint cabinet. Many of these incredible coins still reside in the trays of the Smithsonian collection.
In 1858, the Mint began striking a very limited number of complete Proof sets for the fledgling numismatic community. This practice has continued to this day. Most of the Proof sets from the 1858-1915 era have been broken up over the years. Occasionally, an original set that has stayed together for over century will enter the marketplace. As you would expect, they bring a hefty price.
Individually, however, Proof Seated Liberty and Barber coins from 1858 to 1915 can be found in Choice condition for relatively modest sums. Many coins can be purchased for under $1,000 that have a mintage of less than 1,000 coins.
Seated and Barber coins of the era were struck in the following denominations: Half Dime, Dime, Twenty Cents, Quarter, Half Dollar, and Dollar. The total number of Proof coins struck for all denominations is less than 200,000 coins. By comparison, nearly 500,000 1909-S VDB Cents were struck in one year.
Of the 251 different issues in the series, 209 tout mintages below 1,000 coins. Regular issue United States coinages with a mintage below 1,000 coins typically sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Proof Seated coinage also fits the budget of most collectors, as nearly every issue can be found in grades from Proof 60 to Proof 69. Another important factor to note is that other than the 1895 Morgan Silver Dollar, there are no mega-coins in the series that would keep a collector from pursuing this part of the market.
I truly love Proof type coins, and I have handled thousands of coins over the years. The coins are beautifully designed, and even if you can afford just one example, your collection will be enhanced.
As mentioned many times about anything you collect, try to find coins with good eye appeal. This is especially important with silver coins struck over a century ago. Many coins found on the market have dark or unattractive toning. Search for coins with nice color or brilliant white surfaces. These will be much easier to market when it’s time to sell.
One complicating factor for Proof Seated and Barber coins is trying to figure the correct premium for Cameo and Ultra Cameo examples. Prices can range wildly, and you should do your research before paying an exorbitant premium. Check NGC population reports to understand rarity when it comes to Cameo and Ultra Cameo. Many coins are about equal rarity in Cameo. Ultra Cameo coins are quite rare in most instances, and can sell for astounding prices.
Proof type coins are just one part of the market that has been ignored in recent years. In the coming weeks, I will continue to explore areas of United States numismatics that are undervalued and that should be considered by those who appreciate the classic “contrarian” play.
Total for entire table: 196,961
- United States Coinage: A Study by Type, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, Whitman Publishing.
- A Guide Book of United States Coins (Mega Redbook), R.S. Yeomen, Whitman Publishing
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