Details-Oriented Collectors

Posted on 3/29/2018

With extraordinary coins in demand, an NGC Details grade is just part of the equation.

As this week’s installment posts, Major League Baseball has officially started its campaign. Gosh, it seems like I just got through wishing family and friends Happy New Year, yet here we are now at the quarter mark for 2018.

All the major numismatic venues and related auctions have had their say. We had a strong showing out of the gate with winter FUN, our first Long Beach Expo was exciting and showed us just how much demand there is for fresh rare gold coins. Now, we market mavens are busy evaluating the continued pulse of the rare and collector coin market with the just-concluded first installment of the Baltimore Whitman Expo.

To be succinct, the rare coin market (coins which usually exceed $5,000) is sound, and quality eye-appealing examples at this price point, on average, generally bring a solid 10-15 percent above most current established market valuations.

Results from Baltimore

Now, fresh from the Stack's Bowers Baltimore Rarities night, I was pleased to observe several of my favorite series performing very well. One of my favorite “modern” issues is the Franklin Half Dollar. I was thrilled to note the terrific results of the first public sale of an early high-grade proof Franklin Half Dollar. From this intensely popular series, the 1951 NGC PF 68 Cameo tied for the finest with another like-graded coin in the NGC census. This virtually unimprovable coin raced to $21,600!

1951 Franklin Half Dollar, graded NGC PF 68 Cameo. Realized: $21,600

Another Half Dollar series I am enamored with is the Draped Bust variety, and here I noticed a true bargain, in my estimation. Take a look at the 1807 O-109a graded NGC AU 53, a truly visually exciting coin. She is radiant, flashy, very appealing (just a bit weakly struck in the centers), and brought $2,280!

The Capped Bust Half Dollar series remains enormously popular with collectors; those looking for an exceptional early type coin or for those looking to build an entire Overton set were afforded a great opportunity. This 1817 Capped Bust Half Dollar O-107, graded NGC MS 63, is a stunning sharply struck example. Superb surfaces are aglow with frosty satin-smooth luster emboldening sharply struck devices. This truly wonderful Capped Bust Half raced to $6,600.

Conversely, most average or below-average coins, type, and semi-key material continue to languish. Some may say it’s a good time to buy at these more affordable levels, I can concur that a problem-free “average” coin is an OK acquisition, especially at a nice discount.

A collector’s predicament

Yet a numismatic offering that lacks at least modest eye appeal or is exhibiting some other surface irregularity is generally not a really good value – at least when priced near that of a problem-free raw or certified coin.

This is not to say that less-than-eye-popping circulated or fully Mint State coins don’t have a place in hobbyists’ personal collections; they do. Yet the collector should be careful with these raw acquisitions as these are usually destined as placeholders in a collection until a better quality coin can be located.

Then the key here, of course, is trading or upgrading to a coin of your liking, utilizing the less than desirable coin as trade material. This can leave many a collector in a predicament because most dealers are not anxious to have a lower-grade or somewhat problematic coin in their inventory.

In this situation, you must be willing not to expect to get top dollar for the grade for say an otherwise XF 40 coin harboring some imperfections of strike or color. In most instances, a dealer would be looking at acquiring a coin at a substantial discount or will perhaps try to trade at a grade level lower. So keep those factors in mind when shopping the bourse for bargains, try to be diplomatic when acquiring a coin, and realize that when it comes time to sell or trade that coin, it will require more careful negotiation.

There are many factors to consider though. In some series such as early copper, Large Cents and Half Cents, an example exhibiting less-than-perfect planchets, strike or color can usually bring a higher percentage of established market value than, say, most semi-key 20th Century minor denominations exhibiting dull or uneven toning or minor surface imperfections. I am referencing coins that, if purchased raw and then submitted to NGC for encapsulation, would most probably receive a regular numeric grade.

Yet even those coins that may have had a minor cleaning, or have encountered a few minor scratches or collector-induced mishaps through their respective journeys, can still be encapsulated as a “NGC Details” coin.

I readily recall years ago, soon after the advent of third-party grading, coins which literally did not make the grade were sent back rather unceremoniously, housed in a larger vinyl flip – referred to as a body bag. The container would list the reason the coin could not be graded: scratches, improper cleaning, etc. For many hobbyists and dealers, this was the death knell for the coin, as it was labeled a problem child.

A closeup look at Details

Nowadays, though, that same scorned coin of a few decades ago will return to the collector or dealer in a NGC Details holder! The stigma has been minimized and, in most instances, is not a major concern.

Click here to find the litany of Details terms.

There are scores of NGC Details coins that have sold at major auction, and most generally bring a fair market value when offered up for sale. Minor maladies no longer preclude a coin from being protected and authenticated in an NGC holder. For the discerning collector, many great values can be found in Details coins!

Following are several examples of NGC Details coins just meeting the hammer in Baltimore.

This wildly popular Flying Eagle Cent is a perfect example. Here was a rather lovely 1858 small letters variant graded NGC UNC Details that realized $1,140 in the just-concluded Stack's Bowers Baltimore sale. An otherwise sharply struck, nicely colored coin achieved a price in line with that of an MS 63 quality coin.

1858 Small Letters Cent, graded NGC UNC Details. Realized: $1,140

Take a look at this Indian Cent. The last year branch mint 1909-S, an “Uncirculated Details” coin labeled “Altered Color,” captured $2,640. Now, I did not view the coin in person, yet what I can see from the online photos is a coin that has a natural enough look that should satisfy most collectors. This key date Indian is always in demand and the price generated is in the realm of what a MS 64+ RB example should realize.

Here is one of the prime key dates to the Barber Quarter series, the 1896-S. This example is described as “AU Details Improperly Cleaned.” The coin is overly bright and, to me, isn’t really all that attractive. It brought $3,360, which is commensurate with a coin residing in the VF-XF price valuation. Here, the rarity of the coin allowed her to achieve even that price, in my opinion.

Another popularly collected series is Liberty Seated Dollars. The series includes many conditional rarities, key dates and this offering, an 1846-O, which has the distinction of being the first branch mint produced U.S. silver dollar – and a low mintage of 59,000 to boot. Sharply struck, lustrous with a modest hint of a PL surface endows the coin, which is graded NGC AU Details “Improperly Cleaned.” Certainly not a problem child, in my estimation, and the coin realized $2,400, which places her in the AU 55 territory, according to the NGC Price Guide.

Pay attention to the details my friends!

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst, having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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