Market Stability: A Great Value

Posted on 4/12/2018

Consider assembling a lightly circulated 20th Century series.

The early April weather can be fickle, especially here in New England. A touch of warmer temps for a day or two only to be slapped in the face with brisk, sub-freezing cold. Eh! – by mid-May, it usually sorts itself out.

Although as unpredictable as the weather can be, the coin market (as it relates to many series) is steady and a model of consistency. While some collectors/investors may bristle at this, for the average numismatist, stability is a good thing.

Market value is still a major concern for many of the new collectors I encounter. The fear is that by the time they are able to squirrel away enough for a key coin in their series of choice, the coin they have been saving for may be at a price point that is now out of their budget.

For hobbyists looking to build a high-grade 20th Century circulated series such as the wildly popular Lincoln Cents, Mercury Dimes or Washington Quarters, market stability is an ally. As the collector carefully saves for the next acquisition, that next hole to be filled and marked off can be accomplished. No one wants to be shut out.

For most numismatists, this is still a hobby – and a great one, the excitement of collecting, the learning experience and camaraderie assembling a set or series. It’s about the thrill of completion, the joy and satisfaction of having a uniquely personal collection.

Yet I can’t think of anyone who has taken the time to build a well-matched collection not to have been on the receiving end of a substantial monetary gain, if and when he or she decides to liquidate.

Those hobbyists feverishly saving for popular and undeniable keys to their respective 20th Century series – 1909-S VDB Lincoln, 1916-D Mercury or 1932-D and -S Washington Quarters – have all been, in a word, stable – especially those residing in mid- to high circulated grades.

As longtime collector (and friend) Steve assessed: “Hey, while dealers and some collectors are drumming up prices and bidding above the competition for flashy and ultra-gem eye candy, I have been carefully putting together a well-mated set of Washington quarters in AU. I enjoy coins with just a touch of circulation (to me, real coins: they did their job). I like them with a bit of gleam, just enough to know that they’ve been jostled about through the masses.” My friend has been working on his 1932-1964 Washington quarter collection for over two years.

“Yeah, it has been time consuming. Sometimes I say to myself it would have been much easier to put together a Mint State set –say MS 63 – but it wouldn’t be as much fun. Let me tell you: It’s very hard searching through dealer inventory or trying to get NGC-certified stuff at auction that is less than fully uncirculated. I mean, shy of a few other branch mint Washingtons in the 1930s – 1936-D, etc. – there are only a few coins that are priced over $100. But finding the right look is what drives me.”

Steve’s 1932-D and 1932-S Quarters, both graded NGC AU 50.

I agree with Steve. I, too, like a very lightly circulated coin. To me, they have a story to tell – although it is a brief one, as they are now protected for posterity. In fact, series such as Steve’s favorite Washington quarters got me into research mode. So I took a look at the two keys to the series in circulated: the inaugural 1932 Denver and San Francisco deliveries.

In many instances, the hunt for superb uncirculated wonder coins has left the market wide open for less-than-Mint State specimens, and here is a perfect example for that demanding serious numismatist looking to build an exceptionally well-matched circulated set in a pleasing XF to AU range. Scanning back a decade ago, I referred to the dealer market prices as listed in the CDN Monthly Supplement for April 2008. Wow, seems just like yesterday I was working on it.

A quick scan of the series keys 1932-D and -S reveals that XFs were “Bid” at $275 and $210 respectively, and AU coins were dealer “Bid” at $380 and $235 exactly a decade ago.

Flash forward to April 2018 according to NGC US Price Guide reveals a $260 value for an XF 40 1932-D and $195 for an XF 40 1932-S, while the AU 50 numbers were $385 and $235.

1932-D and 1932-S Washington Quarter

Date/Grade April 2008 (CDN Monthly Supplement "Bid") April 2018 (NGC US Price Guide)
1932-D XF(40)
1932-S XF(40)
1932-D AU(50)
1932-S AU(50)
1932-D MS 65
1932-S MS 65

So in the last decade AU’s have remained steady and the XF counterparts have seen a trivial decline.

Conversely, a quick scan of the MS 65 grade coins reveals a bit of a surprise in today's numbers vs. 10 year ago. As of today (April 2018), the 1932-D is down by 25% and the 1932-S is off a shade over 27% since April 2008.

A lot of contributing factors here: One is demand for eye-appealing coins when they appear at auction can often result in moderate to a wild bidding frenzy. However, in most instances, soon after that successful record-setting auction purchase has taken place, a similarly graded coin comes along (and that previous buyer isn’t in the mix), and the price realized will usually suffer not due to any fault of the coin. Yet this has not been the case with many moderate to high-end circulated 20th Century minor coins, at least at the present.

I have canvassed several other popular series with similar results. So I invite you to take a look at Lincoln Cents, Mercury Dimes and Walking Liberty Halves too, in lightly circulated condition. These all harbor consistent value and will give the collector much enjoyment, in my estimation!

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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