Collector's Edge

Posted on 5/12/2020

A well-struck coin merits a premium price.

Q: I have a particular dealer who always seems to find coins I like for my collection, as we must have similar taste. I usually don't mind paying a little over market for the right piece, but he recently wanted a nearly 20% premium for one example that he said is almost never found so well struck. Does that seem reasonable?

A: The importance of a coin's strike will vary from one customer to another. The fact that grading services do not place a great deal of emphasis on a coin's overall strike has resulted in some less than fully struck specimens receiving high grades solely on the basis of luster and surfaces. Collectors tend to reinforce this condition by overemphasizing some specific area of strike at the expense of the whole coin. A perfect example is the 1921 Philadelphia Mint dime. This issue is scarce in Mint State, and prices reflect that fact. Collectors typically have to pay a premium for Mercury dimes displaying Full Bands, this attribute applying to the central horizontal bands of the fasces. In the case of the 1921(P) dime, however, these bands are almost always fully struck. Instead, it is the peripheral elements of the design, such as the date and legends which are often found weakly struck.

A knowledgeable dealer will be aware of these specific assets, and it is entirely reasonable for him or her to ask a significant premium for a coin that exceeds its peers. This is true across all grades, and I will always choose a coin grading MS 64 with muted luster that was fully struck from fresh dies over a MS 66 example that was coined from worn dies which imparted the brilliant, frosty luster so prized by less sophisticated collectors.

I'd like to reinforce this point by presenting a selection of three coin issues which are represented by both weakly struck and sharply struck examples.

Cents: Shown are two 1913-S Cents, both Mint State. One was coined from newly installed dies that retained all of their original details, and the coin itself is thus quite sharply struck. The other was made with dies displaying severe signs of erosion from repeated use. One oddity I've observed about copper and bronze coins is that sharply struck examples tend to turn brown much more readily than weakly struck coins, which are more inclined to retain some of their mint red color. I don't fully understand the physics behind this, but I've seen it across many series and countries.

1913-S Cent - Fresh Dies
Click images to enlarge.

1913-S Cent - Worn Dies
Click images to enlarge.

Half Dollars: Walking Liberty Half Dollars are seldom well struck at their centers, even on proofs. One issue that stands out as being notoriously weak is the 1940 San Francisco Mint Half. Included here are two extreme examples, one being about the worst I've seen and the other being fairly sharp for the date though still weak in the overall context of this coin type. Note how the vertical column of Liberty's torso is almost completely flat in the first, with a corresponding bald patch on the eagle figure. Both coins have decent luster and might even grade alike, but which would you want to own?

1940-S Half Dollar - Weak Strike
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1940-S Half Dollar - Strong Strike
Click images to enlarge.

Silver Dollars: Though these two Morgan Dollars are of different dates and mints, they still illustrate the dramatic difference in strike for this series. The 1882-CC Morgan Dollar is quite boldly struck at Liberty's ear and her hair above it, while the 1890-O coin displays flatness in this area typical of New Orleans dollars. The nearly vertical lines seen on Liberty's ear lobe were in the planchet, and they remain visible because the dies failed to compress them.

left: 1882-CC $1; right: 1890-0 $1
Click images to enlarge.

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