Excerpt from One-Minute Coin Expert®, Fifth Edition

Chapter 5
“Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Coin Questions”

By Scott A Travers, Copyright 1991, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007

The following is an excerpt from One-Minute Coin Expert®, Fifth Edition available at bookstores everywhere.

What’s the most valuable U.S. coin?

On July 30, 2002, two leading auction firms jointly conducted a public auction for sale of the fabled 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle.  Pre-sale estimates were in the $4-million to $6-million range.  The coin sold for an astounding $7,590,020. This now stands as the highest price ever paid at auction – and the highest price confirmed to have been paid publicly – for a single U.S. coin.

In August 1999, an 1804 silver dollar changed hands at a New York City auction for $4,140,000.  That figure included a hammer price of $3,600,000 plus a 15-percent buyer’s fee of $540,000.  As this book goes to press, that stands as the highest price ever paid at auction – and the highest price confirmed to have been paid publicly – for a single U.S. coin.  In fact, it is more than double the previous record of $1,815,000, which was achieved by a different specimen of the same coin in April 1997.  Both coins were sold by Bowers and Merena Galleries of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

The 1804 dollar is not the rarest coin ever made by Uncle Sam; in fact, a number of others have lower mintages. However, it may be the most highly publicized – and romanticized – of all U.S. coins. Just 15 specimens are known, and all of them were minted many years after 1804. Eight are so-called “original” examples struck in the mid-1830s for inclusion in presentation sets prepared by the U.S. Mint as gifts from President Andrew Jackson to rulers in the Far and Middle East – monarchs with whom the U.S. government was seeking to establish trade relations at the time. The other seven coins are restrikes minted in the late 1850s.

The piece that brought the record price on Aug. 30, 1999, was an original (or Class I) example considered to be the finest of all the known 1804 silver dollars. It came from a collection formed over several generations by the Childs family of Vermont and had been purchased in 1945 by Charles Frederick Childs for a mere $5,000. Originally, the coin had been part of a presentation set given by U.S. envoy Edmund Roberts to the Sultan of Muscat, a Middle East nation now known as Oman.

I was an eyewitness to the historic sale at the Park Lane Hotel in midtown Manhattan. In fact, I was a serious bidder for the coin: My firm represented a client who was willing to pay significantly more than the previous auction record. The bidding exceeded his limit, but I did have the satisfaction of calling out the bid that shattered the old record: My offer of $1,750,000, when augmented by the 15-percent buyer’s fee, officially put the Childs coin over the top.

A 1913 Liberty head nickel, one of five known, sold for $1,485,000 in May 1996. This specimen was from the collection of Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., and sold at public auction by Bowers and Merena. It was purchased by well-known dealer Jay Parrino of Missouri.

I have a collection of medallions struck by The Franklin Mint They’re attractive silver pieces portraying various United States presidents. I understand that very few were struck, and I have certificates from The Franklin Mint which guarantee they’re made of sterling silver. Are these medallions valuable?

Chances are, the items you have are worth no more than “melt value”-the value of the silver they contain. Thousands of Franklin Mint issues were struck and sold for substantial premiums, but a significant resale market never materialized. Your “medallions” may be beautiful, but they’re not negotiable; you can’t spend them. And since there isn’t a strong secondary market for these pieces as collectibles, the only real value they have is their precious metal.

Remember, three factors determine the value of a coin or medallion: (1) the level of preservation, which these medallions probably have in their favor because they are undoubtedly well preserved; (2) the number struck, and many Franklin Mint items have relatively low mintages; and (3) the collector base.

Even though your medallions may do well in two of these three areas, they’re seriously hurt in the third area – the collector base. And this is extremely important. Most collectors simply aren’t interested in Franklin Mint medallions. It’s a classic case of supply dramatically outstripping demand. Thousands are available and almost no one wants them.

If each of your medallions contains an ounce of silver, then each one is worth more or less the same as an ounce of silver. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

I visited several countries in Europe a few years ago and picked up coins everywhere I went during my travels. Are they worth anything?

Probably not. These coins are probably worth no more than their face value in the countries where you obtained them. Even if by chance you got some unusual variety, it still isn’t likely that these coins would command much of a premium. There’s simply not much of a market for modern foreign coins.

The rare coin market in the United States is an easy-entry, easy-exit field; there is little regulation governing sellers of coins. Consequently, many of the people dealing in coins in this country are freewheeling entrepreneurs who don’t have extensive backgrounds in areas of numismatics that are, quite literally, foreign. Most of these people don’t speak foreign languages and don’t really know much about foreign coins. They stick with the subject they’re comfortable with-United States coins. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of coin collectors and coin investors in this country limit their purchases to U.S. issues.

Modern foreign coins do turn up in coin shops and at coin shows-but often they’re in boxes containing common material that dealers sell by the pound for nominal sums. The foreign coins you acquired in your travels might very well be found in such a box.

My grandmother left me an old Buffalo nickel but I can ‘t see the date. Is it worth anything, and is there any way to restore the date?

That Buffalo nickel could be worth a million dollars-in sentimental value. But if you try to cash that in, you won’t get more than a nickel.

Dateless Buffalo nickels are so worn that they’re barely identifiable as to type. These coins don’t have any collector value. Chemical date restorers are available-but while these might enable you to determine the date of the coin, they won’t do a thing to enhance its collector value.

I just received a telephone call from someone I’ve never heard of, trying to sell me rare coins. “What should I do?”

Hang up the phone! Selling coins over the telephone is never a cost-effective proposition. Consequently, just about anyone who sells coins over the phone-via telemarketing-marks up their prices tremendously, in some cases several hundred percent. I’m sure there must be reputable telemarketers somewhere, but they’re few and far between.

I’ve heard chilling horror stories about the abuses perpetrated by telemarketers. However, these go far beyond the scope of this response. Suffice it to say that if you’re ever called on the phone by someone selling coins, someone you don’t know, you should hang up the phone. Don’t be polite. And never, under any circumstances, give your credit-card number over the telephone to someone that you have not called.

I talked to a coin-collector friend about selling some mint errors I found in change, but my friend said the coins I found weren’t really “errors. ” Is he right?

There are many coins that deviate from the norm. Some are off center and others exhibit doubled letters, to cite a couple. These coins were once lumped together as “mint errors.” Now certain specialists argue that these coins should be classified under “minting varieties.”

Author Alan Herbert is one of these experts. In Herbert’s view, not every unusual coin is an “error.” The coin may have been manufactured that way, perhaps because the mint was using worn dies to save money. Herbert differentiates between these intentionally different- looking coins and those that come out different by mistake. Only the latter, he argues, are really errors, but both come under the heading “minting varieties.”

An excellent listing of minting varieties can be found in The Official Price Guide to Mint Errors, 7th Edition, by Alan Herbert (House of Collectibles/Random House, Inc., 2007).

Last year, after reading a financial publication, I decided to invest $5, 000 with a very good company that sells bullion and coins. I got several $20 gold pieces. They looked pretty and I put them away for a while. Last week, I decided to show them to a local coin dealer. He looked at them and said they’re not worth anything. What should I do?

One thing you shouldn’t do is accept the opinion of your local coin dealer without checking further. Any dealer to whom you bring coins for an appraisal has a vested interest in the outcome of the discussion. If you ask a dealer to render an opinion on coins that you purchased from a competitor, you really can’t expect him to be objective. Human nature being what it is, that dealer isn’t going to say: “You got a wonderful deal. You shouldn’t buy coins from me; you should buy all your coins from my competitor.” He’s much more likely to say: “You got a terrible deal. These are horrible coins. You should return them and buy all your coins from me.”

In buying coins and in getting coins appraised, you should always seek the protection of independent third- party grading. Buy only coins that have been certified by leading independent grading services. And before having coins appraised, submit them for certification by one of these firms. These organizations will encapsulate your coins in tamper-resistant sonically sealed holders with inserts stating their grade. That way, you’ll know what your coins are worth-or what they aren’t worth.

I understand that coins are graded on a 1-through-70 scale. How can I tell the difference between a coin which grades 65 and is worth $5,000 and a similar coin which grades 64 and is worth only $1, 000?

Don’t expect to be able to tell the difference. Only trained experts can do this. But do apply a little common sense. If you have a portrait coin with a likeness of Miss Liberty, for example, look at the portrait. Her cheek is what is known as a grade-sensitive area. If you see nicks, marks, scratches, gouges, or other imperfections on that cheek, common sense should tell you that this particular coin probably won’t qualify for a grade of Mint State-65.

There’s a greater ethical burden on the coin dealer’s shoulders than on someone who is selling a uniform commodity. Suppose you go out and buy yourself a television set-a brand-name 19-inch television set. As long as it comes in a factory-sealed box and has a U.S.A. warranty, you can be reasonably certain that you’re getting what you’re paying for. But if you buy coins which haven’t been independently certified, you have no reasonable certainty as to what you’re getting. If you don’t know your coins, know your dealer. If you don’t know either, get your coins independently certified. In fact, play it safe: Always get your coins certified by NGC, PCGS, ANACS, or ICG.

I’ve heard about independent certification, and I have some coins I might want to have certified. Lots certification services are reliable, and how do I get my coins certified by them?

As this is written, four organizations which have reputations for strict, consistent grading-and whose coins enjoy great acceptance in sight-unseen trading-are the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America (NGC), ANACS, and the Independent Coin Grading Company (ICG). You can write for a list of authorized dealers, or submit coins, as follows:

bullet Professional Coin Grading Service, P.O. Box 9458, Newport Beach, CA 92658
bullet Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, P.O. Box 4776, Sarasota, FL 34230
bullet ANACS, P.O. Box 200300, Austin, TX 78720-0300
bullet Independent Coin Grading Company, 7901 East Belleview Ave., Suite 50, Englewood, CO 80111

Where can I sell some of these pocket-change rarities?

Perhaps the leading market-maker in off-metal U.S. coins is Fred Weinberg & Co., Inc., 16311 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91436.  Be sure to call and confirm the arrangements before sending any coins (the number is 1-818-986-3733).

With certification of coins being so important is there any book I can buy that would explain in clear and understandable terms exactly what standards are used by these various certification organizations?

At press time, August 2004, the only independent  grading service that has issued an authoritative book defining its grading standards is PCGS. Its award-winning , 432-page profusely illustrated book, The Official Guide to Coin Grading and Counterfeit Detection, Second Edition (House of Collectibles/Random House, Inc., $19.95), will help you understand what’s involved in the grading of coins and what factors are taken into consideration when assigning numerical grades. The grading standards are authored by the book’s exceptionally-skilled text author, John W. Dannreuther. I am proud and honored to be the book’s editor and applaud PCGS and random House for this colossal effort.

I have some silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars. All of them are common-date coins, and all are well worn from having circulated. I assume they’re worth just their bullion or metal value. How can I determine what they’re worth?

The rule of thumb is that for every $1 of circulated silver U.S. coins, the value is approximately 70 to 75 percent of the price of a troy ounce of silver on that day. If you have five silver dimes and one silver half dollar-or any other combination adding up to $1-and the price of silver that day is $4 an ounce, you’d probably be able to cash in those coins for $2.80.

Of course, different equations are used for different coins. The formula given here applies only to traditional U.S. silver coins with a silver content of 90 percent. These include the dimes, quarters, and half dollars made before 1965. Kennedy half dollars minted between 1965 and 1970 also contain silver-but only 40 percent. You’ll get less money for these. Jefferson nickels made during World War 11 also contain silver, but in an altogether different composition.

I have about $500 to spend and I want to get involved in buying coins. Were should I start?

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