This article will take a brief look at some basic considerations for evaluating American silver and gold coins. Accurate coin grading is a rather involved process and requires extensive study, preferably under experienced, professional numismatists. Becoming a reasonably competent coin grader also requires several years of hands-on experience.
You will probably recall I've stated in past articles that one of the first questions one should ask before hiring any potential antiques appraiser in this: "What is your area or areas of expertise?" The subject of coins is a very broad area with many categories. Some of the various categories of American coins include gold, silver, private and territorial coins, Colonial issues, tokens and the many denominations of the federally issued coins that range from half cents through $20 gold pieces that are also called Double Eagles.
The many variables of coin grading and valuating were brought into sharp focus just this last week when a man from the Eastern part of the state called me and asked for help to determine the current value of an 1850 $1 gold piece that he had and was thinking of selling. He stated he had been researching on the Internet and found so many variables that can influence the value of his coin that he was getting thoroughly confused. Apparently the opinion of various coin dealers in his area also varied rather widely as to his coin's actual value. That can make a considerable difference in that particular coin's market value, especially in today's highly vulnerable precious metals market and the rare coin market.
It has been my experience through the years that the type of situation this man encountered is not that uncommon. Coin grading is often considered to be more of an art than a science. Therefore, it is not uncommon for various coin dealers to come up with a different grade for the same coin. Occasionally, even one grade difference can influence the coin's value considerably. In the case of certain old gold and other rare coins, that can even mean hundreds of dollars difference and sometimes even more. Even the professional coin grading services sometimes come up with a different grade for the same coin.
Fortunately, I was able to assist the man because of my past experience and formal training in grading and valuing gold and silver American coins. Back in the mid-1980s, an opportunity was made available to me to spend some time at the American Numismatic Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., and study under Q. Dave Powers, professional numismatist and past president of the American Numismatic Association, as well as some other nationally recognized coin specialists.
They each brought a variety of coin types to the coin grading school plus other coins to illustrate many of the different value-making characteristics. That gave our class a rather unique opportunity to study a great number of the variables that influence a coin's value in varying degrees.
Experience and training are valuable in grading and establishing a reasonable value for any particular coin. The ability to identify the mint mark, the strength of the strike, the degree of wear, amount of original luster, identifying fakes and reproductions, and other significant variables are vital in grading and valuing coins.
Marvin Mann, Plainville, is an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers. Send questions to him in care of The Hays Daily News, P.O. Box 857, Hays KS 67601.