The growing obsession with quality

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29 November 2019
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One of the biggest differences in European numismatics and American numismatics is the hyper focus on quality, writes US coins expert Jeff Garrett in his latest column for allaboutcoins…

The high end of the US market is currently dominated by collectors who compete with each other in the various set-registry programs of NGC and PCGS. These collectors build sets and post them online with the goal of moving up in rank. The set-registry programs also include coin issues from around the world.

British coins are particularly popular with American collectors. This is one reason that ultra-high grade coins from around the world have surged in prices in recent years. The difference these collectors will pay for that one extra point to move up can be incredible. 

Decades ago, rare coins traded hands based on grades such as Extremely Fine and then Uncirculated. There was nothing in between. The introduction of Almost Uncirculated was deemed radical.

Even today, some of the old-school British dealers still operate under the ‘good EF’ system. It was not until the mid to late 1970s, that the American numismatic community adopted the Sheldon, 01-MS70 grading scale.

It was another decade or two before the MS scale was broken down point by point. Many thought it impossible to be so precise.

Today, numismatics items trade hands, with significant value changes based on each point.

A common date MS66 Morgan Dollar sells for around $200, while in MS67 the same coin brings about $750. In MS68 the coins bring nearly $5,000. This scenario plays out with nearly every popular series of United States coinage. 

Modern-day collectors want to complete their sets and have the highest ranked set possible. In the past most collectors quietly built their sets in relative privacy. Some famous collectors, such as John Ford, were actually super secret about their holdings. Only when they passed did the numismatic community discover the extent of their collection. Many of today’s greatest collections are listed on the NGC Registry for all to see. 

This very public competition for the finest sets has created astounding prices for many of the most popular series. These high prices might seem like a bubble or in some cases boarding on insanity… Only the collector themselves can judge the value of having claim to the number one set! There is also some value added to assembling a pedigreed set.

Regardless of what you collect, focusing on quality usually results in the best results over time. If you prefer uncertified coins, be sure to educate yourself in all aspects of coin grading. Numismatic education is the most important tool to be a successful collector.

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