Since the olden days of the Mesopotamian shekel – arguably the first currency, first recorded 5,000 years ago – people have been fascinated with money. Though far from entirely accurate, the saying money makes the world go round holds a lot of truth. It’s practically impossible to picture today’s world without it. In other words, a person’s comfort has become synonymous with financial stability.
And the most comprehensive study of money is known as numismatics. The word is a derivation of the Latin term nomisma, meaning “coin”. Indeed, many people associate numismatics with coins exclusively. But the study is far more exhaustive than that.
It explores all the different currencies, collections, and payment methods throughout history. That includes coins and coinage processes, bills (banknotes), securities, medals, various tokens, etc., along with their physical properties. Click here for more.
People often don’t make the difference between numismatists and coin collectors. The latter are chiefly concerned with collecting rare and meaningful coins, but numismatists operate in a much broader field. In this article, we’ll stick to coins and collectibles and offer some useful tips.
Why are Coin Dealers Important?
If you’ve never heard of coin dealerships, you might wonder if they are really necessary. Surely after some solid research, someone could buy and sell coins themselves. Well, it’s kind of harder than it sounds. Dealers specialize in estimating a coin’s value as precisely as they can. Coin enthusiasts, knowledgeable as they may be, don’t have the same level of expertise.
Think of it this way: your car broke down, and you need it immediately. Perhaps you’ve read a thing or two about engines and batteries. But is that enough for the car to start? Not quite. The logical thing would be to go to your trusted mechanic and let him do the job. Coin dealers are the same. Reputable professionals have inspected so many coin collections that they often need one glance to give you a wealth of information.
Also, coin aficionados can easily overestimate their collections. They might think their coins have historical value and are incredibly rare, but that’s not always true. That’s why sellers need intermediaries between them and potential buyers, in our case – coin dealers. Visiting a reputable dealership can tell you all the relevant things about your coins, including weight, purity, origin, value, etc.
The professional assessment of a coin’s condition is known as coin grading. Seasoned numismatists are well-acquainted with the essential characteristics of coins, such as the wear, strength of strike, attractiveness, contact masks, color, and other things. Sometimes, what looks like a discolored and worthless piece of metal can be highly valuable. But for the untrained eye, it’s difficult to distinguish between different coin classes.
To illustrate coin value better, we’ll look at a few examples that pull collectors from all over the globe.
You may have heard of the Flowing Hair Silver Dollar, one of the most expensive coins ever. Historical records confirm that it was minted for only two years, near the end of the 18th century. In fact, it is recognized as the first silver dollar in history. Back then, it was just another coin in circulation. But now, it has gained a proper cult status. In 2010, it sold for a little more than $10 million. In two centuries, this coin became a highly-prized collector’s item.
While on the subject of pioneering coins, we should mention the first gold coin in the US – the Brasher Doubloon from 1787. First struck when there were no federal mints in America, it followed a similar route as the Flowing Hair and achieved astronomical value over time. It sold for close to $9.5 million in 2021. An amusing little amusing trivia: one of the seven minted Brashers has the initials of its creator, Ephraim Brasher, a neighbor of none other than George Washington.
And finally, we have the grand winner – Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. For coin fanatics, having one would be akin to a baseball fan finding Babe Ruth’s favorite bat. These were in circulation in the first half of the 20th century until the government under Roosevelt seized people’s gold in the 1933 recall. This one sold for nearly $20 million a few years back. It just goes to show you how coin worship knows no limits.
And now, back to grading. There are a few things you should know about before visiting a professional coin connoisseur. They use a fairly established lingo that’s very coin-specific. For example, a “mint state” coin means it has never been in circulation, stored right after coining. Or, if a dealer says your collection is “about good” or “almost good,” that usually means the rims are worn, and the coin design is partially missing (stars, letters, or other symbols).
Coin grading, when done right, is a dream come true for devotees. The process should involve at least two professionals assigning a number to your coins, typically from 1 to 70. This is otherwise known as the Sheldon scale, commonly used by coin dealers and third-party services all over the US. The top grade is reserved for perfect or near-perfect, unblemished coins.
Dealers must perform an authentication process to ensure the coin hasn’t been tampered with. This is because frauds can try to alter the condition and give it a fresh look. But such attempts always fail. The best dealers can spot a non-genuine collection from miles away.
And best of all, once assessed, your collection gets accepted universally. The Sheldon scale is used by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGC), NGC (Numismatic Guarantee Company), Roseville Numismatics, and others. PCGC and NGC are the world’s largest and most durable grading services. In other words, once you get their approval, your collection is welcomed anywhere.
If you are genuinely interested in collecting coins, a top coin dealer can help you tremendously. Who knows, maybe those few rusty-looking things in your attic are rare specimens: it’s always worth taking a shot with a dealer.
The main goal is finding an honest and transparent grader with affordable services, not someone who will rip you off. Also, it should be someone who puts their craft before making a profit. After all, coins have always been meaningful and should not be taken lightly.