If you collect coins or are starting out as a numismatist, you may be wondering what affects the value of your coin collection. You may have noticed when looking up individual coin values they change regularly – sometimes without any obvious reason.
This guide breaks down everything you need to know about what affects the value of a coin collection, from other coin collectors to wider market trends. You may be surprised at what you learn and you can use this knowledge to know when to buy and when to sell.
Let’s explore coin collection values in detail.
Individual Coins and the Value of a Coin Collection
Your coin collection value will be the sum of all individual coins you hold within your collection.
On this basis, let’s look at what affects the price of individual coins.
Rarity of Individual Coins
The rarity of a coin has a significant impact on its value. Even a poor condition coin can be worth a fortune if it is rare.
Rarity can be hard to gauge even. For example even if you know how many coins were struck of a particular coin, you have no way of knowing how many survived.
When graders assess coins, they will assume a certain percentage of coins survived. They will then grade according to how many coins they believe survived in that condition.
Be cautious when buying a rare coin with a high initial production, you have no way of knowing if a cache of coins will be discovered in the future and flood the market – devaluing your coin.
Older Coins and Rarity
In some cases, there are no records for the number of coins struck, especially with historical coins from the Middle Ages or before. You might be surprised to learn the rarity of these coins is more certain as coins degrade over time and the older the coin, the less likely others will have survived.
The Relief of Your Coin – Value of a Coin Collection
The quality of the relief on a rare coin is extremely important and you should seek out coins with prominent reliefs.
There is a small checklist you should consider when estimating how good the relief is on a coin:
- Has the coin been cleaned? If it has, don’t buy it. Cleaning damages the surface of a coin and is evident under a magnifying glass. Inspect the coin and look for evidence of cleaning such as patina only evident in recesses or minute (often uniform) scratches on the surface of a coin.
- Patina – this is discolouration which shows the level of oxidisation that has occurred. Patina isn’t necessarily bad; it depends how old the coin is and the condition of other coins. For example, if your coin hasn’t been kept well, it might have a heavy patina that other coins struck don’t have.
- Strike Quality – When coins are struck a machine (or person) exerts pressure through an impact on the metal to imprint the relief. Unfortunately, striking plates degrade over time and later mints of coins tend to either show defects (more on these further down) or poor strike quality.
For ancient coins struck by hammer, the relief may not be centred or even present in full on the coin. This is okay but bear in mind if the same coin is on the market with a central strike, it will command more money than an offset relief.
A good rule of thumb is to seek out coins that haven’t been cleaned, have a prominent relief and look as close to mint condition as is possible for a coin of that age.
Prevalent in American coins, mint marks can completely change the value of your coin. There are 8 mint marks you may find on an American coin that have been used by the American Mint.
US Mint – Mint Marks and Years Used
- CC – Carson City (1870-1893)
- C – Charlotte (1838-1861)
- D – Dahlonega (1838 – 1861)
- D – Denver (1906-Present)
- O – New Orleans (1838-1861 and again 1879-1909)
- P – Philadelphia (1942-1945 and again 1979-Present)
- S – San Francisco (1854-1955 and again 1968-Present)
- W – West Point (1984-Present)
Incidentally, for a long period the Philadelphia mint didn’t use mint marks on coins and if you find an American coin with no mint mark, it will be from the Philadelphia mint.
Other non-American coins may also carry mint marks, but these tend to be modern coins. Mint Marks have been used by Germany, Spain and the EU among others.
In rare cases you will find older coins that have mint marks but these are normally typical of the particular coin rather than a mint mark that denotes a rare coin. For example, some old English coins have makers marks.
Coin Defects – Value of a Coin Collection
Again this normally pertains to American coins and is only applicable to coins minted using strike plates and machinery. When coins are struck the plate hits the coins with force and over time this damages the strike plate. A strike can also cause a strike plate to break.
When damaged or broken strike plates are used it results in defects on the coin. Normally a mint will remove these coins, either melting them down to be restruck or destroying them.
This makes defective coins rare and, in the coin collecting world, rarity tends to mean more value. Some numismatists only collect defective coins.
Hammerstruck Coins and Defects
If you find a defect on a hammer struck coin, you are likely out of luck and the defect will likely be seen as a damaged and less valuable coin. This is because hammer striking often resulted in discrepancies in coins and mints weren’t concerned with the quality of the coins produced in the same way modern mints are.
Wider Economy and the Value of a Coin Collection
The value of a coin collection will rise and fall with the wider economy. If the economy is in recession then coins will command less value because investors are more reluctant to spend money during periods of recession.
Valuations Vs Actual Sales
You may find coins in your collection have high valuations that you aren’t able to achieve when it comes to sale.
The coin collection market is predominantly a supply and demand market and you will find your valuations rise and fall depending on the actual sales values achieved at auctions.
Buying Collectible Coins as an Investment
When you buy a coin there will normally be two routes you take. Either you will purchase at auction or directly from the seller in a private sale.
Private sales are preferable if you are selling a coin and auctions are typically better if you are buying.
For Selling Coins
If you sell a coin via an auction you will have fees. Physical auctions generate the most interest in the coin collecting industry and are useful if you have a rare coin. An auction will also help you source buyers which you might not be able source privately.
The downside is most physical auctions have fees ranging from 10-20% of the sale value.
If you can source the buyer yourself and they are willing to pay an amount you are happy with, it can produce a much higher return on investment.
For Buying Coins
When buying at auction you have more security than a private sale. You will also be able to gauge the coin’s value by how much others are willing to bid. Auctions also provide guide prices for items to give you an indication on where the auction expects eventual value to fall.
Buying privately offers you the opportunity to negotiate price. You may find a seller who doesn’t know the value of their coin or has an old valuation. You may also find sellers looking to raise cash quickly and you can find rare coins sell far below market value privately.
Either way, there is no ideal way to buy and sell a collectible coin or a coin collection. It will all come down to the buyers and sellers involved and specific circumstances.
Forgeries and Collectible Coins
Coins are commonly forged and there are some easy ways to spot a fake coin.
- Metal composition – Every coin will have unique fingerprint. The composition of a coin can be tested using alloy testers. If the test shows a metal that shouldn’t be there or a composition out of the threshold of a coin then it is a fake. Most forgers use cheaper metal alloys than a mint.
- Strike Quality – Remember most coins are struck and forgers will commonly add mint marks to a non-rare coin to make it rarer. Mint marks are struck, so it is easy to see the difference between a struck mint mark and an added mint mark under magnification.
Grading Your Coins – Value of a Coin Collection
For most coins you won’t need to grade them using a grading service. It is a common misconception all coins must be graded.
Most coin collectors will have a keen eye for coins and will be able to give a rough grade for their coins. Grading using a grading service is a good idea if you have rare coins where the exact grade plays a big part in their value.
Grading services will also offer to encapsulate your coin. Encapsulating a coin protects it from wear and tear and keeps it at the grade it has been marked as – it is a very good idea to encapsulate a coin you have had professionally graded.
Coin Value Apps – Value of a Coin Collection
There are several coin valuation apps that are aimed at new numismatists. These apps are decent for giving you a very rough estimates for a coin’s value.
They won’t be able to spot a fake, give an accurate grade or provide an exact price for a coin. For this reason, they should be used as a rough guide and not a dependable coin valuation tool.
The coin collecting world is full of exciting and interest treasures, keep your eyes open for your next find. You never know where you might discover a valuable coin.
By using this article you will have a better idea when valuing your coin collection and know pitfalls to avoid.