Monday, March 23, 2009

Coin Monday: Of Registry collecting and a 1919-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

March 23, 2009
Posted by John

I never got into Registry collecting, mostly because my budget can’t support it, but I’ve long found it fascinating. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Registry collecting is an online way for collectors to compare their cabinets with one another, a service usually supplied by a grading firm (for example, NGC).

After registration and setup, simply enter the certification ID numbers off the holders for coins you own, and they appear on the site as being part of your collection. Add in a touch of mathematical fiddling, and presto! For the series you collect, Walking Liberty half dollars, for example, you get one neat-and-tidy score that tells you where your assembled coins stand against the collections others have submitted to the site. Public rankings fuel the competitive spirit, leading collectors to acquire even finer examples of coins already owned.

As with any other numismatic activity, Registry collecting can inspire strong passions and lead to behavior that can seem over-the-top to those on the outside. I have personally observed a collector with a list of coins to purchase, organized into groups so that each group purchased in sequence would move his set one rung up the ladder. Occasionally this mindset turns into an arms-race mentality that can border on Dr. Strangelove levels of absurdity. If there are 89 examples of a particular coin tied for the finest certified at MS67, for example, all is well. Those who want to find a representative at that level can do so, though it may be expensive. When a single MS68 coin is certified, though, it upsets the balance; one collector can gain an edge over everyone else. Much fretting, discussion, and jealousy ensues when a new best-known coin appears in the listings: Who is the lucky one? How did the coin get that grade? What can I do to get my hands on it?

For series enthusiasts, and for Registry collectors in particular, there are many conditionally rare Walking Liberty half dollars coming up in our April Central States auction, including this 1919-D Walking Liberty half dollar, an MS66 beauty.

That’s right, it’s an MS66, and it’s the single finest survivor graded by PCGS. Coinage production was sluggish in the United States immediately following World War I, and the meager output for 1919 was noted for poor production quality, particularly at the Denver and San Francisco Mints. Half dollars were a larger silver denomination, unlike easily-collected cents and nickels, and few individuals saved examples of the new year’s coinage, particularly out West. The Great Depression came just a decade later, and it is a virtual certainty that coins that might have been saved earlier were spent to pay for necessities. Is it any wonder that 90 years later, pristine examples are rarities?

Yet this coin has survived the decades with the same luster and radiance it must have had the day it was struck. To those who would have this coin to call their own, two pieces of advice: First, if you can, do what I have done and savor the piece in person. Admire it at arm’s length and then stare at it closely. Appreciate it, not only for the number on the holder but for the quality that number represents. Celebrate its beauty.

Second, do what I cannot: open the checkbook and prepare to spend a six-figure sum.