Monday, August 3, 2009

Coin Monday: All’s Fair in Love and Key Dates

Aug. 3, 2009
Posted by John Dale

As a cataloger, most of the coins I see are like-new, or at worst, mildly worn. There’s a good reason for that: if a coin is expected to sell for a relatively small amount of money, it doesn’t make sense to put it through the entire process a coin in the floor session of a Signature® auction goes through. The expense of cataloging it, photographing it, and so on would be more than Heritage could make back on its fees. Thus, a well-worn 1857-dated dime wouldn’t cross my desk, but a far more valuable Gem example of the same date might.

This happens for most issues, in that higher-graded coins can be found in a floor session, whereas lower-graded pieces appear in non-floor sessions for example, or one of our Weekly Internet Coin Auctions. There are some dates, however, that are of such high value regardless of grade that they will almost always be hammered down in person. One such date is the 1901-S Barber quarter, and the Fair 2 example in our upcoming September 2009 Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction shows the principle in action.

In the context of the 70-point grading system, first published by Dr. William Sheldon in 1949 and used with modifications today, a coin graded Fair 2 is extremely worn, just one step above the Poor 1 or basal state. (Today’s standard for a Poor 1 coin is that it's barely identifiable, as in, “That’s an 1857 dime. Maybe?”) Though a coin may have a low numeric grade, that doesn’t keep it from being attractive or desirable, as this 1901-S quarter shows.

It came by its grade honestly, having spent a long time in circulation like many of its fellows; both sides are worn down, with parts of the obverse rim, and all of the reverse rim, smoothed away. “Smooth” is the key word here; the same wear that has taken away much of the detail on each side has also removed many of the abrasions that the coin must have accumulated while in circulation, leaving only a few marks on each side. The central details have strong outlines still, and the two most important features on the coin, the 1901 date and the S mintmark, remain bold.

While the high-grade devotee will want to look elsewhere, it’s perfect for the Barber quarter collector looking to cap off a pleasing circulated set of the series, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the bidding get fierce. Beyond its value to collectors, a well-worn key-date coin like this one is important to me as a cataloger; it reminds me that no matter how many high-end coins I may catalog, every one of them is exceptional. In those moments I gain a greater appreciation, not only for the less-expensive coins I sometimes lose touch with, but also for the remarkable coins, the choicest ones from among the many collections consigned to Heritage, that come across my desk every day.

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-John Dale Beety

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