Posted by Jeff Garrett on the NGC Weekly Market Report …..
Someone once said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This sublime statement has become a reality in the rare coin business. Toned coins are now extremely collectible and highly sought after. When I first bought and sold rare coins a few decades ago, toned coins were certainly a curiosity, but the demand for them was lukewarm at best. As a matter of fact, most collectors wanted their rare coins frosty white. Any coin with toning was soon slated for a bath in Jewel Luster, the coin dip of choice for most collectors. Jewel Luster has a mild blue die added to it to discourage people from exposing their skin to the chemicals. Believe me, there was no shortage of Smurf-fingered coin dealers in the 1970s and 1980s!
Much has changed over the years. Collectors now have a deep appreciation for coins with attractive, original toning. What constitutes attractive is the question that many have different opinions about. I have mentioned in previous articles that silver coins come in three basic looks. About 40 to 50 percent of the vintage (over 50 years old) coins on the market today are frosty white or mostly so. These coins were probably conserved at one time, or were found in rolls or bags and not exposed to sulfur or other contaminants. A large number of Morgan Silver Dollars found are seen this way.
Another 40 to 50 percent of silver coins have toning that is not considered attractive. Many of the coins have toning ranging from light brown to an almost black appearance. In general, many of these coins sell for significant discounts when offered for sale. The coins may technically grade quite high, but many collectors do not like the aesthetic appeal of the pieces. You might be wondering why, if these coins sell for a discount because of the unattractive toning, someone does not have them conserved. That is a great question! The problem is that not all coins are candidates for some form of conservation. Many coins with deep or uneven toning will look terrible if conserved. That is why conservation should be left to the experts. I can testify to the truth of this statement by telling you that I have attempted to improve the appearance of a coin, only to be horrified by the results!
Finally, there is a small percentage of coins that are found with what can be deemed as attractive toning. I estimate that less than 10 percent of the silver coins seen on the market would fall into this category. As mentioned above, what constitutes attractive toning is subjective. Coins with attractive toning are usually very frosty and the toning appears to be layered lightly on the surface of the coin. The toning can range from light brown to almost any color of the spectrum. Quite a few of these attractive coins are also found with partial toning. This means coins that are bright white with splashes of color. Sometimes coins that had been stored for years in bags will have crescent toning from being partially covered by another coin while exposed to the toning effects of the bag. These coins are among the most sought after by toning aficionados. NGC’s Star designation indicates superior eye appeal, such as on the reverse of this rainbow-toned Morgan dollar featured above.
Morgan Silver Dollars are one of the popular issues for collectors of toned coins. The premium paid for these coins can sometimes seem to defy logic. Last year I consigned an NGC MS 64 1884-O Silver Dollar to auction. The coin displays beautiful toning on both the obverse and reverse. Apparently, this is a very rare combination! An average 1884-O Silver Dollar is worth less than $100 in MS 64. This coin sold for nearly $4,000! Classic commemorative half dollars (those struck from 1892 to 1954) are also extremely popular with the toned collector crowd. There have been auction records in recent years that seemed totally impossible. It seems that collectors of toned coins are sometimes willing to engage in mortal combat to obtain the coins they feel worthy of their collection. You can throw out the price guides when these coins cross the auction block.
As mentioned above, collecting toned coins is a matter of taste. In general collectors are now much more willing to pay higher prices for coins with great eye appeal. This mantra is taken to extremes when a truly beautiful coin comes to market. I have stated before that if I come across a stunning coin I almost always place the coin in auction. It seems that buyers for these coins sometimes have a better imagination than I do! Eye appeal has become a very important element for pricing rare coins. Toning is just one of the important factors that must be considered.
Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jeff Garrett
Jeff Garrett, founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, is considered one of the nation’s top experts in U.S. coinage — and knowledge lies at the foundation of Jeff’s numismatic career. With more than 35 years of experience, he is one of the top experts in numismatics. The “experts’ expert,” Jeff has personally bought and sold nearly every U.S. coin ever issued. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t call on Jeff Garrett for numismatic advice. This includes many of the nation’s largest coin dealers, publishers, museums and institutions.
In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Jeff Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries. His combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals — between Mid-American in Kentucky and Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida — total more than $25 million.
Jeff Garrett has authored many of today’s most popular numismatic books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues; 100 Greatest U.S. Coins; and United States Coinage: A Study By Type. He is also the price editor for The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins.
Jeff was also one of the original coin graders for the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He is today considered one of the country’s best coin graders and was the winner of the 2005 PCGS World Series of Grading. Today, he serves as a consultant to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest coin grading company.
Jeff plays an important role at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Department and serves as consultant to the museum on funding, exhibits, conservation and research. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff and many others, rare U.S. coins are once again on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. We urge everyone who visits Washington, D.C., to view this fabulous display.
Jeff has been a member of the prestigious Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. In 2009 and 2011, Jeff ran successfully for a seat on the Board of Governors for the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the leading numismatic club in the world. He plans to run for ANA vice president in 2013.