More Thoughts on Modern Coins: A Reader Writes
By Charles Morgan with Hubert Walker
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about Eisenhower dollars and the way they’re treated in the Redbook. The column made the rounds of the editorial boards of several coin magazines, Whitman Publishing (who want you to know that the “Professional Edition” of the Redbook does include Eisenhower dollar prices for grades MS-65 and MS-66), and several online coin message boards. I received great feedback from readers and modern coin enthusiasts, some of whom have been verbalizing some of the same points I have made for years.
One reader sent me a very interesting message and I’d like to share it with you and take a few minutes to respond. It is written by a very knowledgeable Eisenhower dollar variety collector, so I apologize in advance if you are unfamiliar with some of the terminology, but please read it. It is worth your time:
Thank you for the article. It was an enjoyable read.
Now in light and context of the general tone of the article, I want to share how the entire clad coin market really is held in the same light as the Ike. I was at a coin show this past Saturday. I looked through the generic Ike photo album style inventory display units that most low end dealers maintain and found five double die Ikes. Nothing outstanding, but when I can buy them for low end money, I tend to pick them up. Then I decide to look through some Susan B. Anthony dollars and I find a 1999-P that has a misaligned die not only on the obverse, but on the reverse as well. Yep, full reeding. So not a partial collar, not a broadstrike, not an off-center, etc.
Price for the coin = $2.
Moral of the story… No dealer cares.
No one even bothers to give a second look at an Ike that may not be at first hand gorgeous, or a Susan B Anthony dollar that may not be a first look error coin or just amazingly pristine. I am sure the same goes for quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies all through that time period.
So don’t expect much change unless there is a shift in the market that promotes the real rarity of high grade and early die specimens. Even a generic business strike Ike that is proof-like (if and when I ever see one graded or a real standard developed that defines it) will command good money any day of the week…
So maybe the promotion should go in a different direction. The side result should be interest in the coin for those who can’t afford high end Ikes and really nice early die state examples… this is where talon heads, jaw lines, moon lines, volunteers, RPMS, and peg legs should come into the picture. IKES and most modern day clads will never be VAM material like the Morgan’s and Peace Dollars because the general production and process of manufacture concerning the Dies themselves changed so much in the interim. Anyway, what do I know… just a thought and a lot of rambling….LOL.
I cannot speak for the hobby or predict how it will behave with any degree of certainty. I do know that nothing is static; trends emerge, and every series goes hot or cold depending on a number of variables, the most important of which is demand.
If demand picks up for high-grade moderns, the market will correct course. Of course modern coins will not be considered “modern” forever. We all get old and so, too, do the things we collect.
Certain moderns will be discovered in abundance in high grades and others will not. While mintage figures tell part of the story, they’re also misleading in that they don’t necessarily measure a coin’s desirability. Industry price guides contemporaneous to the release of the Franklin half dollar alluded to “well-struck pieces” commanding more money than the prices listed. This eventually became verbalized as “Full Bell Lines”. Other strike-oriented designations soon followed for nickels and dimes. In the future, who knows? Maybe we’ll finally see some attention paid to die state, which I feel may be the next great frontier for modern coin collecting.
But ancillary designations and condition scarcity are not guarantors of price performance. One of the arguments I will make in my forthcoming book is that a great many series do not greatly appreciate in value. The coins that do tend to have one thing in common- the owner of the coin has all of the leverage. As obvious as it sounds, in these cases demand exceeds supply.
I’ve given your comments much thought over the past few days and I wondered how best to approach the subject of apathy. Apathy is at the core of what is going on in the coin market when you talk about moderns- especially quality moderns. I know that I’ve bemoaned the lack of attention Whitman paid to Ikes and Susan B. Anthony dollars in the Redbook, but apathy towards modern releases is nothing new.
Lee Bellisario once told me a story about the collection of Louis Eliasberg. Lee was one of PCGS’ original graders and was one of the first numismatists to appraise Eliasberg collection and prepare it for auction. He told me that the collection was filled with beautiful coins, many the finest known in terms of condition, including many of the finest known early coppers, quarters, halves, dollars, and gold coins. But when he got to the 20th century coins, he found that most of them were pulled from circulation and many of them weren’t even AU. Imagine: the greatest US coin collection in history had XF common date modern coins!
Eliasberg may or may not have “properly” valued contemporary coinage. If I owned a 1933 Double Eagle and a 1913 Liberty Nickel, I might not have been all that concerned about coins I could pull out of pocket change, either. More than half a century later, Eliasberg’s circulated coins are sought and coveted by mainstream coin collectors. That era of moderns has slipped inevitably into the realm of classics. So too will Ikes, Heraldic Eagle Washington quarters, Jefferson nickels, and Memorial cents.
One of the primary drivers of the coin collecting hobby is a desire to reconnect with our shared history and experiences. The price tag applied to this pursuit is a byproduct of promotion and demand. Will the day come when hobbyists, dealers, and numismatic writers focus their attention on the coins of our childhood? Certainly. Will enough high quality material be available to satisfy the demand, in whatever form it takes? That remains to be seen.
Before I wrap this up, I’d like to point out something Louis Golino wrote about in his most recent edition of Modern Coin News Round-Up. The coin community knew ahead of time that the Presidential and Native American dollars would be minted for collectors only this year. Orders for the Chester Arthur dollar, which has been available for less than a month, have already exceeded 5,740,000 coins. Last year’s U.S. Army half dollar commemorative, which may sport one of the least inspired designs in recent memory, saw sales slip below 40,000- and because of that, the coin, which sold until December 31, 2011 for $19.95 is now regularly selling online for over $100. The moral of the story, never assume the market as a whole understands what the future may hold. Those that discount moderns may just pay a heavy price when moderns aren’t “modern” anymore.