The Concept of “Freshness” in Numismatics

Concept of Freshness and Fresh Coins

By Doug WinterRareGoldcoins.com

CoinWeek Content Partner ......
 

There is almost no term in the rare coin market which is more misused than “fresh”. I am certainly guilty of overusing this word, and if you look at the coin descriptions I write on my website, I use the word “fresh” more often than I probably should.

What many collectors and dealers don’t realize is that “fresh” is a homonym or a word that has different meanings and the same spelling.

A coin is described as “fresh” to denote that it has been off the market for a long period of time or has maybe even never before been offered for sale. But a coin can be described as having a “fresh” appearance and my interpretation of this is a look characterized by deep, natural coloration and no apparent signs of surface alteration.

What becomes confusing is that a coin that is technically fresh (i.e. it's been off the market since a 2004 auction appearance) has blatant artificial color and therefore lacks a fresh appearance.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss both interpretations of the word “fresh” and try and determine just what constitutes a fresh coin.

When Is a Coin "Fresh"?

There is no set period of time which a coin has to remain off the market to be considered fresh. A coin that is reappearing after a 2016 auction appearance is clearly not fresh (but what if this 2016 appearance was the first time it has sold at auction since 1978... is it still fresh?), while a coin that's making its first appearance since 2005 is. And what about a coin like the one mentioned above; off the market since 2004 but with negative eye appeal due to surface enhancements gone awry?

The blurring of the freshness line occurs because dealers such as me are in business to sell coins, and fresh coins sell easier than stale coins. In this regards we are no different than a fast food chain that markets its burgers based on how their ingredients are fresh and wholesome and how they custom make each order.

A number of years ago I made a business decision to try and buy a significant percentage of my inventory from non-conventional sources (i.e., not from auctions). The increasing transparency of the market meant that the days of buying coins at a Heritage sale for X dollars and selling them as-is for X+20% were over. In order to stay a step ahead of my competitors I would have to find coins that had never appeared at auction and price them based on coins that had. This meant more work for me but it doomed other dealers who were lazy or unimaginative.

To my way of thinking a coin that is “fresh” but which has a prior sales history has to stay off the market for at least one full cycle - five to seven years or thereabouts.

What about a coin that's been off the market for 10 years or more but which was “stale” when last sold? An example of this is an 1847-D half eagle graded AU55 by PCGS, which last sold in 2009 but it had appeared in three auctions between the middle of 2008 and early 2009. To me, even though this coin has been off the market for a full cycle it has bad Feng Shui. There are certain dealers whose business practices don’t appeal to me (they are coin doctors), and if I can remember that said 1847-D half eagle was in Dealer X’s inventory in 2008 then it has baggage that I do not wish to inherit, no matter how seemingly “fresh” it is.

Then there is the case of a “fresh deal” (the very expression is Numismatic Catnip to all coin dealers) full of "meh" coins with a decidedly non-fresh appearance. In this case the “freshness” of the coins from the standpoint of not having been offered for sale in a long time is overshadowed by a lack of eye appeal or “freshness” of appearance.

1843-O LARGE LETTERS $5.00 PCGS MS64 CAC. Images courtesy Doug Winter

1843-O LARGE LETTERS $5.00 PCGS MS64 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics

The Numismatic Perfect Storm is when a coin passes the eye test in both meanings of freshness.

I just sold a wonderful 1843-O Large Letters half eagle graded MS64 by PCGS and approved by CAC. This coin had been put away by the family that owned it for close to a century AND it had an amazingly fresh appearance with fiery, glowing luster accentuating splendid deep, natural color.

I think where the confusion between the two interpretations of freshness lies in the improper use of meaning #2. From here on out, I vow to use the expression “fresh appearance” when I am discussing a coin which appears to me to be original and unmolested.

Back to meaning #1 for a second. The past pedigree of a coin plays a role in its freshness quotient. If I am offered five New Orleans eagles pedigreed to the Norweb collection and off the market since selling at auction in 1987/1988, I am like putty in the seller’s hands--even if the coins are kind of disappointing. If I am offered the same five coins and they are from a 2003 Heritage Bullet Sale (a pre-Internet attempt at a fast-turnaround monthly auction), I’m likely not as excited.

If I’ve gone to the well one too many times when it comes to calling my coins “fresh”, please excuse me; I’m but a simple coin dealer trying to peddle my wares. I promise to remember the difference between “fresh” and “fresh appearance” from now on and I hope that you will as well.
 

Douglas Winter Numismatics sells (mostly) fresh coins and would like to purchase your fresh coins. To contact Doug, email him at dwn@ont.com.

* * *

About Doug Winter

Doug_Winter2Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old,  buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.

In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare United States coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.

Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and the recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins has made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality and fair and honest pricing.  Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small.  He can be reached at 214-675-9897.

Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Redbook”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins,  Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues

In addition he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
  • Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
  • Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
  • Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
  • The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
  • Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
  • An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
  • The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
  • A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
  • The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
  • Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis

Finally Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.
 


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