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Beginner's Corner: What Makes a Coin Rare?

Beginner's Corner: What Makes a Coin Rare?
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Posted: 02-18-2015 01:08:00 PM

One of the biggest misconceptions in coin collecting is that if a coin is old, it is instantly rare; this just isn't true. In fact, it’s one of the least important factors in determining the value of a coin. 

When it comes to coin collecting, some may seek certain coins because they are “rare,” meaning that they are unique and hard to get their hands on. This could be for a number of different reasons. Rarity is one of the most important facts that determine the worth of a coin. Typically, a rare coin will sell for a higher price.

Rarity by Mintage

When a coin is minted, a pre-determined number will be made. This is called the “mintage," as we discussed last week in our Exploring Coin Mintage. The mintage for different coins can deem them valuable. For example, one of the most popular modern coins are the American Silver Eagles. In 1995, only 30,000 “w” proof American Silver Eagles were minted. Even though that may seem like a lot, for this particular series it was not. Therefore, the demand was greater than the supply which made that particular coin rare to collectors.

Rarity by Condition

The conditions of coins can also play a role in determining if a coin is considered “rare.” The condition refers to the physical state of a coin. Some coins go to companies like NGC and PCGS for grading, which is a rating that indicates how much a coin has worn from circulation. If a large number of coins in a series come back with average grades and only a few come back with perfect grading, those perfect graded coins become more desirable to collectors because they are considered rare. An example of a coin that is rare based on its condition is the 1999 American Silver Eagle. An ungraded one would sell for $25. In NGC MS69 it would retail for $45. But when it jumps to MS70 if can sell for $30,000.

Rarity by Age

One of the biggest misconceptions in coin collecting is that if a coin is old, it is instantly rare; this just isn't true. In fact, it’s one of the least important factors in determining a coin’s value. There are some Roman coins that are more than 1,600 years old that sell for less than $10, but then there are newer coins that go for much more. There are some worn 1909 wheat pennies that can sell for hundreds of dollars. The age of a coin, while a factor in determining rarity, is not the biggest factor.

Overall, there are several factors that help to determine the rarity of a coin. You simply cannot rely on one of these alone. Check back next week to learn more in-depth about condition and grading. 

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About The Author

Kelsey Kay Howard Kelsey graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a B.A. in mass communications. She is new to the world of numismatics, but as the Marketing Specialist for MCM is dedicated to learning all there is to know.

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