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Understanding Coin Price Guides

Feb 2, 2008
There are many coin price guides published; weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and annually. They come in the form of magazines, newsprint, "hot sheets", and books. All of us have referred to one of these from time to time to ascertain what a particular coin might be worth. Yet, few of us stop to think about what we are getting from any one of these Price Guides, beyond the price or value of a coin. After all, don't price guides, just give you the price? What else is there?

Basic to an understanding of price guides are two things: 1) the Grade of the Coin; and 2) the Foundation of the price guide. Knowing the Grade of the Coin is required before one can begin. Saying so seems to be obvious, but what more does it mean?

Unless the coin is Graded by an appropriate Professional Grading Company, which has designated what Grade and Identity has been assigned to the coin, most of us are making an assumption about the actual Grade. This assumption we make can be very dangerous because of: a) the difficulty in grading a coin; and, b) the different possible outcomes or results that occur. One Grade "point" or level can make the difference in hundreds or thousands of dollars in the Value of a Coin.

Price Guides assume that YOU already Know the Grade of the Coin. This is why we have the First Rule of Coin Collecting: Know the Grade of Your Coin.

Secondly, ALL Price Guides are founded on the same Principle, which is that the Coin, whose price you are looking up, has been Graded using one Grading Standard. That Grading Standard is set by the ANA - American Numismatic Association - and is entitled the Official Grading Standards For US Coins.

Therefore, ALL Price Guides have a "silent assumption" built in to their guide; which is that the Grade that YOU decide upon, is the True or Accurate, and that such Grade is based on the ANA Standards.

The first difficulty that arises is that most people never know if the Grade that they have decided upon is Accurate. Of course, this difficulty never comes into question, if the coin is Professionally Graded by an appropriate company. There are only four (4) reputable Professional Grading companies that strictly follow the Guidelines set by the ANA, and they are: PCGS, NCG, ICG, and ANACS.

The second difficulty arises because of this "silent assumption" or Foundation of all price guides is whether or not the Grade has been decided upon using the Guidelines or Standards established by the ANA. If you don't have the skills and training of a professional coin grader, the decision is probably questionable.

Even if you do have the skills and training of a professional coin grader, the decision is still probably questionable. Why? Because even professional coin graders have differing opinions. This is why the reputable professional coin grading companies require the opinions of three (3) professional coin graders to arrive at the "Grade" designation to be placed on every coin.

The obvious conclusion is that a Serious Coin Collector is going to invest in rare and modern coins that are graded by one of the Top Four reputable Grading companies. It is the only certain way to eliminate the disagreements and arguments about the Grade of Any coin being Bought or Sold! It is the only certain way one can Value their coin collection. It also eliminates "getting taken" or cheated buying raw coins.

Have fun collecting your Perfect Coins!

Robert L Taylor, JD
Copyright 2006, Robert L Taylor, JD
About the Author
Robert Taylor is a retired Lawyer, from Denver, CO, and who has had a passion for collecting US coins, since the age of 6. Wanting to share his Passion, he created http://www.ThePerfect-Coin.Com which features US Rare and Modern Coins (from 1960) and http://www.PerfectDollarCoins.Com featuring US
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