The price of a coin is primarily determined by four factors: rarity, demand, bullion price, and quality. Only the last, quality, can be controlled by the collector. Because quality so greatly impacts a coin’s value, collectors strive to keep their coins in pristine condition. Maintaining numismatic quality is the best way to protect a coin’s value and make it a worthwhile investment.
When numismatists evaluate a coin’s quality (or grade), they assign it a number on the Sheldon scale, from 1 to 70. A coin in perfect condition would earn a 70 on this scale. To determine a coin’s grade, numismatists consider five components:
Being able to estimate a coin’s value independently is a useful skill for serious collectors, and can be learned through practice. Both luster and color can generally be evaluated with the naked eye. Coins that appear white, or too shiny, may have been dipped in an abrasive cleaner to remove grime and restore shine.
Along with determining the coloring for “original” coins, collectors will want to familiarize themselves with the natural coloring and patinas for coins struck from different metals. This is an important step to take before purchasing a coin. Some coins, like 19th century US Silver dollars, develop a natural violet tint as they age. These specimens are often more valuable than those that have been cleaned and remain bright silver.
Discerning marks and wear, especially on coins in excellent condition, usually requires special equipment. A magnifying glass or microscope is generally the best way to detect fine lines and damage on a coin’s surface.
Evaluating the quality of coins is an important skill for collectors and investors alike. With practice and patience, anyone can develop the ability to determine a coin’s quality.
This information is provided for general reference purposes and does not constitute professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information, please consult with a professional expert.