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Financial Pinch for Some Collectors?
By Patrick A. Heller
October 01, 2013

Price guides for rare coins are just that – guides. Rarely do they represent the exact retail or wholesale prices for a particular coin, though it should be obvious that there is a difference between coins that catalog $1, $10 and $100.

One of my employees “walked the floor” at the huge Long Beach Coin, Stamp and Sports Collectible Expo in California last week. He again reported a trend we have been observing for several months – and confirmed by a number of dealers at Long Beach and other shows. While $1,000 and higher-priced coins seem to have continuing demand, many of the circulated key-date and semi-key date coins are suffering from declining demand.

I had previously reported that the 1921 and 1921-D Mercury dimes in very good and lower quality were trading at a fraction of prices listed in The Coin Dealer Newsletter Monthly Supplement. This publication is also known as the Greysheet. The sub-headline of the price guide reads, “Sight-seen wholesale prices for accurately graded U.S. Coins – Certified or Raw.”

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While these two coins list in good condition in the supplement at bids of $44 and $50, respectively, the highest published buy prices we can find on the wholesale market right now are about $25. Similarly, this guide shows a bid price in good condition for the 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar of $50, but we are having difficulty selling them retail even though our prices for higher grade specimens are below $40.

Any guide that includes thousands of prices is bound to be off on several at any time and that includes Numismatic News Coin Market monthly price guide and all of the others in our business. While there are some key-date coins where the Greysheet is representative of actual prices, there seem to be more differences from the actual market than is typical. For instance, in good condition the actual wholesale trading prices are at least 20 percent lower than the indicated bids for the 1914-D and 1922 No D Lincoln cents, the 1886 and 1912-S Liberty nickels, the 1932-D and 1932-S Washington quarters, the 1921 and 1921-D Walking Liberty halves, and the 1921 and 1928 Peace dollars (in very good grades). There would be even more coins on this list, except that the Greysheet recently updated several listings by dropping bids.

All of the coins listed above have enjoyed significant appreciation for many years up to about two years ago. So part of the explanation may be that these coins have hit a temporary market peak. However, I think this would be only part of the reason for current price declines.

Although the politicians in Washington are trying to have us believe there is an economic recovery going on, more people every day are realizing that this is deceptive. The percentage of working-age Americans who have a job is at its lowest level in 35 years. Supposedly consumer prices are almost stagnant, but that isn’t my experience at any stores where I shop. The sharp increase in the interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasury debt since the beginning of the year has brought on higher mortgage rates. So, the housing market is taking a sudden hit. The higher stock prices are supposedly to reflect higher corporate profits that have resulted from cost-cutting, layoffs and downsizing. These are not business practices that will lead to a growing future economy.

As every day passes, more of the general public sees through the “economic recovery” deception. As this occurs, more people who are living on the brink of insolvency, and are worried about what might come to pass in the near future, are reining in discretionary purchases.

Unfortunately, rare coins are a purchase that does not provide food on the table, a roof over the head, or gasoline in the car. People who can afford coins selling for at least $1,000 apiece may not have to watch their budgets that closely, but I bet there are a lot of everyday folks who would rather keep their money in their own pockets, just in case, than purchase a $50 key-date coin right now. When demand falls, rare coin prices follow.

Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at Other commentaries are available at Coin Week ( and He also writes a bi-monthly column on collectibles for “The Greater Lansing Business Monthly” ( His radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at

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On October 1, 2013 ab329 said
Very well said.  Increasing debt due to no cost of living increase in my wages is stopping me from making new coin purchases.  Times are tough!

John McLaughlin
Staten Island, NY
On October 2, 2013 al montana said
It seems like the we've been in a very long recession with no way out. I'm not buying now because my income is not going as far as it use to! If I had money boy would I be buying right now!

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