Finding collectible coins at auction

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Collecting coins can be fairly easy and relatively cheap for the novice coin collector.

Whether it’s a few coins stashed in a desk drawer, or the collection of a serious hobbyist, auctioneer Stephen Schofield, of Effingham, N.H., says U.S. coins are fairly common items at many antique and estate auctions.

Schofield is one of the National Auctioneers Association’s members who specialize in coin sales. Centennial Auctions, his company, offers coin and stamp auctions in the New England region.

Beyond the immediate value of the coin, Schofield said coins and coin collecting offer a measure to gauge the social, political and economic climate at different times in U.S. history.

And beyond the face value of a coin, there is an aesthetic appeal to collecting coins.

“They’re artistic,” Schofield said, “in my opinion, most coins prior to the 1930s were very beautiful.”

Schofield, who has sold a set of Panama-Pacific gold coins from 1915 at auction for $45,000, said the sales prices for coins can range from a few cents to $500. However, coins can go for far much more.

“It’s not unusual to have a $1,000 to $10,000 coin.”

Inexpensive to start. But the hobby can be fairly inexpensive for the budding coin collector. For example, Schofield said a collector can build a “set,” a collection of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars or dollars, that encompasses the 20th century for about $100.

While collectors can find some rare coins at an auction, Schofield said research is required to keep from getting “burned” in buying coins.

Determining value. In general, there are a few common factors that can help determine the value of a particular coin.

Coins are valued in part on their condition, or wear, those that are more worn are generally less valuable than those that look freshly minted. The number of coins minted and circulated also affects the value of a particular coin.

“Generally, those made in times of economic crisis – depression or recession – are rare,” Schofield said.

Coins from periods of economic uncertainty, say from the Great Depression or the depression in the mid-1890s, are fairly rare because fewer were minted and in circulation.

In contrast, coins minted during booming economic times are far more common and likely to be of less value.

Metal content.

One final factor that may influence the value of a coin is its metal content. Coins with a high silver or gold content may be more valuable, but Schofield said that depends largely upon prevailing prices for precious metals on the commodities market.

He recommends the budding coin collector build a rapport with a reputable and knowledgeable coin dealer.

Collectors’ resources.

For domestic coins, Schofield recommends two books. The first, the “bible” of the hobby iss A Guidebook of U.S. Coins by R. S. Yeoman and Kenneth Bresset; the second is “grading guide” that offers photos of coins in various states of wear, from very worn to those in perfect condition.

He also recommends joining the American Numismatic Association, a nonprofit educational organization.

Domestic coins are a frequent find at auctions, and each can offer some insight into the country’s history.

With research, bidders can quickly determine the value of domestic currency and quickly find additions for their collections.

(The author is Web editor for the National Auctioneers Association.)

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