Agreement on Mintage Meaning Is Rare


Question: I have noticed, on reading the numismatic press over the past year or so, a proliferation of ads claiming that coins with mintages of 10,000 to 100,000 pieces are very scarce, rare or very rare. A dealer-friend is selling a Belize $100 gold, 1976 brilliant uncirculated coin with a mintage of 16 pieces, and also a Barbados $25 1978 with a mintage of 69 pieces.

If coins with mintages of 10,000 to 100,000 are highly desirable collector items due to their low mintages (according to dealer advertising claims), it seems to me that coins with minuscule mintages of 16 and 69 should be real prizes. I am considering the purchase of these items, but I would first like to hear your views. I am considering these coins as a long-term investment.--N.W.

Answer: While the rarity factor in numismatics is not abused as much as grading, it runs a close second. The reason is that there is no general agreement as to what precisely is meant by rarity. Different sources define the term differently. But most coins--definitely mintages of 10,000 to 100,000--are not rare. In fact, few collectors can ever hope to own a truly rare coin.


What, exactly, do we mean by rare? First of all, most sources agree that rarity should be measured on a scale, just as grading is. Depending on the source, the scale can range from R-1 to R-8 or from R-1 to R-10. Scott’s Comprehensive Catalogue & Encyclopedia of U. S. Coins by Don Taxay says R-1 is more than 1,250; R-2 is 501 to 1,250; R-3 is 201 to 500; R-4 is 76 to 200; R-5 is 31 to 75; R-6 is 13 to 30; low R-7 is 10 to 12; R-7 is 7 to 9; high R-7 is 4 to 6; R-8 is 2 or 3, and then there’s Unique. That’s as good a definition as any, although not all rarity systems agree. Another one, for example, maintains that R-1 means more than 5,000 specimens exist.

But regardless of definition, the main factor regarding rarity is not numbers, necessarily, but collector interest. Certain rare ancient coins are not as valuable as more common U.S. pieces because interest is greater for the more common pieces. Rarity only becomes important in pricing coins when there is great desire on the part of many people for a particular item. The law of supply and demand actually sets the price. Unfortunately, as you point out, some unscrupulous dealers will attempt to claim rarity where, in fact, none actually exists.

As for the specific coins you inquired about, they are indeed rare, no matter what definition of the word is used. However, they are modern rarities, and how they will fare in the marketplace in the long run is anyone’s guess. I would not attempt to speculate on how these coins will perform as an investment. I would suggest that if you like the coins, if owning them will give you pleasure, then go ahead. If your only intent, however, is to speculate, then you might want to consider something else.

Q: I have a 1937 German 10-pfennig coin. Being from the Hitler era, it has the Nazi swastika on it, and it’s in good condition. Is this coin of any value?--R.D.

A: Your coin doesn’t have any particular numismatic value, but it probably would appeal to collectors of World War II memorabilia.

Q: A friend recently bought a quantity of silver coins that weigh an ounce each and are called double-eagle commemoratives. They are newly minted and are not legal tender. My friend paid roughly $25 each for the coins and believes they have numismatic value. I believe the coins have no value beyond their bullion value. Which of us is correct?--R.E.D.


A: Your friend, first of all, did not buy coins. He bought some manufactured pieces that contain an ounce of silver. With silver selling in the $6-to-$7 range, he paid quite a premium for what is essentially a bullion piece, as you suggest. There’s no way of knowing whether or not silver will go up dramatically in value, as it has in the past, or whether such pieces as your friend bought will eventually gain in value. But for $25, he could buy some nice U.S. silver dollars that would undoubtedly have a better chance of long-range appreciation. Wise coin collectors and investors stick with the tried and true.

Q: Please tell me the value of the following: a U.S. half dollar, Carson City 1878 in excellent condition except for some scratches on the face side; a U.S. 1795 $1 in excellent condition; a gold quarter eagle in mint condition except it was used as a locket and has a small hole through the top; a 2-cent 1865 in fine condition; a silver 3-cent 1851, and nickel 3-cent pieces dated 1865, 1867, 1868 and 1881.--B.W.

A: Your 1878-CC half dollar is worth $150 and up, depending on condition; the 1795 dollar is $600 and up; your damaged quarter eagle is only worth the gold content; the 1865 2-cent piece is $5 and up; the 1851 3-cent piece is $10 and up; the 1865, 1867, 1868 3-cent nickels are $250 each and up, and the 1881 3-cent nickel is $5 and up.

Q: I have a copper coin, 1371, Maroc, 10 francs, with Arabic writing on the front and back. Also a Los Angeles Railway coin (good for one fare).--J.M.E.

A: Your foreign coin and your token have little or no collector value.

Q: I would like to know the value of a 1957 copper coin. The front has a woman’s head and says Cinco Centavos. On the back there’s an eagle with a snake in its mouth and the words: Esta los Unidos Mexicanos. I can’t find it in a coin book.--W.A.

A: Maybe you’re not looking in the right book. It’s there, all right. Your Mexican coin, made of brass, catalogues for 10 cents to $1, depending upon condition. But for all practical purposes, it has no collector value.


Q: I have a George Washington silver half dollar, 1732-1982, and a George Washington quarter, 1843. How much are these worth? I can’t find them in my 1985 coin book.--J.L.

A: Your Washington half dollar commemorates the 250th anniversary of his birth. It’s worth about $6. Your Washington quarter, surely, is dated 1943, not 1843. If so, it’s worth about $25.

Q: I would like some information on a coin with Fargo in incuse punched letters and the year 1860 on it and on the bottom in capital letters: S.F. C.A.L. The reverse consists of an eagle with spread wings just like the one found on the back of a quarter.--S.V.

A: From your description, you do not seem to have a genuine coin but rather a medal with only negligible or probably no numismatic value.

Coin News

Many collectors like to specialize. Some prefer gold, silver or copper. Others prefer a particular series, such as the large cent or silver dollars. Others are into a particular era or country. Canada is quite popular because of its proximity to the United States and the attractive designs used on its coinage. Collectors who specialize in Canada will be especially interested in a new book, “Striking Impressions,” by James A. Haxby. It traces the history of Canadian coinage from the pre-mint days through 1983, the 75th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mint. “Striking Impressions” is available for $22 by mail order only from the Royal Canadian Mint, P. O. Box 459, Station A, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 8V5.

Don Alpert cannot answer mail personally but will respond to numismatic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Coins, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.