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How Do YOU Evaluate a Coin?


jfp7375
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As a new collector, something I've realized is that people have different standards for what makes a coin desirable. 

The variables I think about (not necessarily in order) are:

  • Historical significance (is there a good story?)
  • Portrait Quality
  • Reverse design (is it cool or unusual? is there a thematic fit with the issuer's reign/career/personality?)
  • Overall Eye Appeal (artistic style, toning/patina)
  • Condition (strike quality, degree of wear, completeness/legibility of legends, etc.) 

For me, I've noticed I place a below average premium on condition - relative to most other collectors I chat with, I'd rather have a slightly worn coin with a great historical story, a unique design, and/or very attractive toning than I would something that is in super sharp condition but otherwise less distinctive. 

Just thought it would be interesting to hear how everyone else thinks about these tradeoffs! Obviously, there is no right or wrong way to collect so I am sure we have a diversity of opinion here. 

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Price #1

If it grabs my attention for some particular reason.

History attached to it.
Something odd, like die clashing, overweight for the types, heavy die breaks.

If its a cheaper/better grade duplicate then I already own, sell the one I have for more $ or break even from what I paid for the older one.

 

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1 hour ago, jfp7375 said:

For me, I've noticed I place a below average premium on condition - relative to most other collectors I chat with, I'd rather have a slightly worn coin with a great historical story, a unique design, and/or very attractive toning than I would something that is in super sharp condition but otherwise less distinctive. 

 

You are not alone.  I also prefer coins this way (though generic coins are just fine).  I like them with some wear to them.  

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For me, it's primarily how the coin fits into the story I'm trying to tell with my collection. If this is a type new to me, I'll research it to determine

  • How does it fit into the story?
  • Was it minted around the same time as the story?
  • Are there academic papers discussing the coin in this light?
  • Are there other coins or variants of the type that would tell this aspect of the story better?

Once I've determined that it helps my story, I'll determine 

  • How expensive is this coin given the condition and past sales?
  • Are there other coins that may come in my budget that would look nicer?
  • How likely am I to see this type again?

Here's one example. I became interested in an Arsames I at a Leu auction. The story worked, but I was worried that similar coins had gone quite high at auction. I found a seller on ma-shops with a slightly better (IMHO) reverse, so I purchased it.

124693385_arsamesI.jpg.ed10880d46009af9a208fd0b7970423d.jpg

Here's now my site with the coin in context.

 

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Historically interesting; appealing design; affordable price.

Condition is not the major criteria for me. Rather than spending 100 EUR on a common coin in XF conditon I prefer 3 more interesting ones in F.

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Style, eye appeal, and how it fits with my one-per-ruler collection. I'm gradually replacing all my ugly coins - although that Libius Severus monogram will be around for a while yet, until i find that elusive solidus.

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For coins for my specialty collection:

1. Rarity. How likely am I to find another one of these in the foreseeable future? I have many coins which are known from fewer than 10 specimens, including those in museum collections. These are coins that if I didn't snap them up, I'd probably never have the opportunity to buy another.

2. Is this a coin/variety I don't already have? If so, I'm likely to buy it if the price is right and it has acceptable eye appeal.

3. If I already have a specimen of this coin/variety, is this one a significantly nicer example to warrant purchasing it as an upgrade?

4. Least important factors -- technical grade, whether it was slabbed, provenance.

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Posted · Supporter

I guess number one would be historical significance, closely followed by eye appeal.

I don't specialize in any particular period of history, or any particular civilization. I enjoy ancients of all kinds. If a coin has an interesting story, background, or other historical significance I'll at least be interested.

It also has to be reasonably visually attractive. "Reasonably" means taking into account the coin's rarity and typical expense, as with my recent Otho denarius. Even though it's in quite poor shape, I consider it reasonably attractive because a nicer one is so much more expensive.

This brings in the third, or maybe I should say the overarching consideration, which is price. Obviously it has to fit within my budget or I won't buy it, no matter how appealing it may be.

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Posted (edited)

@jfp7375, as a new collector, your acuity in identifying these criteria is --can I just say it?-- impressive.

From what people have been saying, the first thing that jumps out at me is the issue of wear.  Already very much a subset of 'condition,' especially in contrast to strike.  --Granted that the relation between the two is irreducibly symbiotic.

From a medieval kind of place, this is as close as I get to appreciating coins on a relatively esthetic level.  If there's wear, I kind of like it --it tells me that they actually participated in their times.  (By contrast, a coin that didn't see the light of day after its first month of issue comes across as having lost an entire dimension of its potential significance.  --Hoards which are historically significant in their own right are an obvious exception.)  But, still on the esthetics, I have to like it if the wear is even, with an attendantly competent strike, such that the legends are readily legible.  If both of those are happening, toning (especially on billon or silver) can only help.

Given all of that, @CPK's emphasis on historical significance (posted while I was deep in the weeds with this one) has to be the primary factor.  From this forum, it's very apparent that many of us have arrived at this hobby --emphatically across the whole range of 'ancient' coins-- from a lively engagement with the attendant history.

...Maybe this is only most glaringly obvious where earlier, billon and silver European medievals are concerned (esp. c. 10th-earlier 13th centuries).  In that context, a lot of what you get is reducible either to coins with nothing but legends; or ones with sometimes funly elaborate motifs, but with correspondingly hideous strikes.  (...As if the guy at the mint was really badly hungover.  This especially in reference to French feudal deniers, and German denars of the Salian period.) 

At this level, I need to restate further bloviate on their primary function as miniature historical documents.  It's like, if it was an option to buy a vellum leaf from the same given period, I'd do it, and wouldn't blink.  Meanwhile, this is the available, collective (...) option.

Sorry for how self-indulgent this got.  Hope it translates to other periods.

Edited by JeandAcre
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Posted (edited)

For me, here are the most important factors, in order of priority, with the highest priority first.

1. Price. I have a maximum price, that I am willing to spend, on a single coin. Also, this year, for the 1st time, I've been keeping track, of how much I spend per month, on coins and coin books. I'm trying not to exceed a certain amount per month. That maximum amount per month, is equal to the maximum amount, that I'm willing to spend, on a single coin. In March, I really blew out my budget, more than double. But in the other months this year, I've done pretty well.

2. Age. I really like old coins. The older the better.

3. Spiritual significance. Coins that show beliefs about the After Life, and the Spirit World.

4. Historical significance. Coins that show, what the people were like, and how they lived, and what they did, in that time and place.

5. Eye appeal.

6. Nice looking portrait.

7. Tone and patina. I like toned silver coins, and bronze coins with a patina. However, I also like shiny silver coins. However, I don't usually buy shiny bronze coins that have been stripped of their original patina, unless the coin is exceptional. Cabinet patina (patina that naturally happened, after a coin was stripped of its original patina) is fine with me. I try not to buy coins, that have a fake tone, or a fake patina.

8. Reputation of the seller. Does the seller have a good reputation, for selling authentic coins? Does the seller have the knowledge, to ensure, that almost all of the seller's coins, are authentic?

9. Provenance. Is there documentation on a web site, that the coin was sold in the past, by a reputable seller?

10. NGC slab. If an ancient coin or medieval coin is in an NGC slab, then that is helpful, to verify authenticity, because the NGC people seem to be good at authenticating ancient coins (and medieval coins?). However, I almost always remove the coin from the slab, after I take photos of the coin in the slab.

Edited by sand
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Posted (edited)

@sand, I have to Really like it that, even if your (conspicuously Very Last) criterion is an NGC slab, you rely on that for authentication, rather than for the esthetics.

...Not sure you need my opinion of anyone's slabs, in either capacity.  I've never had occasion to buy anything in one.

Edited by JeandAcre
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Posted (edited)
58 minutes ago, JeandAcre said:

@sand, I have to Really like it that, even if your (conspicuously Very Last) criterion is an NGC slab, you rely on that for authentication, rather than for the esthetics.

...Not sure you need my opinion of anyone's slabs, in either capacity.  I've never had occasion to buy anything in one.

Thanks @JeandAcre

I wish, that NGC offered a choice of an NGC certificate of authenticity (COA) for ancient coins, instead of a slab. It seems that, on the NGC web site, NGC only offers a COA, if the coin cannot be slabbed for some reason (too large, too small, too fragile, etc). An NGC COA, with an ID number, and high resolution photos of the coin, on the NGC web site, which one could lookup by the ID number on the COA. That way, I wouldn't have to go through the trouble, of breaking the coin out of the slab. I know that Sear sells COAs of ancient coins. Maybe NGC would offer a COA, if someone called them, and requested a COA. I don't know. I think, such a COA would work, for an ancient coin, because every ancient coin looks different, because of variations in the flan shape, style, strike, and wear. Such a COA would work, in the same way, that provenance works.

Edited by sand
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@sand, I'm appreciating the nuance of what you're saying.  Except that, from here, it kind of goes like this.  

I'm Realllly old school where this stuff is concerned (along the lines of, one day, you wake up and find this out, Rip Van Winkle style), and have very literally never done slabs or certificates of authenticity.  If you'll kindly pardon the metaphor, they both just smell that bad.  

Regarding NGC in particular, other people, orders of magnitude more knowledgable about them than I am, have already posted in this forum.  You might try doing a website search.  But they've called NGC out on their communal level of expertise, where attribution is concerned, above and beyond the esthetics (and, for some of us, abject lack thereof) of slabbing.

Much more anecdotally --going back to the 2000s, when even US ebay harbored dealers who were of a certain level of erudition about what they were selling-- one seller put it this way.  When some of her clientele asked her for a certificate of authenticity, she wanted to respond with '...Fine.  What would you want it to say?' 

You're owed the caveat that this was in the context of medieval coins, before people in eastern Europe were routinely listing laugh-till-it-comes-out-your-nose fakes on ...wait for it...ebay.  But in that, far more gracious age, her implicit point was valid, and no less relevant to this day.  If you can't spot a fake on your own watch, maybe you should just stay in the stock market, and watch more television.  ...And when you can't, as I haven't, an easy couple of times, you should just do all you can to get a summary refund.

...No, I Promise you, that's Not to cast aspersions on where you are, as a collector.  More that occasionally, on a broader scale, I get a little carried away with my own rhetoric.  And it's pretty obvious that the recent spike in prices across the market is doing nothing good for its communal integrity.  And that outfits like NGC are no substitute for a practiced eye.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, JeandAcre said:

@sand, I'm appreciating the nuance of what you're saying.  Except that, from here, it kind of goes like this.  

I'm Realllly old school where this stuff is concerned (along the lines of, one day, you wake up and find this out, Rip Van Winkle style), and have very literally never done slabs or certificates of authenticity.  If you'll kindly pardon the metaphor, they both just smell that bad.  

Regarding NGC in particular, other people, orders of magnitude more knowledgable about them than I am, have already posted in this forum.  You might try doing a website search.  But they've called NGC out on their communal level of expertise, where attribution is concerned, above and beyond the esthetics (and, for some of us, abject lack thereof) of slabbing.

Much more anecdotally --going back to the 2000s, when even US ebay harbored dealers who were of a certain level of erudition about what they were selling-- one seller put it this way.  When some of her clientele asked her for a certificate of authenticity, she wanted to respond with '...Fine.  What would you want it to say?' 

You're owed the caveat that this was in the context of medieval coins, before people in eastern Europe were routinely listing laugh-till-it-comes-out-your-nose fakes on ...wait for it...ebay.  But in that, far more gracious age, her implicit point was valid, and no less relevant to this day.  If you can't spot a fake on your own watch, maybe you should just stay in the stock market, and watch more television.  ...And when you can't, as I haven't, an easy couple of times, you should just do all you can to get a summary refund.

...No, I Promise you, that's Not to cast aspersions on where you are, as a collector.  More that occasionally, on a broader scale, I get a little carried away with my own rhetoric.  And it's pretty obvious that the recent spike in prices across the market is doing nothing good for its communal integrity.  And that outfits like NGC are no substitute for a practiced eye.

@JeandAcre Thanks for your observations, regarding NGC slabs, especially for medieval coins.

I really don't know much, about how good NGC is, at authenticating medieval coins.

I'm much more familiar, with how good NGC is, at authenticating ancient coins. From all of the posts that I've read on CoinTalk, NGC is very good at authenticating ancient coins. From what I've read, David Vagi and Barry Murphy, the 2 NGC Ancients guys, are very good at authenticating ancient coins. Barry Murphy started working at NGC Ancients in July 2016. David Vagi was at NGC Ancients before that.

Out of all of the 150 or so ancient and medieval coins that I've purchased (19 ancient Greek, 40 ancient Roman, 40 Byzantine, 13 ancient Africa and the Middle East, 15 ancient Chinese, 17 medieval Chinese, 4 medieval Vietnamese, and 6 medieval Europe, more or less), I can only recall 3 that were in NGC slabs. 2 were ancient Greek, and 1 was medieval Europe. Therefore, I haven't been a huge buyer of NGC slabbed coins. And, I've never paid to slab a coin. Therefore, I'm not really much of a "slab person".

I also purchased 2 Chinese coins, which had been slabbed by Chinese slab companies. And 1 PCGS slabbed US trade dollar. 

I have removed all of the coins, which I purchased in slabs, except for 1.

Of the 3 NGC slabbed coins that I have purchased, 2 were from Ebay, back when I was more of a newbie than I am now. 1 was an ancient Greek, and the other was a medieval Europe. Nowadays, I don't shop much on Ebay anymore, for various reasons.

The 3rd NGC slabbed coin, was of an ancient Greek coin type, that, it seems to me, is very difficult for anyone to authenticate. It was an Ionia electrum coin, with a plain obverse (perfectly smooth, with no design), and an incuse punch on the reverse, from the 7th century BC. I didn't know enough about the seller's knowledge, to know, if the seller was knowledgeable enough about that coin type, to do a good job of authenticating the coin. It seems to me, that very few sellers, would be expert enough, in that coin type, to authenticate such a coin. However, I could be incorrect, about that. The coin was in an NGC slab, and the price was relatively low for that coin type, so I bid on it, and I won it. The NGC slab was a factor, in my decision, to bid on the coin.

I guess my "eye" has become more practiced, over the 4 years that I've been collecting ancient coins and medieval coins. Especially for ancient coins. But, during those 4 years, I've relied somewhat, on buying from reputable dealers. I started with Ebay, but eventually I moved on, to other places.

To me, an NGC Ancients slab, is similar to buying an ancient coin from a reputable dealer, who is knowledgeable enough about ancient coins, to sell almost no fake coins. But only for ancient coins. I don't know, how good NGC is, at authenticating medieval coins.

I agree, that knowledge is important. Even if a seller is what I consider to be reputable and knowledgeable, I still look very carefully at the seller photos of a coin, and I use my knowledge, to try to see any signs, that the coin may be fake. My knowledge has improved over the past 4 years, especially in certain areas. But, I'm still not an expert.

Edited by sand
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* Discover coin unplanned
* Search for reasons to justify a new purchase
* Think of even more good reasons
* Present reasons to the wife
* Sobering to discover that woman doesn't really care about the reasons
* Looking for reasons that might convince her
* Cooking the woman dinner
* Surprisingly clean the flat, do the laundry, do all the manual tasks that have accumulated over the last few years
* Woman still finds coin unnecessary
* Try to convince wife with a quid pro quo (Honey, didn't you want to afford ....? Why don't you treat yourself to something nice for once?)
* Wife, exasperated, agrees to invest the household money in a two-thousand-year-old copper disc on which you can barely make out a head on the front and a creature on the back.
* Completely exceeding the self-imposed limit during the auction
* After the auction, looking for a thousand ways not to be able to pay with the joint credit card. Considerations mature to open an account in Greenland for such purposes
* Confess to wife that the copper disc has become more expensive
* Paying for every massage, every skin peeling and every cocktail for the woman on the next wellness holiday without complaining.

That's how it always works for me (roughly)...

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1 hour ago, Prieure de Sion said:

* Discover coin unplanned
* Search for reasons to justify a new purchase
* Think of even more good reasons
* Present reasons to the wife
* Sobering to discover that woman doesn't really care about the reasons
* Looking for reasons that might convince her
* Cooking the woman dinner
* Surprisingly clean the flat, do the laundry, do all the manual tasks that have accumulated over the last few years
* Woman still finds coin unnecessary
* Try to convince wife with a quid pro quo (Honey, didn't you want to afford ....? Why don't you treat yourself to something nice for once?)
* Wife, exasperated, agrees to invest the household money in a two-thousand-year-old copper disc on which you can barely make out a head on the front and a creature on the back.
* Completely exceeding the self-imposed limit during the auction
* After the auction, looking for a thousand ways not to be able to pay with the joint credit card. Considerations mature to open an account in Greenland for such purposes
* Confess to wife that the copper disc has become more expensive
* Paying for every massage, every skin peeling and every cocktail for the woman on the next wellness holiday without complaining.

That's how it always works for me (roughly)...

I laugh because it is true.   I can only add:

* Try to convince wife that buying coins is really more like saving money than spending it.  (“But you never sell any” she says.)

*Last resort:  Propitiatory Jewelry.  

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