American coin collection has been popular since the mid-19th century; it’s one of the oldest pastimes in the United States. Even so, the hobby has seen some major changes in the past ten years. Thanks largely to technology and increased consumer education, the rare coin market is a very different place today versus a decade ago. We can boil the changes into three main categories:
- The internet has become the dominant means of trading coins. Even as recently as 2005, most numismatists added to their collections by attending coin shows, sitting through live auctions, responding to printed ads in trade publications, buying out of catalogs, etc. Today, fewer collectors are attending conventions or auctions in person. If they do make the trek to a coin show, it’s more often to “meet and greet.” Auctions are still a means of buying and selling coins, but participation comes mostly from internet bidders. Printed catalogs are rapidly being replaced with web sites—and collectors demand reliable, high-resolution images.
- Consumers are far better informed. Even ten years ago, the majority of numismatic information was stored in clunky reference books. Since then a number of organizations have endeavored to make coin information more accessible and user-friendly. Collectors can now look up mintages, estimate survival rates, population info (i.e. how many coins PCGS/NGC have certified) and pricing data with relative ease. The wealth of information has hurt unscrupulous dealers exploiting buyers with massive markups, but helped dealers operating on fair margins.
- Collectors care more about quality. The two major grading services, PCGS and NGC, are considered extremely consistent and trustworthy. With that being said, there will always be coins that are low-end or high-end for the grade. In an effort to recognize high-end coins that just missed the cut for the next grade, both PCGS and NGC now use a plus sign after the grade. An exceptionally nice MS64 that doesn’t quite qualify for MS65 can now be designated MS64+. Many “plus coins” trade for substantial premiums, demonstrating that collectors care about quality and are willing to pay for it. If a coin is worth $1000 in MS64 and $5000 in MS65, an MS64+ for $1500 is a great alternative for budget-minded collectors.
In summary, today’s coin market is different from that of 2005—but in most ways a much better place for the collector. Armed with greater access to coins and numismatic information, today’s collectors are making more educated decisions. Dealers with archaic methods or unrealistic pricing have been hurt, but virtually all other market participants have benefited from this decade of change.