Thanks to the advent of the Internet, auction records are rapidly becoming an important means of valuing coins. As recently as a decade ago, there was no central database of numismatic auctions records; this information was difficult to index and scattered among multiple sources. Now, several services offer collectors, dealers and investors a means of looking up auction prices realized (aka “APRs”) online.

While auction records can provide an excellent indication of a coin’s value, they nonetheless can be confusing—and misleading at times. Here are some primary factors to consider when evaluating auction prices realized:

  • Was the coin a high-end example or poor quality for the grade? Collectors will absolutely pay a premium for coins that are exceptionally attractive, original, eye-appealing, and on the cusp of qualifying for the next grade. Dealers also attempt to upgrade certain coins, i.e. buy a coin with the hopes of resubmitting it to PCGS and NGC for a higher grade. If a coin was a likely upgrade, its APR will almost certainly be unusually high. On the flip side, low-end coins with obvious problems, defects or visual impairments will sell at a discount. The basic message is that one cannot peg the value of a high-end coin to the auction record of a low-end piece.
  • In certain situations and contexts, coins can bring more or less money. When exceptional collections come up for auction, the proverbial rising tide can float all boats. If a particularly exciting, fresh or well-promoted collection comes up for auction, sometimes ordinary coins in the sale will attract extra attention. In giant auctions, meanwhile, coins are more likely to slip through the cracks or suffer from duplication. That is, if multiple examples of the same coin are offered in the same auction, there’s a good chance prices will be lower.
  • Not all auction venues are the same. If a coin was offered on eBay with a blurry photo and no return policy, that auction record cannot be compared to a sale in a conventional live auction. Coins sold by regional, smaller auction houses may not bring as much money as those sold by national firms with greater reach.
  • Auction records can be random. One record does not tell the entire story; collectors and dealers should look at multiple APRs to determine a value range. It’s not unusual for a set of five auction records to fall within a 10-30% channel. Coins are not like stocks where values are exact to the penny; most coins have value ranges with amount of variance.