For the majority of vintage United States coinage series, “super-grade” coins (that is, grading MS 67 or higher) are extremely scarce. In order for a coin to survive in such an immaculate state, they must be carefully preserved from the time of production. Unless a coin is immediately stashed away and kept in near-ideal conditions, it is virtually impossible for it to remain in such high grade. This article will explain how some of these super-graded rarities managed to survive and what kind of values they command.
When new coinage designs or denominations are first released to the public, quite a few end up getting saved as souvenirs and mementos. As a result, some of the best-preserved vintage coins are often first years of issue. Early copper large cents, for example, are wildly scarce in “uncirculated” condition, with the average coin grading in the Good to Very Fine range. Yet, an astonishing group of 1793 cents exist in MS 67 through MS 69. One can only assume that these were put aside when the very first United States copper cents were released into circulation—or early Mint employees saved them.
Much later, the same phenomenon took place with Indian Head Half Eagles. The most common date in the series is 1909-D, but some of the finest known Indian Head $5’s are actually 1908-S. The 1908 San Francisco issue is typically quite scarce, but apparently a small group of these were put aside at the very beginning of the Indian Head Half Eagle production run.
As a general rule, it’s easier for a small coin to remain well-preserved than a larger piece. Big, heavy coins like half dollars and silver dollars were often stored in large bags, where they would jostle around in transport. By contrast dimes were often put into rolls and basically stayed immobile once wrapped or tubed. Not surprisingly, one of the most common vintage coins in ultra-high grade is the Mercury dime. Quite a few original untouched bank rolls have managed to survive over the decades and therefore MS 67 coins can be had for under $200.
Proof coins are also more likely to survive in lofty grade levels due to their protective packaging. Many 19th century proof coins were delivered to collectors in sets with velvet cases. If left untouched in these cases, most proof coins would acquire attractive toning but still retain immaculate surfaces. Many coins extracted from original 19th century proof sets grade Proof 67 or better.