United States coinage can be split into two distinct chronological categories: vintage and modern. Defining each category is relatively easy: vintage coins are generally considered to be 1964 and earlier, while modern coins are usually 1965 and after. However, there are more differences between these categories than just the dates of the coins. Modern coins are graded, collected, valued and traded in a very different manner from vintage coins. This article will explain the key differences.
GRADING: Modern coins, by and large, are readily available in high grades. Coins released into circulation are generally easy to find in MS 65 through MS 67. Non-circulating coins (like bullion issue eagles, proof coins, etc) are likely to grade even higher. PCGS and NGC have designated a small percentage of these modern issues as MS 70 or PR 70—and in some cases these 70-graded coins command tremendous premiums. In many cases these coins do not look appreciably different from coins graded 69, but the difference in value can be dramatic.
PRICING: Many modern-issue coins trade for a modest premium over face value or melt. An Eisenhower Dollar may be an unusual coin and rarely seen in circulation, but its true collector value remains small. A 2006 Proof Gold Buffalo coin may be beautiful and come with a special presentation case, but it’s still worth just 10-20% over melt. This situation is very much a double-edged sword. While collectors should be careful not to overpay, when acquired at fair market values, modern coins can represent excellent value. A coin like the 2006 Proof Gold Buffalo, for example, can be an attractive item to own as a hybrid collectible and gold bullion product.
“YOUTH” AS A CATEGORY: Many numismatists criticize modern coins as being inferior to their vintage counterparts. Elitists feel they are plentiful and lacking in historical significance. With that being said, an argument could be made that modern coins are an emerging category with tremendous potential. A traditional coin collector might scoff at collecting silver eagles by date, but in actuality this is an enjoyable, affordable set to complete. Assembling a complete set of gold eagles by date, as simple as it seems initially, can actually be a true challenge. Yet, many of these tougher modern issues trade for not much over melt. As time goes on, some of these scarcer modern issues will be viewed less as bullion items and more as true collectibles.
Modern coins are very different from their vintage counterparts in terms of condition, rarity and pricing. Each collector has his or her own preference, but the same qualities that make modern coins unappealing to one buyer might make them attractive to another. When bought at proper price levels, modern coins can provide excellent value for the money as both bullion products and legitimate collectibles.