Understanding Coin Price Guides
By Robert L Taylor, JD
There are many coin price guides
published; weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and
annually. They come in the form of magazines,
newsprint, “hot sheets”, and books. All of us
have referred to one of these from time to time
to ascertain what a particular coin might be
worth. Yet, few of us stop to think about what
we are getting from any one of these Price
Guides, beyond the price or
Value of a coin.
After all, don’t price guides, just give you the
price? What else is there?
Basic to an understanding of price guides are
two things: 1) the Grade of the Coin; and 2) the
Foundation of the price guide. Knowing the Grade
of the Coin is required before one can begin.
Saying so seems to be obvious, but what more
does it mean?
Unless the coin is Graded by an appropriate
Grading Company, which has
designated what Grade and Identity has been
assigned to the coin, most of us are making an
assumption about the actual Grade. This
assumption we make can be very dangerous because
of: a) the difficulty in
Grading a coin; and, b)
the different possible outcomes or results that
occur. One Grade “point” or level can make the
difference in hundreds or thousands of dollars
Value of a Coin.
Price Guides assume that YOU already Know the
Grade of the Coin. This is why we have the First
Rule of Coin Collecting: Know the Grade of Your
Secondly, ALL Price Guides are founded on the
same Principle, which is that the Coin, whose
price you are looking up, has been Graded using
Grading Standard. That
Grading Standard is
set by the
ANA – American Numismatic Association
– and is entitled the Official
For US Coins.
Therefore, ALL Price Guides have a “silent
assumption” built in to their guide; which is
that the Grade that YOU decide upon, is True or
Accurate, and that such Grade is based on the
The first difficulty that arises is that most
people never know if the Grade that they have
decided upon is Accurate. Of course, this
difficulty never comes into question, if the
coin is Professionally Graded by an appropriate
company. There are only four (4) reputable
Grading companies that strictly
follow the Guidelines set by the
ANA, and they
The second difficulty arises because of this
“silent assumption” or Foundation of all price
guides is whether or not the Grade has been
decided upon using the Guidelines or Standards
established by the ANA. If you don’t have the
skills and training of a professional coin
grader, the decision is probably questionable.
Even if you do have the skills and training of a
professional coin grader, the decision is still
probably questionable. Why? Because even
professional coin graders have differing
opinions. This is why the reputable professional
Grading companies require the opinions of
three (3) professional coin graders to arrive at
the “Grade” designation to be placed on every
The obvious conclusion is that a Serious Coin
Collector is going to invest in rare and modern
coins that are graded by one of the Top Four
Grading companies. It is the only
certain way to eliminate the disagreements and
arguments about the Grade of Any coin being
Bought or Sold! It is the only certain way one
Value their coin collection. It also
eliminates “getting taken” or cheated buying raw
Have fun collecting your Perfect Coins!
Robert L Taylor, JD
Robert Taylor is a 59 year old retired Lawyer,
from Denver, CO, who spent most of his career
representing people who has had a passion for
collecting US coins. Wanting to share his
Passion, he created http://www.ThePerfect-Coin.Com
which features US Rare and Modern Dollars (from
1878) and Coins (from 1960), all Certified and
Graded by NGC or PCGS.
Additional Notes from
When Coin Collecting many
collectors have come across a particular coin
from time to time and wondered whether they had
something of great value in their possession.
This feature describes the main factors
influencing a coin's value and provides some
guidance in obtaining an estimate of such value.
Remember, however, that the mere fact that a
coin does not have significant monetary value
does not mean that it is not interesting or that
it should not form part of your collection.
There are at least three values of a coin, the
Price the owner thinks his coin is worth, the
Price the Red Book or a Pricing Guide lists it
at and then most importantly, the Actual Price
that you can sell it for to a dealer, private
buyer, on eBay or at auction.
Remember, assigning a grade to a coin is an art,
not a science. It is often highly subjective,
especially when working with Mint State coins
where small differences in grade make big
differences in price. Even so, grading can be
studied, learned and applied with known and
predictable results that ultimately rest on
judgment, rather than "feeling."
Like any science, language, sport, or field of
study, it is best to break grading down to its
basic components, and master them one at a time.
Learning how to grade coins is much the same as
learning how to speak English; so do not try to
learn it all at once, instead learn through
experience and study.