What Gives Coins Value?

In this brief video, learn the three most important variables that determine how much a coin is worth. Hint: One variable that has very little to do with value may be the first one that comes to mind.


Hello. This is Rod Gillis with the American Numismatic Association, I’m the Education Director and I want to spend a little bit of time talking with you today about what gives a coin value.

You know, I love my job very much, but when I’m out in public, I don’t like people to know what I do for a living, because invariably when they find out, they say to me, “Well, I have a half dollar, an old half dollar, how much is that worth?” and I really can’t tell them for a whole lot of reasons. And so I give them an answer that they usually don’t care for. But the answer is that whatever somebody’s willing to pay for it, that’s what the value of their coin is.

But for you and I, there really is three important variables that determine a value of a coin. The first variable is mintage number. You know, the mint makes different amounts of coins every year, and there are different mints within the country that make different amounts of coins. We naturally assume that the mint makes the same number of coins every year, but that’s not the case. Some years they make a tremendous amount of coins, other years not so many. So what that means to us, is that there are some coins that have a tremendous mintage number, and others maybe not so much. Naturally, it goes to a show that a coin that has a smaller mintage number, generally means that it is more rare, generally means that it has more value.

Notice that the one thing I didn’t say is the age of a coin. How old a coin is has very little determination about its value. One of the interesting things is we have a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, of which there are five, and when we take it to a show, there are people who come up to me all the time and say, “I saw that 1913 Nickel that’s worth several millions of dollars. I have one from 1910, so how many millions of dollars is that worth?” Well, the mintage number of a 1910 Liberty Head Nickel far exceeds that of a 1913, and so it’s worth far less.

The second variable that determines the value of a coin is the grade or condition of the coin. Generally, the higher the grade, the higher the state of preservation, the more valuable the coin is. And the third variable that determines the value of a coin is demand. There are coins that are always in high demand, there are coins that are rarely in demand, and then there are coins that are cyclical. An example of a coin that is in high demand all the time are Morgan dollars. You know, if you visit a coin show, you’ll notice that probably more Morgan dollars are traded or sold than any other coin.

An example of a coin that rarely is in high demand are Peace dollars. Peace dollars are, for whatever reason, aren’t nearly as popular as Morgan dollars. As a matter of fact, if we could hold a Peace dollar and a Morgan dollar together, and they were in the same state of preservation, and they had the same mintage number, the Morgan dollar would probably sell more than the Peace dollar simply because more people collect Morgan dollars than Peace dollars.

And then there are cyclical coins. Examples of cyclical coins are coins like Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, these are coins that go up in value, reach a certain level, and then they’ll drop down. Why that happens? No one really knows, but these are examples of coins that sort of run hot and cold.

So, again, the variables that determine the value of a coin are mintage number, the grade or state of preservation of a coin, and the fact that some coins are cyclical and we call that demand.


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