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What makes coins valuable?

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Originally published on September 12, 2013 Coins unlike other objects can have 3 different types of value.  Firstly is their exchange value in commerce.  Fortunately for us in Canada, most older coins are still legal tender, and usable for transactions.  Second is metallic value.  Before 1968 common circulating 10, 25, 50 cents, and dollars were made in silver...all of these are worth a premium at current market prices based on their metal value.  Also, most gold coins have values way in excess of their printed legal tender value.  But the question we get asked the most is what determines "collector value"

When it comes down to collector value it is two basic things....rarity and condition. 

It is a common misconception that age creates value.  While many older coins are valuable this is not always the case.  Take for example Roman coins, which are 1,700+ years old.  If age created value each of these items would be priceless...but since many millions were buried underground in large lots, and have been discovered in the second half of the 20th century with metal detectors, low quality examples can be had for less than $2!

So what makes a coin rare?  Rarity can occur for several reasons.  Firstly it is possible that very few of a certain coin were actually minted.  The number of coins produced each year is not even.  In times of economic crisis, or if the mint determined there are already too many coins in circulation, production will drop dramatically.  For example in 1991 Canada produced only 451,000 quarters as they knew that the 1992 issue was going to be extensive with over 10 million of pieces made for each province.  This is why it is very easy to find 1992 quarters in your change, and virtually impossible to find any 1991's.  Rarity can also occur because coins were recalled and melted.  Canada remelted almost all 1921 5 cent and 50 cent coins...and since there is only a few small quantity that got out (probably to visitors of the mint) these are very rare.  The third way coins can become rare is survival rates.  Some coins were not used much and generally saved, and others heavily used and worn until they were remelted.

Condition the other attribute that will create value.  Most coins are produced to be used in commerce, and generally not saved in new condition.  Since coin collecting only became popular in Canada in the 1950's...most coins before that are hard to find unworn.  Lets look at a coin we commonly see here at Carsleys... a 1933 5 cent.  In lightly used, undamaged condition (VG) we currently sell these in our bulk bin (3 coins for a $)...but we rarely see this coin in brand new condition...and a near perfect one (MS65) would sell for thousands of dollars!

When you have a very rare coin in amazing condition you have the dream combination for coin collectors.  The most valuable collector value coins are all rare, and spectacular in preservation.


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