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Evaluating your collection

Originally Published in The Wayback Times Summer Issue 155 Jul/Aug/Sep 2023 Volume 29

As a numismatist I am often asked to evaluate and appraise the collections of individuals seeking an informed opinion. Honestly, this is one of the most enjoyable elements of numismatics. The most significant element of coin collection appraisal is education. People who find themselves in possession of a collection that has been left to them are often at a loss when it comes to knowing what to do next. Generally, coins fall into three main categories; coins that are relatively modern or common which can be spent or rolled and taken to the bank, coins that are made of precious or semi-precious medals and lastly, coins that have collectible value, not because of their base medal but because they are considered rare and collectible by hobbyists.

Modern Coins (post 1968)

As a general rule, the vast majority of coins that have been produced after 1968 have little to no collectible value. They are not composed of precious or semiprecious metals and they were typically produced in such quantities that they are not rare or uncommon. There are of course exceptions to every rule. Since 1969 the Royal Canadian Mint has made some rare or, at the very least, less common coins. These would include, but are not limited to, the 1991 quarter, the 1973 large bust quarter and the 2000p dime. Some modern rarities are produced by accident (obverse and reverse dies that were not meant to be used together) and others are a matter of lower rates of production, as is the case with the 1991 quarter. Whatever the reason, it is exciting to think that there are attainable modern rarities that can be found in your pocket to this day.

Precious or Semiprecious Metals

The second grouping of coins are those that are made of gold or silver. Since Canadian currency was first developed, coins in denominations from 10 cents to 1 dollar between the years of 1858 and 1968 were made of silver (primarily). This means, many Canadian collections contain significant value simply because they are made of silver. As the price of silver has risen over the years, so too has the value of these coins. The surprising fact is that this value is retained regardless of the condition of the coins.

Rare and Collectible Coins

The final category is those coins that are highly collectible because of their rarity. Rarity of course is a factor that is often determined by the number of coins that remain in the population and the condition of the specific item. For example, one coin may be rare because it is an exceptional example of a common year, while another may be rare because it is one of only a few examples known in any condition.

Determination of rarity often comes down to coin grading. That is, the evaluation of the condition of a specific coin, to determine how heavily circulated it is. In Canada, and in many parts of the world, coins are evaluated on a scale from 1 to 70. As with any evaluation there are many evaluating companies that will assess the condition of your coin or collection. Most collectors will not likely find themselves needing to seek a professional grading service, however, being aware and able to assess the condition of your coins is key to making sound decisions.

Grading of Canadian coins is done by assessing the condition of both sides of the coin, however, the bulk of the assessment comes from the condition of the monarch side of the coin. This is primarily because the monarch appears on all coins in Canada regardless of denomination. Furthermore, the monarch is often the most distinctive raised surface on a coin and as such, it is the point of greatest wear. Below you will find some examples of coin grades based on the condition of the coin from the Victorian era.

Very Good 8

Figure 1

Very Fine 30

Figure 2

As you can see from the examples above, there is significant wear on both coins. The coin in figure 1 is in Very Good - 8 condition, near the bottom of the scale of condition, while the coin in figure 2 is in Very Fine – 30 condition, near the middle of the scale.

This same scale is applicable for all coins regardless of monarch or country. Getting to know your grading is one of the most important elements of collecting coins as the value of these two coins could vary greatly because of their condition. There are many publications to help in the development of grading skills. However, if you do not have the time to commit to such an education, perhaps it is best to visit a local coin show or reach out to a trusted coin dealer to help assess and appraise your collection.

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