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Sunday, November 24, 2013

How rare is rare?

coronation gold medalcoronation gold medal

How rare are rare coins and medals?

To the collector moving from US coins into Ancients, the rarity factor of what you're collecting is hard to understand.  According to the PCGS rarity scale a US coin with 2500 examples known is considered "Ultra Rare."  This would qualify to collectors of ancients as "Very Common."  For ancients, Ultra Rare means perhaps five or ten examples are known to exist.

There are now many collectors moving from US coins to ancients.  This is because of the NGC grading program which has given confidence to US dealers and collectors alike that there is a standard of uniformity to grading and authenticity.  What US dealers and collectors will not be able to understand without some prolonged experience and exposure to ancients is that coins of the same grade and "type" can be of vastly different quality - and rarity - to experienced collectors.  This is because grading does not take into account Die Types and the Quality of the Dies which vary greatly even within the same mint issue. 

Another tricky facet to ancients is that the most recently discovered hordes give the perception of relative availability for certain issues when the hordes will be easily assimilated over the course of a year or two and then the issue disappears off the markets for decades.  Right now the markets is so tiny compared to US coins that even the availability of 20 or so specimens can seem as though the market if "flooded."  At the same time a horde of 50 coins can be managed so that only two or three appear a year and sell at tremendously inflated prices, until collectors realize that these rare coins keep appearing year after year for a decade.

However, as more and more US collectors are drawn into the market these relative issues of rarity will seem insignificant. 

Yet, there is another huge market that US collectors have hardly begun to access.  This is a market where specimens are often so rare that that a single specimen may be located once or twice every few years and still be considered "scarce."  This is the case with rare medals.   According to Puddester's Rarity Scale an Ultra Rare (exceedingly rare) specimen is one where less than 6 are known to exist - which for Puddester meant tracing every known specimen back to the mint over hundreds of years.   In other words 6 specimens have been observed over that last 200 years.  This says nothing of how many may exist now.

 A "scarce" specimen which in US collecting means that only 10 million or so are known to exist, in medals is one that "When one tries to find a specimen is seems very illusive."  Even the most "common" specimens, according to Puddester, may take several months to track down.  At auction, British Firms that often carry medals, will call a specimen "scarce" that on Puddester's rarity scale are represented by less than 50 known specimens.

200 specimens of  the French Napoleonic gold marriage medal pictured above are known from records to have been minted back in 1811.  This is considered quite a common gold medal.  This is only the third example I have seen over the last 10 years.  I may have missed a couple. 

In the US, most collectors still collect US coins.  But with the advent of the NGC Ancients grading program it is inevitable that US collectors will soon discover this rich market, and from there, they will move into other historically interesting markets, which, right now, are still extremely undervalued.

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