The Truth About U.S. Coin Values

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The Official Blue Book
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When it comes to coin values most major publications claim they have the most up-to-date figures. However, they also don't claim to list the exact value, for every grade example, every third party graded coin, for every coin in general. No matter what anyone want's to believe.

Of these publications, there's dealers and collectors, who defend their price guide of choice like it's the bible of coin values. However there's many differences in values amongst the different coin value publications. Then you have the online price guides that further muddle the equation.

It's obvious that coin collectors need consistent coin values but must also be realistic and open-minded when it comes to quoting or claiming values for coins, and consider a realistic grade (for raw coins) and eye appeal (for all coins raw or graded). Grade and eye appeal are interchangeable and go hand in hand with the value of any coin, as I will explain later.

Collectors are clamoring for accurate and often updated coin values and there's no end to websites and publications trying to offer this service because of the demand. But collectors need to be aware of some important facts about coin values and the publications that offer them.

So which coin values compilation is the most accurate and most often updated? This is a difficult question to answer, but if it can be put into a better perspective if you use math and some commonsense. In addition, and this is extremely important, you should read what the author of the publication claims as their sources for their pricing data and what they have to say about their listed values.

It seems many collectors and dealers, while desiring the most value for their coins, are making claims that are unfounded for any coin value publication. It's not the same claims the publication outlines for their values when you read their fine print of sources.
The Red Book

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The most popular price guide is The Official Red Book of United Stated coins by R. S. Yeoman, commonly known as the Red Book. This coin book comes out yearly with updated prices. So how do they get their value updates?

In the first few pages of the Red Book they provide a list of contributors, and I quote, what the author says about their values "Coin values shown in this book are retail prices figured from data from the listed contributors approximately two months prior to publication. The coin market is so active in some categories that values can easily change during that period. Values are shown as a guide and not intended to serve as a price list for any dealer's stock."

Now the last statement is important, and should be duly noted, because with this claim they're NOT claiming to be the "bible" of coin values but just a guide to gain an idea of a coins retail value.
Third Party Grading Service Price Guides

PCGS Price Guide is extremely popular but their values are based on PCGS graded coins only. It's a fact that a coin in a PCGS holder has more value than a coin housed in any other holder. However this might be the most accurate values for PCGS graded coins but it's NOT the values for coins encapsulated in other grading service holders or even raw coins.

I see too many ebay auctions using the PCGS Price Guide values for coins in other grading company holders or for their raw coin values. This is a huge mistake and misleading the bidder. If it's not encapsulated in an authentic PCGS holder then the PCGS values DO NOT apply.
The same applies to NGC's price guide or any other price guide that lists graded coin values for a particular grading service.
Coin World Coin Values
A close third in popularity would be Coin World Coin Values and most collectors and dealers believe these as the most accurate coin values publication. So let's see what Coin World has to say about their values, "Sources for pricing include actual transactions, public auctions, fixed-price lists and any additional information acquired by Coin Values analysts."

In the next paragraph they have this to say, "Values are listed for coins that are strictly graded in each grade category according to the market standard."

I see no mention in their publication that there values include sells of raw coins. However they claim to have the most accurate, over all coin values and publish them once a month. I know dealers and collectors believe in their values religiously. But they claim their listed values are for coins "strictly graded... according to the market standard."

So what's the market standard? Is it PCGS, NGC, ANACS, ANA or ICG or top dealer's grading standards? All of these services claim grading is an opinion and can vary with each coin and by each service. So I am not seeing their standard they hold to, maybe their strict standard is for circulated coins and their eye appeal, but not for AU58 and up. So we can't be sure if they're listing values for graded coins or raw coins graded by all their consulting dealers, or both.

My conclusion, based in much evidence and research, is that Coin Values is no more accurate than the "Red Book" or the following Coin Prices. Just because a publication is published more often than another isn't reason to believe it's the most accurate, especially when they use values for "strictly graded" coins.

So if dealers and collectors believe in Coin Values as the best gage for coins values then they believe that this publications takes into account all the thousands of coins sold daily. I wonder how they do it? How do they have a staff member at every auction, flea market, coin show and every coin dealer's shop? How can they take into account all of these tens of thousands of transactions, happening monthly, to come up with their most updated values?

Does every dealer, coin show and coin seller report every single coin transaction to Coin World? I think you know the answer to that, they don't, and it just doesn't happen that way. However, Coin Values is one of the top coin values list for consistent coin values and updated regularly, but that's not to say the value listed is exactly what any certain coin is worth.

However, I will make this claim. Coin Values is most accurate when it comes to major value trends. Their staff and analysts do pick up on value trends that are happening in the market and report them accurately. One example is the upswing in values for the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Cent. It caused a large surge in Lincoln Cent values and this is just one reason I would recommend Coin Values, but it's still no guarantee that coins will sell or that you can sell any coin for the value they list.
Coin Prices

Coin Prices is a publication compiled by and issued monthly. This is what they say about their listed values, "Values listed are average retail prices." and "The values are compiled by Coin Prices' independent staff of market analyst. They derive the values listed by monitoring auction results, business on electronic dealer trading networks, business at major coin shows, and in consultation with a panel of dealers."

Also they use the American Numismatic Association's grading standard commonly known as ANA. So this is another top coin values publication making the claim of "average" values and not the exact values of any coin. Another aspect to note is that all coin value publications claim that this is a not a buy or sell value offer list nor is their values what a dealer will pay for a coin.

What can we gain from all of this information? For one thing by their claims alone, none of them are the final say in the value of any particular coin, despite what collectors and dealers want to believe. In example, we might have 1,000 different transactions for an AU58 (Almost Uncirculated) 1928 Peace Dollar, in the span of a month, and each transaction amounted to a final price of $450 for 600 of the coins. So out of the 1,000 coins, 200 were choice for their grade and sold for $500, and 200 other examples were poor examples for their grade and sold for $380 and the remainder $450, of course.

So what would the actual value of a 1928 AU58 Peace Dollar be with this scenario? You can argue anything from $500 to $380, and this is were some confusion comes into play. A collector wants their coins to be most valuable so they would say $500 even if their coin isn't choice. High volume dealers will always claim their coins are choice and try to sell an AU 1928 Peace Dollar for $550 and up. If you try to sell the same coin, to the same dealer, with the same grade you might get 50% of what a dealer thinks it's worth retail.

So there's several values for any one coin and grade and it all depends on whom you sell it to, the coins eye appeal and if it's graded by PCGS or NGC. Personally I would value this grade and coin at $450 since I think that's a fair value for an AU58 Peace Dollar in AU58. However, if the coin isn't graded by PCGS then it will be difficult to get more than $400 for your coin. 

After these most popular coin values publications, it gets more confusing, there's so many more price guides out there that a coin collectors could drive themselves nuts trying to figure the exact values of their coins.

NGC graded coins have their own value and so does ANACS and ICG graded coins and raw coins have their own value. So which is correct? What coin values publication is an accurate and up-to-date value for all coins and in all grading holders?

None of them.

It's just impossible for any single publication to list the exact coin values let alone include graded and encapsulated coins from the top four grading services. You can list guideline values for the average eye appeal of each grade, but one coin with better eye appeal will sell for more while a coin with less eye appeal will sell for less than the listed value.

That's why they are called "Price Guides" and makes claims of being an average value or just a value guide. All the publications listing values for coins is simply offering a guide so collectors can gain an idea of what a dealer will sell their coins for, and not what you might sell them to a dealer for.

I don't think the problem with coin values publications has anything to do with the author or company that publishes the coins guides. It's the collectors and dealers that choose the price guide that suits their needs for the highest value for their coin collections. It's them who make claims about certain price guides that the publications don't make.
Coin Selling Values
If you just want to sell your coins and not interested in collecting then you should follow the advice below.

If you want to know what a dealer might buy your coins for then consult the The Official Blue Book, Handbook of U.S. Coins, by R. S. Yeoman. The Official Blue Book has values that most dealers pay for coins when they buy from collectors. It's a great bargaining tool for selling coins.

Otherwise, you should check eBay completed auction listings as well as Heritage Coin Auctions auction archives, to see how much you can sell your coins for on your own.