Daniel writes: I have some very old dollars from before 1900. My friend tells me that they’re pretty common and all worth the same – about $20. That doesn’t make sense to me. Doesn’t the date of a coin determine its market value?
I get the impression that you believe only the date plays a role in market value. In reality the following factors are important for the market to place a value on a coin:
- The coins identification – what is it? (i.e. 1793 U.S.Cent). This would include the mint mark (if any).
- The type or variety (in the above example there is a Chain motif which gave way to a Wreath motif later that year).
- The condition of the coin – what numismatists call “grade”. This is a descriptive code that describes the deterioration of a coin from the time it leaves the dies to when it arrives in you hands. This may include wear from being in circulation, damage from mutilation or damage from cleaning.
- The “Look” of the coin. This is an aesthetic call and often has to do with the type of patination (sometimes called toning), clear or with color, that is exhibited on the surface of the coin.
- The rarity of the coin
- The demand from the collector base
I think that your friend is referring to the fact that in some cases (and Morgan dollars would be one of those cases), the common-date coins in a series may all be priced similarly. But that’s true only for the common dates in a particular condition and do not apply to the scarcer date/mint mark combinations and other grades. For example, a dealer’s price for any common-date Morgan (regardless of the year) may be the same ie; “Common-date Morgans in VG – $20 each”. But at the same time, his price for an 1885-CC (Carson City) Morgan dollar in VG would be considerably more.