The world’s most expensive coin, the Flowing Hair Dollar, went up for auction yesterday. In 2010 it sold for just under $8 million, three years later it set a world record when it sold for over $10 million. It was bought by a collector to add to a unique collection of Early Silver Dollars – including the 1804 Draped Bust Dollar which made headlines when it sold for over $3 million in 2017.
What makes a coin collectable?
It’s incredible to think that a 1 dollar coin could be worth millions today, but there’s several things that determine the numismatic value and collectability of a coin. So we’ve put together a collector’s guide to help you know what to look out for when adding coins to your collection.
Several things determine the numismatic value and collectability of a coin – usually it’s based on the type of coin, the year it was minted, the place it was minted and even its condition or finish. But the biggest factor is probably the mintage of a coin and its rarity.
Mintage and Rarity
It’s the old rule of supply and demand – the less that are made, the more difficult a coin is to source and the more collectable it becomes. There are thought to be less than 150 of the Flowing hair dollars in existence today which contributes to the value of them.
Or take for example the US 2015 Silver Eagle. This had a mintage of just 79,640, making it three times rarer than the second rarest silver Eagle (this year’s COVID Eagle). As these were snapped up by collectors, they have become more and more scarce, and in higher demand than ever, with collectors willing to pay a premium just to add one to their collections.
Year of issue
This doesn’t always mean age of the coin, but the year can play an important factor in determining the value of a coin. Generally you can expect to pay a premium for historic issues but this isn’t always the case. In fact some Roman coins can be picked up for less than £50, but coins from much more recent times, such as Victorian Crowns can sell for hundreds of pounds! Victorian crowns struck in important years, such as the 1887 Jubilee Head crowns are more desirable because of their links to significant events.
The finish of a coin, or the strike, is also an important factor to consider. Proof finished coins are struck several times with specially prepared blanks, which gives the design a particularly sharp edge and shows every detail. Proof finishes are highly desired among collectors, as are coins issued in BU – or brilliant uncirculated finish. This means the coin hasn’t been in circulation so is free from all the scratches you’d find on coins in your change.
Sometimes the mintmark or location of the mint in which a coin was struck can affect the collectability of the coin. The mintmark on a coin tells us where a coin was struck, and from that collectors use historical records to work out just how rare each coin is. For example, the Morgan Dollar was struck in 5 different mints, but the Carson City issues are the most sought after – they were struck for only 13 of the 43 years in which the Morgan Dollar was minted.
Many collectors specialise in some of these areas and build their collections around rare coins, themes and years of issue, or even mintmarks. But demand can and often will change over time and sometimes that means the value someone is willing to pay for a coin will increase over time – just as we’ve seen with the Flowing Hair Dollar.
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US coin collecting is one of the most competitive markets globally, which is no surprise given that the coins have some of the most interesting and iconic stories in the coin collecting world. US coins are in extremely high demand, especially in the UK where they rarely make it onto our shores.
As Americans celebrate their independence this week, I have picked out 5 of my favourite US coins to share with you.
The Flowing Hair Dollar
8 of the top 10 most expensive coins ever sold are American, with the Flowing Hair Dollar (1794-5) taking the top spot after it sold for an impressive $10,016,875. It’s thought that only 140 of these remarkable coins exist, so it is near on impossible to find one.
This coin was the first dollar coin ever issued by the United States Federal Government and featured an eagle and the bust of Liberty with flowing hair. It was minted in silver and its size and weight were based on the Spanish dollar, which was traded with regularly in the Americas.
The Morgan Dollar 1878-1921
The Silver Morgan Dollar has forever been associated with cowboys and outlaws. These coins could have been used for gambling by train robbers like Butch Cassidy or Jesse James. It’s even rumoured that cowboys would place them in their canteens to preserve water on long journeys.
The dollar drew its name from its designer “George T Morgan”, who created an effigy of Lady Liberty as a Goddess, and a reverse which included an eagle with outstretched wings. It’s said that less than 1 in 5 of these coins remain today, making them incredibly collectable and difficult to source.
‘No Cents’ Liberty Head Nickel 1883
The first design for the No Cents Nickel failed to include the denomination and instead it included the Roman Numeral ‘V’. As the coins were the same size as a $5 coin, swindlers seized the opportunity to gold plate these coins and pass them off as $5 coins. Within the year the US Mint added the denomination to the coin.
The Roosevelt Dime 1946-64
After the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, the nation’s only four term president, his portrait was subsequently used on Dimes as a memorial.
During his presidency, Roosevelt founded ‘March of the Dimes’, a charity founded in response to polio epidemics. Roosevelt’s image was chosen for the Dime in honour of his work with the charity, and his own battle with polio. This coin was symbolic for a nation in mourning, and many people collected the coin from their change.
The Franklin Half Dollar 1948-1964
This was the first half dollar to feature the portrait of a non-president on American Coinage. The words ‘Liberty, in God we trust’ surround a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, with the Liberty Bell on the reverse. This was initially a controversial coin, and there were public concerns about the initials of the designer ‘JRS’ being a reference to Stalin and communism, as well as the small eagle placed next to the bell.
American coins give us some of the most interesting stories in history, and provide us with some of the most fascinating and collectable coins in the world. It’s no wonder that US coin collecting is becoming increasingly popular.
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Since 1795, the 10-dollar Gold coins in circulation in the United States have been referred to as “Eagles”. These coins were legal tender until their withdrawal in 1933. However, there is one Eagle in particular that has become a numismatic legend.
A presidential intervention
You see, the obverse of the Eagle had long bore the goddess of freedom (Liberty), however in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt complained to the Secretary of Treasury that US coinage lacked artistic merit.
As a result, Roosevelt personally commissioned New York City sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to re-design this Gold coin; however, it was certainly not without incident!
Firstly, as the coin was designed by a sculptor, rather than a professional engraver, there were a number of issues in production, particularly due to the high relief. As a result, several versions of the coin had to be minted before achieving a sample appropriate for full production and release into circulation.
Secondly, Roosevelt felt strongly that a Native American war bonnet should be included in the design as a “picturesque” and “distinctly American” symbol. So, under President Roosevelt’s instruction, Gaudens retained the Liberty profile on the obverse, simply placing a feather headdress on her head. Later, the coin would receive criticism for this absurd addition, with one art historian declaring that it missed out on being “a great coin” due to the President’s interference.
Finally, further issues arose when the motto “In God we Trust” was replaced by “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, which translates to mean “Out of Many, One”. In fact, such was the public outrage, Congress passed a bill mandating its inclusion on any further coins. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber added the words and made minor modifications to the 1908 design.
A numismatic legend!
However, as is often the case, the flaws in the original 1907 Indian Head Eagle have made it one of the most desirable coins in the world.
In January 2011, what is probably the best-known example of an Indian Head Eagle, one of only 50 originally minted coins in the rare proof finish, was sent to auction – It sold for an incredible $2,185,000!
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