Dr. Sol Taylor

Check the Date, Mintmark and Variety Before You Sell

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, February 17, 2006

have bought and sold single coins, collections and hoards over the years. In the haste, sometimes, to dispose of the purchase before the check clears the bank, I have been guilty of not checking each coin for a possible rarity or even scarcity. The examples here make the point: Always check the date, mintmark and possible variety before you sell.
* * *
    Around 1965, I was visiting a neighbor who also had two small children. As we sat around the pool, the man told me he had a $1 gold piece he'd like to sell, but it had a small hole and was worn by his grandmother on a chain. The coin was dated 1861, and after I checked with a couple of dealers, the suggested purchase price was $5.
    About 10 years later, I noted there was a "D" mintmark — for Dahlonega, Geo. — making this one of the great rarities in the $1 gold coin series.
    At the time I offered it for sale at the Long Beach Coin and Stamp show, as it was called at that time, two dealers were bidding on it and I let it go for $55. I am certain that to this date, the hole was expertly repaired and the coin is either for sale in the thousands of dollars or in a collection of $1 gold coins as I knew it — holed and rare.
* * *
    In the silver dollar "giveaway" held by the Treasury Department in the 1960s, I got in on the bargain by going partners with another dealer, Milt Grossman of Whittier, and we shared an unsealed bag of silver dollars for face value (plus the $100 we paid to have someone buy it in Washington and bring it back with nine other bags bought by nine other investors and dealers).
    We all met a Erv Felix's coin shop in La Habra and drew lots to see which bag we won. My bag was full of Brilliant Uncirculated 1878 Morgan dollars — at the time, the most common dollar (except for the 1921) in the series.
    Milt and I stacked up the loose coins, put them in coin tubes, and we got our 500 coins each. I sold most of mine at the Downey Coin Club for their monthly silver dollar drawing at $1.25 per coin. I sold several at the Whittier Coin Club, also for door prizes, at $1.25 each. For the really shiny (prooflike) coins, I found one club member, Claude LeGrande, who was willing to pay $1.75 per coin.
    By the following year, I had perhaps two full rolls left. When I first met Jeff Oxman, the silver dollar expert, around 1980, he looked at my 1878 dollars and told me that several were the scarce 7-Over-8 tail feather varieties (not listed in the Red Book at the time), and he would pay me $10 apiece.
    I cannot image how many such varieties I "gave away" for $1.25. Oh, well. A 25-percent profit in a year is not that bad.
    On top of that, he told me of several other scarce to rare varieties of the 1878 Morgan dollar that could have easily been in my grasp without knowing it.
* * *
    In the frenetic silver craze of 1978-81, I was working a few hours each week at a jewelry shop in Alhambra, buying silver coins, gold coins, 14-carat gold scrap, sterling silverware and all sorts of foreign silver coins from eager sellers. We posted the daily "buy" prices in the window each morning, and I came in the afternoon to handle the customers with precious metal for sale.
    The jeweler, Zoltan Faber, handled the diamonds and jewelry items. I handled the rest. At the end of the day, I would call a local coin dealer in Fullerton for a buying quote on the coins, then rush over before they closed and got paid. I settled up the next day when I went into the shop to buy more coins. Mr. Faber handled the sale of the scrap gold and silverware.
    One particular purchase comes to mind to make the point: A man brought in a bag of silver Mexican coins. Since I knew the silver content of the various issues, I calculated the buy prices using our sterling (.925) as the standard and bought the lot. Over the next few years, as silver plummeted, I was able to dispose to the coins at about my cost. However, I put a few on various bid boards and was amazed to find that a few Mexican silver pesos of the 1920s-30s were rather scarce, and I recouped my inflated 1980 buy price and then some.
* * *
    In the same period, I managed to buy a complete set of Canadian nickels of George V and George VI. The owner thought they were silver; they are not. I bought the album for $3. I did not have a Canadian coin catalog at the time and guessed that these were "common" coins. Actually, the 1925 and 1926 nickels were worth more than all of the other coins combined — and by a wide margin.
    Since then, I have been alert to looking for these dates in mixed foreign lots or partial albums. Over the years, I have managed to find a few of each date. The same is true of the George V small cents, with the scarce dates of 1924-26.
    The moral of the story is: Know your dates and varieties, and get a current catalog of U.S. and foreign coins when buying either single coins or collections. And do not offer any coins for sale until you have a good idea of their current market value.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.