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Gold at $700. Are You Nuts?
May 28, 2008

Would it be a good thing for the coin hobby if gold dropped to $700 a troy ounce and stayed there for a few years?

A good case can be made that the rapid upward movement in the price of the precious metal has made gold coins unaffordable to a larger number of collectors. It is the disposable income of collectors that ultimately drives prices in the numismatic market.

Sure, trophy coins like 1913 Liberty Head nickels can stay in the stratosphere. Their prices don't fall. A weakness in the market is usually manifested by the removal of these coins from the market as owners await better times.

However, coins with larger populations in both raw and slabbed states see more fluidity in pricing, but even with these, there is enough rigidity to create unsustainable situations.

Many readers have pointed out the disappearance of scarcity premiums on gold coins that used to have higher mark-ups when compared to the underlying value of the bullion than they do now. They are right. They have shrunk or disappeared.

Stability in gold's price allows some differentiation to occur that simply does not exist when upward thrusts reduce many coins to bullion value.

For example, gold $20s have long had a narrower price differentiation based on mintages than Lincoln cents. It is logical. There are more collectors of Lincolns than double eagles. What collectors there are tend to focus on the very top end. Also, the base price of any double eagle is far higher than a base price for any Lincoln, so there is wider room to make price differentiations.

In the VF-20 column in the June Coin Market, the 1892 double eagle with a mintage of 4,523 is priced at $1,350, less than $400 more than the $963 price of an 1898-S, which has a mintage of 2,575,175. In calmer markets, the 1892 was around 2-2.5 times the price of the 1898-S.

Sure, in calmer markets we lose the excitement of rapidly moving bullion, but we collectors get to be more true to ourselves by making buying and selling judgments based on scarcity.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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