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New Era for Medals Dawns?
September 20, 2011

The business of business is to find new ways to make money by offering goods or services that the public will want.

In the coin business, one of the home runs of my lifetime has been the advent of third-party grading services.

First it touched coins and then it moved on more than a decade later to take root in the paper money market.

The availability this summer of the national medal honoring the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, has proved the mass appeal of a medal.

Coin collectors have been notorious in recent years for turning up their noses at medals. It was a different story in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In my career, when asked the value of medals, the answer nearly always was to find out what it was made of, and if it was precious metal, to declare that the value of the piece was basically melt value.

Sure, there are historical medals that bring higher prices, but this specialty area attracts relatively few collectors and I do not get calls about their values.

Confirming the appeal of the 9/11 medal was the recent decision by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. to create a special label to indicate an early release and to put a grade on the piece.

Is this the beginning of widespread third-party grading of medals, or just a one-time event based on the fact that collectors have already snapped up 160,000 of the 9/11 medals?

It’s hard to know for sure. If I had to make a bet, I would bet on this being a one-shot outcome, but what if it isn’t? What if we are beginning a new chapter in U.S. numismatics?

For a medal, 160,000 is a remarkable sales number. The total beats out the silver dollar sales totals of either of this year’s commemoratives, the Medal of Honor and U.S. Army programs.

I repeat, that is remarkable.

Are collectors getting over their aversion to medals?

We won’t know for sure until another one is offered by the U.S. Mint.

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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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