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Sense in Cent Pricing?
May 03, 2012

In Numismatic News there are 39 pages in the monthly price guide and an additional four pages per week of popularly traded items whose prices tend to swing more frequently.

The “Coin Market” monthly price guide and the “Coin Market at a Glance” weekly guide are very popular.

Yet with all that, there never seem to be enough prices listed.

Yesterday I had a telephone call from someone who was flummoxed by the prices for 1954 and 1956 Lincoln cents in the monthly.

For such late dates, there are only two grades listed for circulation strikes, XF-40 and MS-65. Naturally there is a wide gap in the prices.

For the 1954, the XF-40 price is 25 cents and for the 1956 it is 20 cents. Both are dealer service charges for bothering to stock the individual dates.

The MS-65 prices are far higher. The 1954 price in that grade is $14 and the 1956 is $16. These prices take into account charges for certification and grading by third-party services and a certain level of scarcity.

In the printed guide the uncirculated prices of MS-60 and MS-64 are not listed, nor are the MS-66 to MS-70 listed.

What do you do when you want a price for an MS-60 coin?

Well, the enterprising caller wanted to call it $10, after all, an uncirculated coin is far better than a circulated one, right?

Unfortunately, the market does not work that way. Welcome to the concept of condition rarity.

What’s that?

Well, coins generally are more numerous in lower grades and are priced accordingly, but eventually somewhere on the grading scale each date and mint reaches a point where they become virtually unknown. The few that are found at the top can command incredible prices. Collectors compete with each other on grading service websites to put together sets of these top graded coins and have the financial means to pay fantastic prices for the coins that will give them the right to brag that they have the best.

In the case of these Lincoln cents, an MS-60 is worth more like 35 cents, more than the XF-40 price but a tiny fraction of the value of coins just a few points higher on the grading scale.

What’s are the lessons?

Stay in touch with the market.

Don’t make assumptions about what something should be worth. Only the market dictates value.

Visit our more extensive price guide available online at

And for us at Numismatic News, perhaps it is time to consider expanding the price guide for cents that are now nearing 60 years of age.

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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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