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Is your coin’s population report accurate?

5 min read
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The Short answer is no, population reports reflect only numbers of date and mintmark coins submitted to grading services. The long answer, the more accurate answer is maybe. I'm not prepared to say no, but there are enough factors in the equation to question coin population repomittedrts. Allow me to explain the logic here.

The population reports are carefully studied now by those who compose pricing for a multitude of price guides. The value of a coin is greatly impacted by checking on how many have been graded. This is a moving target, as thousands more coins are graded by NGC daily. The number and pace of rare coins being graded have been a huge factor over the years.

When third-party grading began in the 1980s, lots of coins had low population numbers and seemed very rare. This was one of the factors that attracted Wall Street money in the late ’80s and early ’90s. As third-party grading took a firm hold and millions of coins flooded in for grading, populations jumped sharply. This led to the rare coin crash of the early nineties. For amusement, check a Greysheet from 1989 and look at classic United States Commemorative prices. Coins that traded for $5,000 in 1989 can now list for under $250.

Investors lost their butts! Some investors left the rare coin market in disgust and have never returned. Most coin collectors took the hit in stride and continue their hobby.

However sad it might be to lose the investment value, there are also some equally exciting developments in rare coin prices due to population reports.

In fact, some recent series of coins are proving to be rare based on how few are graded in the highest grades.

Some of this excitement should be tempered with the logic of my argument.

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The utilization of this report as a tool for assessing the population and value of certified numismatic coins in any character or grade is unreliable. The following characteristics inherent in the marketplace undermine the accuracy of this report:

  • Inexpensive coins which are not generally submitted for certification may appear scarce but are not.
  • Numismatic coin certification services are predominantly utilized for higher grade coins.
  • Certified coins are often removed from their holders without notice to the grading service. Therefore, computer tallies utilized to provide population reports may be misleading.
  • Rarity is only one factor which must be weighed in determining the market value of a numismatic coin.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America encourages all coin collectors to seek the counsel of qualified numismatists familiar with the certified coin marketplace before making any purchase based on this report.

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There are many anomalies that can be found in the population reports for United States coins. One of the more confusing situations is when the number of coins graded exceeds the stated mintage. This is not uncommon with many rare Proof United States gold coins. One explanation is that the mintage figures for some United States coins are incorrect. In the 1870s and ’80s, it is known that US Mint officials struck extra coins as collector demand dictated. More about this fascinating subject can found in the excellent books about Proof United States coins that have just been published by John Dannreuther.

A much more common explanation for strangely high population numbers are resubmissions. Over the decades there have been dozens of incredibly talented rare coin dealers who attempted to make a living by resubmitting coins; some have been quite successful. The subject of resubmissions is complicated and may be the subject of a future article soon.

One of the consequences of resubmissions is that many rare coins dealers do not return the labels so that the rare coin census can be updated. There have been attempts to financially entice submitters to return labels over the years, with mixed results. Some dealers are just too lazy or disorganized to send back labels once coins have been broken out and resubmitted. As can be imagined, this can greatly skew population numbers. For some “top pop” issues, this can have a dire financial impact.

But because labels are returned to the third-party grading services on a regular basis, the population numbers actually decrease occasionally. A dealer might save labels for years (not uncommon) and then send them to NGC for updating the census.

Serious collectors should check population reports on a regular basis. Much can be gleaned from these reports that can have a serious impact on your collection. As mentioned in my last article, there has been an influx of United States gold coins into the country over the last several years. Hoards and coin finds might quietly enter the market, but they eventually are revealed in the population numbers. Last year, at least one roll (50 coins) of 1909-S VDB cents entered the market. The coins were amazing, and the number of coins at the top end of the grading reports increased dramatically.

This begs the question: how many rolls of Mint State coins are still out there? The number of full rolls, as yet unsent for certification, is likely to be significant for coins minted in the past 100 years. even one roll of 1909 SVDB impacted the value of all 1909 SVDB Lincoln cents. whAT OF THE LESS RARE DATES?

Population reports are also very carefully watched by those who participate actively in Registry Set collecting. The population numbers are vital to those trying to assemble the top set of any series. When a new ‘finest known” coin is graded, the grading census reports the information, and the status of someone’s set could be impacted.

In my opinion, the creation of grading population reports has been one of the most important advances in numismatic knowledge. Collectors and dealers would be lost without them. The hobby is fortunate that NGC and others spend the money needed to maintain this vital pool of information. Collectors should spend time going over the census for coins they collect – it will be time well spent!

This important information and disclaimer about the grading census is found on the NGC website: