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July 4, 2007: Life is Too Short to Buy Ugly Coins


At the recent Baltimore show, I spent a fair amount of time walking the floor perusing the gazillion dealer tables looking for nice coins to buy.

And after a while, I couldn’t get this nagging question out of my mind:

Why would people choose to buy ugly coins?

This simple thought struck me after seeing the huge numbers of homely, unattractive and downright exceptionally ugly coins on offer.

Note that this isn’t a rant about the grading services or coin doctors (we’ll cover that in another Coin Commentary). And, for the avoidance of any confusion, I am not suggesting that cheap coins are ugly and expensive coins are pretty – that’s often not the case at all.

I’m talking purely about the motivation of the buyer.

Now, I am aware that there are a few coin types out there where none of the known specimens are attractive (the aptly named ‘Ugly Head’ Washington colonial coin comes to mind – look it up). If one desires to own an example of such a coin you really don’t have much choice, and I understand that.

But other than these sorts of unusual exceptions, you can find attractive examples of most coin types and dates in a variety of grades and price points. And you can also find really, really ugly ones in a variety of grades and price points.

Not surprisingly, most (but not all) of the ugly ones seem to be in the cases of the ‘product buyer dealers’ – i.e. dealers who purchase great masses of coins, often to submit (or resubmit) them in an effort to score a commercially useful numerical grade.

Then there are the few specialist dealers – these are the folks who go out of their way to buy and offer only beautiful coins. These dealers exist, but maybe make up 5% of the dealers set up at any given show.

I may not like every coin in their case, and I may not like some of the prices, but I do understand the desire to own those coins. It could be a $100 Bust Half Dollar in Very Fine, but that coin would look like it was plucked right out of an old time collection, with original surfaces and pretty album toning. Or it could be a high powered 1908 Matte proof $10 Indian that still has the lovely greenish-gold tint that these coins develop over 90 years, not the sickly ‘white gold’ look of their conserved brethren.

Whatever the case, and at whatever price point, the first thought that should come to the mind of a collector should be, ‘Oh man – now that’s what that coin should look like. I’d like to own it’.

Life is short. If the first reaction when you view a coin isn’t – “Wow – I WANT it!”, then pass it by. You won’t be buying a ton of coins this way, but those that you do possess will give you great pleasure every time you look at them.

And isn’t that why people collect coins to begin with?