The Concept of "Freshness" in Numismatics

There is almost no term in the rare coin market which is more misused than “fresh.” I am certainly guilty of overusing this word, and if you look at the coin descriptions I write on my website, I use the word “fresh” more often than I probably should.

What many collectors and dealers don’t realize is that “fresh” is a homonym or a word that has different meanings and the same spelling.

A coin is described as “fresh” to denote that it has been off the market for a long period of time or has maybe even never before been offered for sale. But a coin can be described as having a “fresh” appearance and my interpretation of this is a look which is characterized by deep natural coloration and no apparent signs of surface alteration.

What becomes confusing is a coin which is technically fresh (i.e. it has been off the market since a 2004 auction appearance) but which has blatant artificial color and therefore lacks a fresh appearance.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss both interpretations of the word “fresh” and try and determine just what constitutes a fresh coin.

There is no set period of time which a coin has to remain off the market to be considered fresh. A coin which is reappearing after a 2016 auction appearance is clearly not fresh (but what if this 2016 appearance was the first time it has sold at auction since 1978…is it still fresh?), while a coin which is making its first appearance since 2005 is. And what about a coin like the one mentioned above; off the market since 2004 but with negative eye appeal due to surface enhancements gone awry?

The blurring of the freshness line occurs because dealers such as me are in business to sell coins and we know that fresh coins sell easier than stale coins. In this regards we are no different than a fast food chain who markets their burgers based on how their ingredients are fresh and wholesome and how they custom make each order.

A number of years ago I made a business decision to try and buy a significant percentage of my inventory from non-conventional sources (i.e., auctions). The increasing transparency of the market meant that the days of buying coins at a Heritage sale for X dollars and selling them as-is for X+20% was over. In order to stay a step ahead of my competitors I would have to find coins which had never appeared at auction and price them based on coins which had appeared at auction. This meant more work for me but it doomed other dealers who were lazy or unimaginative.

To my way of thinking a coin that is “fresh” but which has a prior sales history has to stay off the market for at least one full cycle or five to seven years.

What about a coin that has been off the market for 10 years or more but which was “stale” when it last sold? An example of this is an 1847-D half eagle graded AU55 by PCGS which last sold in 2009 but which had three auction appearances between the middle of 2008 and early 2009. To me, even though this coin has been off the market for a full cycle it has bad Feng Shui. There are certain dealers whose business practices don’t appeal to me (they are coin doctors), and if I remember that said 1847-D half eagle was in Dealer X’s inventory in 2008 it has baggage which I do not wish to inherit, no matter how seemingly “fresh” it is.

Then there is the case of a “fresh deal” (the very expression is Numismatic Catnip to all coin dealers) full of meh coins with a decidedly non-fresh appearance. In this case the “freshness” of the coins from the standpoint of them not having been offered for sale for a long time is overshadowed by their lack of eye appeal or “freshness” of appearance.

1843-O Large Letters $5.00 PCGS MS64 CAC

1843-O Large Letters $5.00 PCGS MS64 CAC

The Numismatic Perfect Storm is when a coin passes the eye test in both meanings of freshness. I just sold a wonderful 1843-O Large Letters half eagle graded MS64 by PCGS and approved by CAC. This coin had been put away by the family that owned it for close to a century AND it had an amazingly fresh appearance with fiery, glowing luster accentuating splendid deep, natural color.

I think where the confusion between the two interpretations of freshness lies in the improper use of meaning #2. From here on out, I vow to use the expression “fresh appearance” when I am discussing a coin which appears to me to be original and unmolested.

Back to meaning #1 for a second. The past pedigree of a coin plays a role in its freshness quotient. If I am offered five New Orleans eagles pedigreed to the Norweb collection and off the market since selling at auction in 1987/1988, I am like putty in the seller’s hands; even if the coins are kind of disappointing. If I am offered the same five coins and they are from a 2003 Heritage Bullet Sale (a pre-Internet attempt at a fast turnaround monthly auction) I’m likely not as excited.

If I’ve gone to the well one too many times when it comes to calling my coins “fresh,” excuse me; I’m but a simple coin dealer trying to peddle my wares. I promise to remember the difference between “fresh” and “fresh appearance” and I hope that you will as well.

Douglas Winter Numismatics sells (mostly) fresh coins and would like to purchase your fresh coins. To contact Doug, email him at