Modern Coin Epiphany

I’ve recently had a bit of an epiphany regarding modern coins. For someone who has traditionally snickered at Walking Liberty half dollars and Mercury Dimes because they were “too new” this isn’t totally unlike the President of Coke admitting that a Pepsi tastes pretty good with a Cheeseburger. Now don’t get to thinking that I really “like” modern coins because I don’t. But the more I look at people collecting moderns, the more I can appreciate the coins and respect the collectors.

I hear “old school” dealers registering the same complaints about modern coins: they are ugly…they are overpriced…they are unsophisticated…the market favors sellers. Let’s look at these points.

Looks: While I personally have a hard time getting excited about the design of a $50 Platinum eagle or a modern commemorative half dollar, I can understand that some people like they way they look. Hey, I love Abstract Expressionist art and a lot of people think it looks like squiggles on a canvas that a cranky three year old drew before his afternoon nap. And, to be honest about it, is a Chain Cent or a Capped Bust Right half dollar a really “beautiful” coin from an aesthetic point of view?

Prices: I think modern coins in super-grades are marginal deals but, you know what, so are many classic issues. If someone told me that they were spending $35,000 on a common date Barber Quarter in Proof-69, I’d suggest that they might be better off spending $5,000 on the same issue in PR67. I feel the same way about modern coins. A modern commemorative half eagle in MS70 at $5,000 is questionable value. The same coin in MS68 at $500 seems like a nice addition to someone’s collection.

Sophistication: From my perspective, I think a Bust Half dollar in AU at $500 is a more interesting, sophisticated coin than a Statue of Liberty $5 commemorative. But this is just my opinion. As “sophisticated” as I think my own tastes are, there are plenty of collectors who would look down their noses at me and my “silly southern gold coins” because they are not as worldly as their Roman Imperial coinage. Until the 1970’s, most Morgan dollar collectors were considered numis-morons and today these collectors are now in the upper echelon of collectordom.

Unfair Market: The modern coin market is a developing entity and it will take time for two-way markets to develop. At this point, EBay and Teletrade must be considered the largest modern coins dealers. No, they don’t offer the warm and fuzzy customer service that Douglas Winter Numismatics does, but most collectors of modern coinage don’t want this “frill.”

I can see modern coinage becoming a more and more viable part of the numismatic marketplace in the coming years. People will start researching these series and serious books will be written. In the meantime, why don’t we “classic coin lovers” and their “modern coin” counterparts just try to get along?