Collecting Circulated Indian cents
By Richard Snow Eagle Eye Rare Coins, Inc.
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Contrary to what you might think while looking at our lists in the
past, we do deal in circulated Indian Cents as well as the expensive
finest knowns. Unfortunately, many of the nicer coins in the XF and AU
grades get sold to collectors before they make it on to our lists. Many
times we buy a nice collection of XF's at a show only to have other
dealers buy them from us at full retail prices. They shrug their shoulders
and say "I can't find nice correctly graded XF's and AU's at ANY
price!" Now, certainly a MS-63 coin is worth more than an AU, so
there is an upper limit to how much choice circ coins are worth, but in
many instances the AU is much scarcer than the MS coin.
Take for example the 1878 Indian Cent. I can count 25 collectors on my
wantlist file who want that date in choice XF and AU. A couple of times in
the past I have had a real nice AU coin, and since I had so many people
who wanted it on their wantlist, I priced it just below MS-63 money to see
how bad they wanted it. I was inundated with orders! The coin is a true
rarity in AU!
The key to understanding values for XF and AU Indian Cents is quality.
A choice brown XF with limited marks and good strike is a tough find for
any date in the entire series. In many cases, the true value is greatly
depressed by a large amount of MS pieces, possibly from rolls. So, because
of the high rarity due to low survivability and low prices due to the
ceiling of value set by the higher graded coins, XF's and AU coin are
truly bargains! This high value/low price makes the XF/AU set a challenge
to say the least. I know of many collectors who assemble one XF set and
then assemble a second,and a third, etc. One fellow told me he has 30 sets
in the VF-AU range! He once said "I'll sell them when XF's are priced
as much as MS-63's!" Of course, that won't happen.
So collecting circulated Indians is a challenge. We all know that, but
building a set of original, problem free circulated Indians makes the
challenge a near impossibility! Here are some guidelines on what to look
Originality: An original coin is one that has not been cleaned or
fussed with. Usually they will be a nice chocolate brown color. Many
collectors are scared about buying coins that have been cleaned, and this
is a big problem with the surviving examples of circulated Indians. Back
in the 1960's and 1970's there were "processing plants" which
systematically bought VF, XF and AU tough date Indians. They then buffed
or wire brushed them to a bright red color and attempted to sell them as
UNC's. They were so successful that today an original tough date Indian
Cent is a real rarity.
The best way to tell the cleaned and whizzed coin, and to avoid them,
is to know what an original coin looks like since there are less
variations with the look of an original coin than there is with the look
of variously cleaned coins. When buying a coin either at a show or through
the mail, always ask the dealer if in his opinion the coin was cleaned. If
you're at a show, ask to get a second opinion. I should make it clear that
I'm not saying that a cleaned coin is wrong to buy, just that if your goal
is an original set, you should avoid them.
Grading: The basic guidelines on grading VF, XF and AU coins are this:
VF: At a minimum, you should see the bottom edge of the ribbon where
LIBERTY is situated. If it's worn flat there, the coin is a FINE. At the
maximum, the lower hair curl should just touch the ribbon where the
diamonds are. If the curl and ribbon are separated, it's an XF.
XF: At the minimum, the lower curl and ribbon where the diamonds are
should be just separated. XF-45: The coin should have all four diamonds
showing. Although sometimes a slight weakness in design on certain dates
will make only 3 1/2 visible.
AU-50: 50% of the original surface should show at least. AU-55: Most of
the original surface shows. (I mean the flowlines, die lines and other
surface attributes, NOT mint red.) Essentially full diamonds. AU-58: A
Mint State coin with a trace of wear.
We could talk for hours about grading alone, but I wanted to mention
the basics so we all know what it is we are talking about. Many circulated
coins get overgraded by the grading services. They especially like to call
VF's as XF's. This makes putting together that nice circulated set even
harder because a VF that is graded XF and priced as such is in reality
only an overpriced VF. It is important as a coin buyer to know what
constitutes each grade and to pass on any overgraded coins that you may
Collectors of pre-1857 coppers use what is called net grading
(sometimes called value grading), which is essentially a variable grading
standard based on the sharpness grade, which is the detail on the coin,
and the deduction off that grade due to problems such as rim nicks,
cleaning, scratches, etc. In effect what is arrived at is not a grade in
the strict sense, but a value in the guise of a grade. A true VF coin may
be cataloged as only a VG because of a bit of corrosion. It sounds simple,
and in practice it works quite well. Two VG's, one an original true VG and
the other a lightly corroded VF will probably trade at the same price -
the marketplace values them the same. Indian Cent collectors have not
embraced the net grading idea and as a result see corroded XFs offered as
slightly discounted XFs and nice original XF's offered for AU money! The
bargain hunter in circulated Indian Cents will undoubtedly wind up with a
lot of problem coins, while the quality conscious collector will probably
have to pay more, but will get the nice problem free coin.
Counterfeits: The collector of VF, XF and AU Indian cents should know
that they are the target buyer for the counterfeiter. Most counterfeits
are artificially worn down to simulated light circulation and to hide any
imperfections that might be found by the high scrutiny of MS collectors.
Again, the best way to avoid them is to know what an original example
should look like. To protect yourself further, you should buy your coins
from knowledgeable dealers who have experience detecting counterfeits. All
honest dealers give unlimited return privileges for counterfeits that
Provided Courtesy Richard Snow, Eagle Eye Rare Coins
Copyright 1999 Rick Snow & Eagle Eye Rare Coins, Inc.
Web site URL www.indiancent.com
Downloaded November 2002.