What Happens When Rare U.S. Coins Go Down In Value?

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Let’s face it. The economic woes as of late have been hard on everybody, and coin collectors are weathering the financial storm just like everyone else (or trying to, at least).

So, what happens when push comes to shove and you’ve got to sacrifice your rare U.S. coins to keep the lights on?

The values of rare U.S. coins go up and down, just like the U.S. economy does.

There have been more than a few coin collectors who’ve had to sell their precious coins to help keep their financial ship afloat — me for one. It broke my heart a couple years ago when I had to sell my PCGS-graded, Good-6 1799 Draped Bust dollar just to use the $700 for basic expenses.

If you’ve been perusing eBay, have been to a coin show, or have stopped by your local coin dealer, perhaps you’ve seen the evidence of this widespread phenomena.

Rare and highly scarce U.S. coins are turning up in large numbers in the sales cases.

These coins include:

  • 1877 Indian Head cent
  • 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln cent
  • 1916 Mercury dime
  • 1916 Standing Liberty quarter
  • 1921 and 1921-D Walking liberty half dollars
  • An array of early type U.S. coins

OK, we all love our coins, but they are (often expensive) discretionary purchases. Rare coins won’t feed us, won’t clothes us, or serve as a shelter – unless it is a very large coin that you can crawl under, of course…

A $200 coin, if sold, can feed a family of four for a week or two. Selling a $1,000 coin may help fix your leaky roof. Parting ways with a $5,000 coin may pay for uncovered expenses after a medical emergency. See the line of thinking many a dedicated numismatist must adopt when times get tough?


What Happens When The Rare U.S. Coin Market Turns Sour?

When numismatists sell their prized possessions left and right, this can mean two things:

  • A glut of rare U.S. coins will appear in the marketplace
  • There will be a subsequent decline in the values of rare U.S. coins

This can be a very frustrating set of circumstances if you’re an investor who already has a portfolio of U.S. coins, because chances are the value of your rare coin portfolio has probably fallen by as much as 20 to 30 percent.

However, the news may be less gloomy for coin collectors who aren’t in the hobby for profit but, rather, pleasure.

A drop in prices means you may be able to afford the rare coins you thought you’d never be able to purchase. It can also allow you to foot the bill of upgrading the coins you already have.


When Do The Values Of Rare U.S. Coins Rebound?

The honest answer is that there’s no way to say for certain when, or if, rare coin values will recover. If they do, it is usually on a case-by-case basis. Yes, in general, the rare coin market is historically very robust, and short downturns are often just that: temporary.

That doesn’t mean values will always rise to their previous historic highs. But, for the most part, values rise again. And, values for numismatic coins usually rebound when the general economy does. That is, when most people have enough money to make lavish discretionary purchases.

Listen to the government statistics if you care, but if you want the real answer as to knowing when the U.S. economy is truly recovering, there’s just one place you need to look – your most recent coin value guide.

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12 thoughts on “What Happens When Rare U.S. Coins Go Down In Value?”

  1. Hi Joshua-
    I recently inherited a 1883 Liberty Nickel “No Cents” Ms-65 coin. I have the certification paperwork with it- can you give me some idea of what it’s value is? If I’m not mistaken- it’s value has DECREASED considerably from 1984 when it was purchased- she was very careful with her $ and an avid coin collector- and the amount she paid for the coin in 1984 is MUCH more then what I can find the coin is worth now. Can you give me some idea? Thanks! Darcy

    • Hi, Darcy —

      It is true that the value of a MS-65 1883 No Cents Liberty Nickel has decreased since the 1980s. In fact, this is the case with many, many coins minted during the late 19th through mid 20th centuries. The coin market was going haywire during the 1980s, with the greatest increase in prices for certified coins grading MS 65 and up.

      The coin bubble burst in the summer of 1989 due to several factors (too many to explain here in a comment!), and the value of many coins fell by as much as 90 percent in the span of less than one year. There were many “good deals” to be had in the early 1990s, though prices have somewhat increased since then.

      The retail value of an 1883 No-Cents Liberty Nickel in MS-65 today is about $200 to $225; you may be offered between $150 and $200.

      Regardless of its value, it’s still a pretty coin with a lot of history behind it.


    • By the way, Darcy — I should add that the family member who purchased that coin may have not fared as well in the long term given the decreased value of that coin, but that doesn’t mean she was acting unwisely with her money. Quite the opposite.

      The common wisdom that most people were advised in the mid 1980s regarding coins was that certified, high-end coins were going to increase in value over time. And they did, over the short run at least. Unfortunately for those who invested in such pieces, the market grew too quickly (much like the housing market in the mid 2000s) and the prices crashed.

      This does not in any way suggest the financial investment was a bad move at the time. It was a GREAT idea based on what most believed about the coin market circa 1983 through early 1989. The investment was well intended, and it sounds like this family member was doing everything she knew how to do to invest her money as wisely as she could at the time.


      • So then I guess my question is- sell this coin for what I can get now- or is there any chance it might increase in value over time and hold on to it? I’d hate to think it’s worth 200.00 today but 20-30 years from now find out it’s worth 50.00 or less..

        • Hi, Darcy —

          It’s frankly quite difficult to speculate on what the coin will be worth at any point down the line. My suggestion to you is if you need the money now to sell the coin for $185-$225 (more or less, based on the coin dealer you sell it to); if you’re hoping to see the coin out as a long-term investment, by all means hang onto it. While the 1989-1990 coin market conditions did experience rapid changes in price, the general setting of the marketplace is such that values on numismatic coins such as yours don’t normally change all that quickly, emphasis on the word “normally.”

          If you would like any more advice, please feel free to let me know!

          Good luck,


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