Cherrypicking 101

Let’s go back to the coin shop and find out how you can gain a huge advantage over most coin dealers by focusing on every aspect of your favorite coin series.

Luckily for us collectors, there aren’t many dealers who are experts on every coin series. Very few have the time to master the nuances of assessing grade, strike, and originality for every item in their inventory because they’re too busy running a business!

For example, while I was looking at the coins in the display case of the coin shop from my last post, I noticed a 1911 Barber dime in a cardboard 2×2 holder that the dealer had graded as VG (very good) and had priced at $3.00. Now even though I’m not an avid collector of the Barber series, I’ve always found them easy to grade. A VG Barber dime won’t have a full LIBERTY on the tiara. This coin had a full, fairly sharp LIBERTY.

The next thing I looked at was the strike. When a coin die becomes overused the design elements become mushy and lack detail. Buffalo nickels are notorious for poor strikes. Barber dimes are generally well struck but the wreath on the reverse suffers the most when the strike is poor. All I could see when I examined this dime was good honest wear, and not the amount of wear I would expect to see on a VG coin.

Finally, I looked at the coin’s originality. This is probably the most difficult aspect of a coin to master. Mainly through the ignorance of previous owners, the vast majority of Barber coinage, dimes, quarters, and half dollars, has been cleaned at some point in their existence. Coins with original toning are very difficult to locate. It’s far more likely that the Barbers you encounter will show circulation wear but be cleaned or “dipped” in some harsh chemical that has stripped away the original color that silver acquires after 100 years of oxidation. Silver shouldn’t be bright and shiny after a century. This 1911 dime was a nice even gray with no “hairlines” in the fields.Hairlines are an indication that a coin has been rubbed with a cloth.

So here was a 1911 Barber dime with VF (very fine) details, a nice strike, and original color in a VG $3.00 holder. The 2010 Red Book gives a value of $7.00 for a VF grade. Thanks to a little reading (and a coin dealer unfamiliar with Barber dimes) I just picked up a bargain! And that’s what we call “cherrypicking”.

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