When I started out as a collector – nearly five decades ago – I kept hearing the same advice over and over: “Buy the best quality you can afford.” That mantra reflected the market reality that better-quality coins were harder to come by, but easier to sell. A few prescient collectors shortened the advice to “Buy the best quality,” then sought out only the best coins. But, how could they know if a particular coin was the best of the best?
Large Cent collectors came up with a concept known as “Condition Census.” They recorded market appearances of the best examples of a particular variety, then created a list of the top ten examples of that variety. What they discovered was that some coins were common in high grade, while others were impossible to find in Mint State. Over time, as the Condition Census matured and stabilized, collectors began to pay big premiums for the very best coins. Today, the Condition Census concept has been applied to Half Cents (1793-1857), Large Cents (1793-1814), early Silver Dollars (1794-1804), and to a lesser extent, most of the early classic U.S. coins that are collected by varieties. Some work has been done by researchers such as Doug Winter to develop a list of the best examples of U.S. gold coins from the branch mints. However, there are many areas where Condition Census information is either non-existent or limited.
That’s where the PCGS CoinFacts Condition Census comes in. Every day, we build Condition Census listings for most regular issue U.S. coins, plus esoteric areas such as Colonials, Patterns, Territorial Gold, etc. As new coins come through the grading room, we update the Census to keep it as up-to-date as possible. For each individual listing, we provide pedigrees so that you know when the coin sold and for how much. In many cases, this is the first time that duplicate auction records have been joined together.
Two cautions are in order: 1) the Condition Census project is a work-in-process, thus many coins may not have a Condition Census yet, or they appear on the market so infrequently that it is hard to develop a Census for those coins, and 2) the Condition Census should be used only as a starting point for your own research and buying decisions. While we see a lot of coins, and we are aware of the vast majority of auction appearances, we haven’t seen every coin. From past experience, we know that fresh coins appear on the market that are better than anything we’ve ever seen before. When that happens, we simply add them to the Condition Census.
Building the Census for some coins, such as U.S. Patterns, has revealed some interesting information about what is available in the market, and how some coins are rare and underrated while others are common and overrated.
To locate the Condition Census, simply go to any individual coin page on PCGS CoinFacts, then scroll down to the Condition Census section, where the top five coins are listed. To see the top ten, click on the Show More Coins link at the upper right of the Condition Census section.
If you’re looking for the best-of-the-best, the PCGS CoinFacts Condition Census can help you identify the coins you seek.
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