Collecting copper coins can be very challenging. Many of the Red copper coins are hard to find and to top it off, copper coin collectors are also some of the most aggressive collectors in today's coin market.
One of the reasons that copper coin collectors are considered so aggressive is because they will step up and pay significant premiums for coins that display completely original Red surfaces. This leaves many Red Brown and Brown coins lagging behind in pricing. However, Red Brown and Brown coins should not automatically be dismissed as undesired or non-scarce simply because they are worth much less than fully original Red examples. Before continuing, let's define a Brown, Red Brown and Red coin.
The definition of a Brown coin is a copper coin that contains 5% Red surfaces or less, but its surfaces are mostly Brown. Many Brown coins contain as much as 5% Red surfaces and are described as being Brown only. Improper long-term storage, moisture and change of climate probably turned the original Red surfaces into completely Brown surfaces over time.
The definition of a Red Brown copper coin is a coin that contains from 5% to 95% Red surfaces. A lot of coins fall into this category and many coins may actually contain more Red than Brown surfaces. The hidden gems are the coins that display about 90 to 95% Red surfaces but are described as Red Brown surfaces, having just missed the full Red color designation.
The definition of a Red coin is a coin that has at least 95% Red and up to 100% Red surfaces. That extra 1% or 5% of the original Red color usually costs collectors huge premiums. These are the coins which most collectors yearn for and there is unquestionably intense competition in this popular arena. However, there are hidden gems for Red coins too, and there are coins with exceptional strikes and clean, eye-appealing surfaces that can still be discovered, as many collectors don't bother look for the aforementioned bonus features since they are only satisfied in obtaining a full Red example.
Here are examples of several 1920-S Lincoln cents. One of them displays mostly Red surfaces, the other Red Brown surfaces and the third, completely Brown surfaces.
If I were to assign a color percentage to these coins, I would assign the Red coin at least a 95% Red designation and really close to a 100% Red designation. This coin commands about $35,000 in a grade of PCGS MS65 Red.
I would assign the second coin an 85% Red designation. Even though the Red color is much more vibrant and lustrous than on the first example, the reverse of the coin toward the O of ONE and the C of Cent displays a blotchy light brown area. Also, under the word AMERICA, it has a light brown splotchy appearance. This keeps the coin from being a completely Red coin, but in reality it just missed the Red color designation. This coin sells for about $2,500 in PCGS MS65 RB or a $32,500 difference just because it contains traces of Brown.
The Brown coin looks 100% Brown and has no Red surfaces remaining. Despite missing Red surfaces, the coin looks completely original and is in great condition. This coin is worth about $1,000 in PCGS MS65 Brown, or $34,000 less than a PCGS MS65 Red and about $1,500 less than a PCGS MS65 Red Brown example.
Just like there are disparities in color designations for copper coins, there are also disparities on many other coins, such as between Full Step Jefferson Nickels and Nickels that just missed the fifth step but are very close to receiving the Full Steps designation. Another example is a Franklin Half Dollar that just missed the Full Bell Lines designation but is very close to having the bottom three lines completely visible and interrupted.
There is no doubt that Red coins will always be the most desired and command the highest premiums among copper coins. However, there are a lot of Red Brown and Brown coins in the market that just missed the next-higher color designation which can be purchased at fractions of what completely Red coins will cost and these are just a few of the hidden values in today's market.