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Article: Collecting Circulated Indian Cents


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Collecting Circulated Indian cents

By Richard Snow

Eagle Eye Rare Coins, Inc.


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 for.



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.



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 get offered.


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.



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 unknowingly get


Copyright 1999 Rick Snow & Eagle Eye Rare Coins, Inc.


Downloaded 10/2003 with permission of author.

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