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Collecting Gold Coins

Collecting gold coins has been popular for as long as gold coins have existed. Once called "the hobby of kings," gold coin collecting rewards on many levels. With old rare coins, there is the pleasure of knowing you are holding an object that had its life in a different era - an era depicted in the coin's images and recorded in its words. There is the pleasure of the feel and look of the gold itself, distinct in the color, texture, and luster unique to each coin. There's knowing that the best artisans of an age competed to have their images featured on your coin, hoping it would immortalize them for centuries. There's also the fun of researching the history surrounding your coin, and trying to interpret the special meanings of all the symbols and images on its surface.

Last but not least of the pleasures of gold coin collecting, there’s knowing you hold an asset that will only increase in value over time. Its intrinsic value as precious metal is only part of its worth. The coin’s rarity will grow over the decades, making it ever more a treasure. A gold coin collection is a legacy left to one’s family. Like a jewel collection, it can be enjoyed in good times and traded in hard times. Unlike paper investments such as those in the stock market, gold coins never go up in smoke. They are a delight to collect, and endure as a stable investment. Gold coin collecting is something like having your cake and eating it, too.    

Rare Gold Coins

Gold coins are valued as collectors’ items based on several factors: their age, rarity, condition, and number of like coins minted. Modern commemorative gold coins are popular as are coins from eras past. For a coin to be antique, it must be at least 50 years old. For a coin to be rare, it must generally be antique, but a few modern coins are also considered rare. This happens when the availability of a particular coin is so slim that it creates an exceptionally high demand in the marketplace.

Among antique coins, some of the most sought-after are coins from the colonial era, the Civil War era, the age of the Spanish conquistadors, and especially the Greek, Roman and Medieval eras.

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Grading Gold Coins

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Coin sellers rate gold coins for their appearance on a scale developed in the 1940s by Dr. William Sheldon. Before Sheldon’s Scale came into being, coins were graded on a range having only a few numbers, but Sheldon expanded the range to span numbers 1 to 70. While the broad array of grades can be frustrating to new collectors, it is appreciated by those more seasoned in the hobby. The wider scale of numbers enables experts to distinguish fine differences in quality that were not recordable in the earlier less complex grading system.

Coin dealers assign each gold coin a grade based on five factors: strike, surface preservation, luster, coloration, and eye appeal.

Strike refers to the clarity of the images and writing on a coin – how precise the relief is. The boundaries are clearer on some gold coins and blurrier on others. The clearer and sharper the relief, the higher the grade is, and the more valuable the coin to collectors.

Surface preservation has to do with the number and placement of dings, scratches and other marring marks on the face or reverse side of a coin. A scratch located on the face loses more points than the same scratch appearing on the back side, and a flaw that shows up in the focal point of an image earns worse marks than a flaw appearing in a less conspicuous place.

Luster is considered in grading, because breaks in luster occur due to cleaning or wear. It is not a good idea to clean a gold coin unless you have been trained in how to do it. Cleaning can actually remove part of the “skin,” decreasing the coin’s value by spoiling its natural luster.  

Coloration (the fourth grading factor) depends on the type of alloy mixed with the gold to harden it. Which coloration is preferable is a matter of taste, but most coin dealers give higher points to coloration that is natural (that has not been tampered with through chemicals or cleaning).

The fifth grading factor, eye appeal, is the sum total of the other four factors. It’s a number that reflects the overall beauty of the coin.

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