Strike, Toning, Eye Appeal?

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Question: Dear Mr. Bowers, Do you think strike is more important on a coin or toning/eye appeal? – F. M.

Answer: This question cannot be answered by yes or no. It is like saying which do you think is more important on an automobile, the steering wheel or the tires? Or, which is more important in an employment candidate, expertise or honesty? Both need to go together.

And so it is with coins. Strike is a matter that needs to be carefully studied. Fortunately, with photographs on the Internet and with other information this is not hard to do. Suppose, for example, that you wanted to buy a 1923-S Walking Liberty half dollar. If you were to examine 100 different coin illustrations you would see that not a single piece is sharply struck, and all have weakness at the obverse center. Equipped with this knowledge you can set about in the marketplace and find one within that category that is slightly better struck than average, and then go about checking the eye appeal — selecting one that is beautiful to behold.

In general, and I have said this in my books, if something is unattractive or ugly, unless it is the only known example of a rare token or medal, or something else that is irreplaceable, just pass it by. You will have another chance. If something is not attractive to your eye, you can be sure that when you sell your coins, say at auction, bidders are not going to find it attractive either. One wonderful thing about certified coins is that only a small percentage of people consider eye appeal. Going back to the 1923-S half dollar, many more people will prefer an MS-64 coin that I might consider to be ugly as a toad, than an MS-62 example that is beautiful. To me, I wouldn’t want the ugly MS-64 at any price. However, people tend to look at just numbers. The beneficial part of this is that ugly coins in holders find a very active market, especially if priced slightly below the going price. I will leave it up to you to decide whether such are bargains or not.

On the other hand, many coins can be found sharply struck. In series such as Liberty Head nickels this is the rule, not the exception. This can be an interesting place to cherrypick. On the Liberty Head nickel there are two places to observe weakness. I invite you to go on the Internet and have some fun checking these out. The first point involves the center of the stars on the obverse. Are the centers on some stars flat? The other point is the ear of corn on the lower left reverse. Are all the kernels visible? Sharpness in this area is a bit harder to find than on the star centers. The nice part is that if a truly rare Liberty Head nickel came up for sale, say a MS-65 1886, this might be the answer for someone seeking such a piece for a year or two. As a connoisseur you can study an image and see if it is sharp on both sides. If so, bid, and above market, if it has good eye appeal. If it is not completely sharp or if the eye appeal is not good, wait until next time. This might be a number of months away but part of the enjoyment of numismatics is not being able to have an instant collection. The thrill of the chase, the enjoyment of hunting, is a major part of the game.

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