One of the really difficult things for burgeoning collectors to grasp is the concept of how rarity affects the price of a coin. That is usually because they fail to look at demand. Take, for instance, errors. By definition most of the really spectacular errors are unique; freak coins produced when something went horribly wrong. They are often, when the nature of the error, year, and denomination are considered, literally one-of-a-kind coins. Compare that to say the Arnprior dollars, or the 2006 no-mint mark magnetic 1-cent coins.
Technically, both are also errors, the result of over-aggressive die polishing in the case of the Arnpriors, and either a wrong planchet or wrong die in the case of the cents. Yes, in both those cases the number of coins is larger than the unique errors, yet the Arnprior will usually sell for more than almost any error. The reason is the demand is so much higher, for a number of reasons.
First off, more common errors often get listed in the standard catalogues. Such a listing, in essence, gives a coin the “blessing” of established collectors. Once that happens, the idea of trying to complete a collection starts to step to the forefront. The other aspect is that having a small population of errors means that owning one becomes possible for collectors, at least in theory. Unique items are pretty much unattainable. The same logic applies to mules, which collectors love to discover and always pay a bit extra to own.
Another reason is that most errors, such as clipped planchets, wrong metal strikes, lumps caused by die cuds, and lines caused by die cracks just don’t seem to be all that popular. We use the dismissive term “minor errors” to describe these coins, a term that almost guarantees a total lack of excitement. Another confusion is that rarity is somehow equal to age. A perfect example is a Queen Victoria large cent.
We will look at a common example, the 1895 piece. You can even check the listings in Trends to see what I mean. Yes, the coin is more than 100 years old, supposedly a magic number in collecting. But if you were to put together a date set of Canadian cents, and most of us probably have at some point or another, you would find little difficulty in finding a pretty one for say $20 or $25. That’s the reason they are called common coins, as distinct from those hard-to-find key and semi-key dates. The same coin, however, once we move into the stratospheric Mint State world, becomes a bit more costly, up to the $100 mark, and a really nice one with a fair amount of red will set you back more than $1,000.
That’s not because of the number of coins made, but simply because the number of coins that have survived to this day in exceptional condition with some of the original red is so much smaller than the well-worn examples. Of course, since collectors want the nicest coins they can get, there is more competition for the better coins. Simply put, if you are trying to make sense out of the value of a coin, ignore the age and uniqueness, and think of its rarity in whatever state of preservation it is in, and try to match that to market demand. Nobody ever said understanding the numismatic market was simple.