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How Important are Survival Rates?

Originally published on July 2 2018

A GFRC client asked the following question: How much consideration can fairly be or should be given to survival rates in deciding value to pay for a coin or whether to collect a series?

To be honest, I don't pay much attention to survival rate discussions unless a date is a super rarity. Survival rates are estimates that are always subject to revisions as more specimens are discovered or graded by Third Party Grading services. Today's survival rate estimates are much different than those made prior to 1986, when PCGS grading appears along with their population reports.

To properly use "survival rates" as a basis for numismatic study and collecting, then one has to define what "survival rate" actually means. On a broad basis, survival rate includes every possible surviving example of a date including all grades and all preservation states. This means Fair 2 examples are lumped with choice mint states pieces. Bent, porous and mutilated coins should also be included in the purist sense.

Let's take the 1874-CC key date Liberty Seated dime to make this point. My bottom line advice?

When deciding to collect an early silver, gold or copper series, please pay attention to availability rather than survival rates. Availability can be easily accessed by checking Heritage Auction archives.