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Where to begin... why yes, at the beginning.
Coins have been minted for a few thousand years. They have been made in virtually every country and out of many different types of material. The market value of the coin will depend upon four things: The quality of the coin (how well struck and how much wear); The material it is made of; The scarcity of that particular coin; The interest in that category of coin (the market). If you are looking for a way to logically determine the exact value of a coin you will be dissapointed. Approach the coin market with the understanding that whatever coin you are looking for will be costly and whatever coin you would like to sell will be worth little.
Coin markets are mostly not liquid! This means that even with one individual or organization buying or selling coins the market value can move dramatically. There is also a large difference (spread) between the buy and sell price on the same day.
Quality - Fairly recently in the coin collecting world coin graders have come to the scene with a grading system to indicate the quality of the coin. The numeric system runs from a grade of 1 to a grade of 70. Another slightly older system used a descriptive scale with words such as good, fine, extra fine, etc. Keep in mind that just because a coin has been graded by a person or company at a given quality (numeric or descriptive) it does not mean that everyone will agree with it. In fact, there is a niche market where professional coin graders will buy a coin which they believe is at a higher quality than it is currently listed on the coin. They then send the coin to a grading service with the hope that it will be graded at the higher grade, thereby making it more valuable in the general market place. Sometimes the same coin will be sent to the grading service a few times on the hope that it will be sent back listed at a higher grade.
Material - The "melt value" of a coin is usually considered the least that a coin would be worth, but that's not always the case. I have seen coins sell 20% below their melt value. The melt value of most coins minted today is about zero - not worth melting. This doesn't mean that the coin automatically has no market value, it just means that the material component of it's value is close to zero.
Scarcity - A general rule: The fewer coins available the more it will be worth. I have found this to be an interesting category. It is not always the case that a coin which has only a few others as peers (same coin and grade) will be worth more than a coin with many peers but this is a general rule. Scarcity will also relate to the buy / sell spread of a coin. For example, a readily available coin will be able to be bought and sold nearer to the same price than a coin with only 3 other peers in the world. The scarcer coin would appeal to a smaller group of people and therefore if those people are not ready to buy the price will have to be lowered to entice others to jump on the deal. On the other hand if you are trying to buy that same coin the four people who hold it might not be ready to sell it at the current price and you would have to offer more to entice them to give up the coin.
Market - There are a few companies who have a fair amount of marketing ability. They can shape the coin collecting world by generating interest (or know of anyone who would have an interest) in a particular coin category. When they move interest to a new category of coin the old once popular category will fall out of popularity and the market value will drop (plunge?). It may be a long time before prices on the now unpopular coin ever reach the recent levels. It could take a new collector years to understand this ebb and flow of interest, hence prices, in coins.
If you are inclined to jump into the coin collecting world in order to make money (i.e. "invest", "diversify a portfolio", "establish a financial foundation", "pass value onto my children") then you have a very high probability of being dissapointed in the results. I suggest that you look at a different market - one that is not a "collectible" market, one that has more liquidity. At the very least read my short list of the biggest coin collector mistakes.
If you are looking for a quick price on a coin that you have in your posession then I suggest that you check out ebay.com. There is an active marketplace for coins of many types. Find a coin like yours which has recently sold (you can even search closed auctions at ebay). That will be a good place to start in determing the current market value.
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