The Sheldon Rarity Scale and other ways to define rarity in coins

gold coins

Rare American Coins Get Weighed on a Rarity Scale
By Paul St. Julien

I’ve counted 13 scales proposed for defining rarity in coins. Only a few are well accepted and none are as universally accepted as the Sheldon scale for grading coins. Perhaps the most common rarity scale is also an adaptation of Sheldon’s scale.

Some rarity scales are merely descriptive of their actual rarity, while others base their judgment on numbers. I think using numbers is a much more accurate than only attempting to describe them verbally.

Sheldon’s rarity scale has both a verbal description and numerical description associated with it, similar to his state-of-preservation grading scale. This is really helpful in understanding rarity.

I haven’t found a consensus regarding any of the rarity scales, so I’ve chosen this version of Sheldon’s Rarity Scale, because it uses quantities and descriptions that seem reasonable to me. That leaves both the numbers and descriptions open to debate.

Sheldon Rarity Scale

R1 Over 2000 estimated: Very Common, readily available
R2 601-2000 estimated: Common, not too difficult to find
R3 201-600 estimated: Less Common, available at most shows, but in limited quantity
R4 76-200 estimated: Scarce, somewhat difficult to find, only a few likely at larger shows
R5 31-75 estimated: Very Scarce, may or may not find at larger shows or auctions
R6 13-30 estimated: Rare, unlikely to be more than 5 for sale anywhere in a year
R7 4-12 estimated: Very Rare, almost never seen, only one may be offered for sale in a year
R8 2-3 estimated: Prohibitively Rare, one may be offered for sale once every 5 to 10 years
R9 1 estimated: Unique, or nearly so

As you can see, this scale refers to count estimations. It’s impossible to know an exact number. At any time, another coin could surface or disappear and change the figure.

Another useful scale was developed by Q. David Bowers. He calls it the Universal Rarity Scale or URS for short. I think this scale goes beyond simply stating rarity, to measuring the commonness of a coin. This can also be useful.

Universal Rarity Scale

Rarity Number of known coins
URS 0 None known
URS 1 1
URS 2 2
URS 3 3 or 4
URS 4 5 to 8
URS 5 9 to 16
URS 6 17 to 32
URS 7 33 to 64
URS 8 65 to 125
URS 9 126 to 250
URS 10 251 to 500
URS 11 501 to 1,000
URS 12 1,001 to 2,000
URS 13 2,001 to 4,000
URS 14 4,001 to 8,000
URS 15 8,001 to 16,000
URS 16 16,001 to 32,000
URS 17 32,001 to 65,000
URS 18 65,001 to 125,000
URS 19 125,001 to 250,000
URS 20 250,001 to 500,000

C. Scholten developed a scale for rarity in 1953 that I think is less useful than the two above. The Scholten scale depicts the following degrees of rarity, but I can’t find any definition for the descriptions he uses.

Scholten Rarity Scale

Rarity Number of known coins
C Common
N Normal
S Scarce
R Rare
RR Very Rare
RRR Extremely Rare
RRRR Of the utmost rarity

So the next time you’re discussing “rare coins”, with another coin expert ask if it’s “R7 or R8 rare” or are we talking R9? If he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, he probably doesn’t know what he’s talking about either. Most rare coin experts are familiar with Sheldon’s Rarity Scale.

To discover more about coins: collecting issues, money management, investing in the rare and bullion coin market, and much more, I invite you to visit http://www.heritagecoingallery.com for videos and free tips on buying coins at the best prices.

Article Source: Rare American Coins Get Weighed on a Rarity Scale


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