Bonus Reading Material: The Meaning of the Word "Rare"

The English word "rare" comes from the Latin "rārus" (thinly sown, having intervals between). The 15th-century Middle English usage was "few in number and widely separated, seldom found". Current vernacular correctly renders "rare" as "scarce, uncommon." In numismatics, the words "scarce" and "rare" tug on one's heart strings. These exciting adjectives prepare the numismatist for something very special.

As with any specialized field, the usage of a buzzword within the discipline is often different than out on the street. If the average person went to Wal-Mart and got a 1910 Lincoln penny in their change they might use the word "rare" for both the event and the coin. But a 1910 penny is not rare; over 150 million of them were minted. They are not "seldom found" because over 1,000 of them can be found on eBay at this very moment. They are seldom found at Wal-Mart but so are kangaroos ... that doesn't make them rare.

Likewise, 1909-S VDB pennies and 1955 Doubled-Die pennies are not rare. You can buy them on eBay all day long. Try to find a Mr. President Martin Van Buren aluminum medallion anywhere on the planet. Then you will know what 'rare' is.

In this article I proclaim that the top-prize key coins in Shell's Mr. President Coin Game are rare. This is not technically true because, by definition, an item has to exist before it can be called 'rare.' Since I can't confirm that any of the top-prize medallions actually exist, I suppose they should be called "possibly extinct." Now that's what I call rare!

Return to the main game page.