How much does a test cut take from a coin's value?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by tartanhill, Jul 15, 2020.

  1. tartanhill

    tartanhill Well-Known Member

    With the slew of Athens owls now being offered, many of them have test cuts. I am just wondering how that will affect the value of the coin. Will the coin be worth half as much as it would without the cut? I suppose the size and depth of the cut will also make a difference. I ask because I am looking at an owl offered in an auction that has a small cut across about 1/3 of the reverse, and I am not sure how much to bid. I have never bid on a cut coin before, but I know that some members of CT don't mind the test cut that much. How did you decide on the coin's value?
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
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  3. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter


    This was desribed by the seller as a “Banker’s test cut”. I paid his asking price with no hesitation.

    Note: I changed my original post via Edit.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2020
  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    This is a great question but not one that has an answer. All coins are individuals to a point and how we balance a test cut against a poor strike of bad centering or a lot of wear or poor style or surface scratches or porosity or any of many other faults depends a lot on who is buying and who is selling. Some people will not consider a coin with any faults while others will rank the faults differently. Test cuts are SERIOUS faults in most eyes but perhaps not as bad as a hole or extreme versions of any of my (non-exhaustive) list above. I find them a lot less bothersome than many people do but that does not mean I will pay more for the coin. It just means that I am not driven away from the coin and will be joining a smaller group of people competing for it. That generally means the price will be lower. Lets describe the coin below.

    I see a well centered coin with a lot of the crest on flan. There is a lot of wear on the high points of both sides and damage to the cheek and are below the ear on the obverse (caused by the pressure from one of the test cuts). Most collectors would not want the coin based on just those problems so I had less competition when I decided I wanted the coin because of, not in spite of the three test cuts. If one test cut reduces the price of a coin by 3/4 (a guess), I would say three cuts will make the coin more interesting so they may reduce it less than that. It did to me anyway but I would still have trouble finding a crowd of buyers for the coin were I to try to sell it. The recent influx of that huge hoard of high grade owls has hurt the market for not so great coins of this type. Each person could decide what to pay on any given day. What do you say? Are the cuts the worst problems on this coin? It will be hard to find an identical triple cut, worn and damaged but well centered owl to serve as a guide in pricing this owl. I won't be selling it so it makes no difference but I could guess it was worth the $150 I paid before the hoard came so it might be less today ....or more if someone really wanted three cuts and a lot of crest and had money burning a hole in the pocket because it has been harder to find decent coins in these days of pandemic. Like I said: This is a great question but not one that has an answer.
  5. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    LOL, looks more like scratch damage on a corroded coin.

    As for test cuts...

    Obviously, the centering, condition of the planchet, grade and style are the important characteristics. However, if I could find a coin with 5's in each of these categories, I would also want a very small test cut on the reverse rim o_O:jawdrop::wacky: to add to the coin's "story" and possibly lower that impossibly expensive coin's price just a little.
    +VGO.DVCKS and DonnaML like this.
  6. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    Yes, but not to me. Except for centering that is. For me, historical association and quality/readability of inscriptional lettering are of primary importance - surface blemishes, style and grade are of secondary importance.
  7. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    To paraphrase, :) It depends on the collector. Doug dislikes test cuts, but not as much as holes. I can put up with a small hole made in antiquity more so than a gouge across the coin. Just my opinion.

    So, a test cut, like a hole, will always affect the price. How much is anyone's guess. I am guessing, (just guessing), it affects great scarcities less than common coins. I know most holed or test cut coins in my collection are there because they are scarce or rare pieces, and I may not own one otherwise.
    robinjojo, DonnaML and jamesicus like this.
  8. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I purchased this Athenian owl from John Jencek at the 2007 NYINC. Because of the test cut through the owl's face and banker's mark in the owl's stomach on the reverse, and other issues such as the missing "E" in the reverse legend, the generally worn state of the reverse, and the scratch on Athena's face on the obverse (which I suspect may be a banker's mark of some kind because of the scratch's deliberate-looking shape), I paid just over $300, which even then was less than half of what owls in similar condition (but without any test cuts or banker's marks) were going for. I doubt that it would sell for any more than that even now, 13 years later. But I'm still happy with it; I like the obverse and actually find the test cut and banker's mark(s) to be rather interesting because of their historical significance.

    Athenian Owl O1.jpg

    Athenian Owl R1.jpg
  9. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    I agree with Doug that it depends on too many things to be able to quantify. I bought this Aethelred II penny because it had peck marks:


    I also bought this George III dollar because of the test cut:


    In each case I like them more because of the 'damage'. Peck marks and test cuts were what people did to their coins at those times (when suspicion about forgeries was at a height). It adds to the history. I like the idea of a Viking stabbing the coin with a knife to check the purity.

    However, both were cheaper than they would have been without the marks (at least 30% for the dollar), and I might not have felt the same about a slash right across the coin.

    I don't know much about Athenian owls, but so many have test marks there must be some tolerance to them. On the other hand, some have deep cuts right through Athena or the owl, which seems to reduce the value significantly (easily half of unblemished coins).

    Having said that, it seems the alignment of Athena can add or subtract hundreds of dollars a few millimetres either way, so working out how much is down to the cut or another factor must be very tricky.
  10. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    Actually, you agree with my post about quality (centering, style, surface, grade). For me, ALL ANCIENTS have a historical association. ;)
  11. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    Not so. I don’t agree with you about the importance of style, surface and grade which for me are of secondary importance to historical association and centering on the flan. I am glad that all ancients have historical importance in your eye - they do for me also, but I like to associate my coins with specific historical events.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2020
  12. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I bought this coin in 2000. It has a test cut, but the cut hardly detracts from the design. The cut is not through the middle of the owl obscuring an eye or some other important part. I think I paid 80%-90% of what, at that time, I would have had to pay for a similar piece without the cut. To me, the fact it is text cut has almost no importance. (The importance to me is personally zero but it becomes non-zero when I factor in what others think and will pay for it.) The question is how much of the type is damaged. In this case, it is hardly damaged at all so the discount was little.
  13. OutsiderSubtype

    OutsiderSubtype Well-Known Member

    I only have this one owl and it does have a test cut:

    I have not been observing auctions for as long as many people on here, but I would guess that a similar coin without the cut would have gone for 10% more.

    I don't mind the cut. It gives the coin character and it's evidence that it circulated. But I would probably not like the cut if it was obscuring Athena's face, the owl, or the ΑΘΕ. I wanted a owl that had decent centering, no squashed nose, and a nice clear ΑΘΕ.
  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I agree with the added interest theory. When it come to 'character' my examples have a lot of character. On some, the cut showed that the coin was silver all the way through.

    On others. we can see why the cuts were necessary to discover fourrees. This coin strikes me as interesting by being a bit oversize so the proper weight of a tetradrachm is restored. However, since copper is lighter than silver, the coin stood out as 'wrong' in size and was test cut to prove there was red copper down below.
  15. Nathan P

    Nathan P Well-Known Member

    My test cut owl is a transitional issue (Starr IV) that I couldn't otherwise have afforded. Didn't feel like the cut detracted much either. Still feel like I overpaid a little ($700 all in), but it's definitely among my favorites.

  16. tartanhill

    tartanhill Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Nathan P. Your coin is much like what I am looking at.
    Nathan P likes this.
  17. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that, John! From here, your observations are only most resonant in the case of peck marks. Yeah, in each collective instance, they give you an entire added dimension of socio-cultural history. And when that involves Vikings, who would say no? When I'm looking at anything later Anglo-Saxon, or even contemporaneous German /Low Countries, it's disappointing if it doesn't have at least one.
    There's even a relevant passage in Saint Olaf's Saga (king of Norway 1015-1028; aka Olaf the Stout), from Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla. Three of Olaf's agents are going around the country collecting taxes.
    "Leif went up to Thrand to receive the purse, and (...) poured it into his shield, rooted in it with his hand, and told Karl to look at the silver. They examined it for a while. Then Karl asked what Leif thought about it.
    "He replied, 'It seems to me that all the bad money in the North Islands has been brought here.'
    "Thrand overheard that and said, 'Don't you like the silver, Leif?'
    "'No indeed,' he said.'"
    (Heimskringla, tr. Lee M. Hollander. 1964. Austin: U of Texas P, 1991. P. 431.)
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
  18. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    I've seen owls with test cuts, many of them pretty significant being offered online from around $350 to $550, depending on the placement and severity of the test cut.

    Many collectors, such as myself, don't mind test cuts if the price is reasonable and the coin has some level of appeal. Here's one such coin, that I purchased at around $185 earlier this year:

    D-Camera Athena and the Frog, Reshoot, 7-16-20.jpg

    As you can see it is very encrusted, with two test cuts and a remnants of another coin (it appears) on the obverse. But for the price it was a decent buy.

    Getting back to the coin you are considering bidding on, an image of it would be helpful. But keep in mind that there are lots of Athenian tetradrachms on the market, many with test cuts, so if you are patient, you should locate a coin that you'll be happy with.
    tartanhill, Bing and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  19. tartanhill

    tartanhill Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your input, robinjojo. I have been reminded in the past that it is not a good idea to post a coin that is currently at auction because other CT members may also be watching that coin and that my posting may interest other competitive bidders. So I won't.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  20. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Coins with test cuts are often sold as large lots at auction.

    Here's one such lot, that I purchased earlier this year:


    This lot is comprised of three Athens tetradrachms with test cuts and one without. As with almost all large lot purchases this lot was purchased as-is, no returns.

    The lot sold for 440 BP. With the 20% buyers commission, the final price was 528 BP. With the exchange rate at around $1.35 (with commission, of course), the total in US dollars is $713.00, or $178.20 per coin, well below what they would cost retail, individually, on the retail market today.
    Bing likes this.
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