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Survival Ratio

Survival Ratio.  An estimate of the number of specimens still in existence as a percentage of the original quantity struck. This is usually based on the number of specimens that come on the market, or a survey of collections (or negatively an analysis of collectors' want lists). It indicates rarity of the specimen.

Anyone making a survival ratio estimate must take into consideration how the original quantity was distributed. Here are two theoretical examples (in the extremes):  (1) Entire production was sent to museums throughout the world and they placed the items in permanent collections – the survival ratio could be 90-95% (widely dispersed and saved under excellent preservation conditions).  (2) If all distributed to public, as a parade medal say, the survival ratio could be as low as 1% (narrow distribution without good preservation standards).

What survives?  Coins and medals have a high degree of survivability. People

tend to keep these, they are not discarded; museums retain coins and medals, often with large collections and entire departments devoted to the acquiring, protecting and studying these objects. They are artifacts that are highly regarded by man. They are significant to the study of history, art, iconography, economics, metallurgy and a number of other sciences.

If an analysis is made of what survives and why, and contrast this with what is discarded and why, what we would learn is interesting. The major factor of surviving is: beauty. Man venerates beautiful objects, preserving them as best he can.  A second factor is importance.  Man tends to save important objects. Other factors include first or pivotal objects, that perhaps changed history. Also who created the object? The artist is a factor.

Surprisingly, rarity is not a factor, nor is condition. Objects in which only one

have been made – or millions – have been discarded, in contrast to objects in which one, or one of a million, have been saved. Objects made of precious metals are vulnerable, they have often been melted at times in history by uncaring people for their metal content alone, irrespective of, or disregarding, their cultural, historical or numismatic importance. Thus gold coins and medals often have a low survival ratio, unless, of course, they are beautiful or important. See the example on gold medal destruction in the box under melting.   

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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