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Go off the beaten path
September 11, 2009

I was editing a story yesterday about Seated Liberty half dollars. This is a series that many collectors tend to overlook. It is the hole in the historical doughnut.

Early federal coinage is avidly collected. Seated Liberty halves came after this period, starting n 1839. The series that followed the 1891 termination of the Seated half series, the Barber, Walking Liberty, Franklin and Kennedy half dollars are series that most collectors have some personal experience with.

But looking at the prices in the Coin Market price guide and you have to conclude that many collectors are missing an opportunity to put together a set in the circulated grades that would be both a challenge yet doable when the cost is spread out over a period of five or 10 years.

I am suggesting the circulated grades because the Mint State pieces can be terribly pricey, unless a collector needs just the pieces for a type set.

Why don't more collectors jump into sets like this? Well, its partly our own fault.

Advice to collectors that used to be, "Buy the best you can afford," has turned into "don't buy anything less than Mint State."

This perhaps was not done by conscious design, but we have gotten there anyway.

Novices with money come in and demand top grade pieces even when no such coins exist.

What to do? Well, Numismatic News published a piece by professional grader F. Michael Fazzari pointing out that About Uncirculated coins of a generation or so ago are now Mint State.

There is no profit to be made by telling would-be clients that what they want does not exist. So grading gets bent.

This has also occurred in the circulated grades for coins like the Buffalo nickel. The demand outruns supply and corners get cut over time.

So why not jump into an area where this trend matters less? Seated Liberty halves are scarce enough that if VF today becomes XF tomorrow, the coins will still be scarce and they still will have value.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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