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Six Potential Sleepers
sleeper coinsBy Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine
December 03, 2009
sleeper coins



With the price of gold hovering near $1,000 an ounce, and silver firmly entrenched in its own double digits bracket, a pessimistic collector might think it’s time to lay low and perhaps look into improving his or her different series of copper coins. After all, precious metals seem to be priced for the rich, and not for the common collector, at least right now. But there are often some opportunities in times of adversity, and right now is no exception.

Buying silver bars, silver bullion, non-circulating legal-tender silver coins, and common silver dollars is definitely not the thing to do in this economic climate. But buying silver coins with some serious growth potential—sleepers that is—might just be the perfect thing to do. Here is a six pack of potential sleepers that won’t flatten your wallet, and that just might turn you a neat profit.



1. Morgan Dollars.

It’s somewhat ironic that in a time like this, when silver and gold prices are high and still climbing, that there are some good buys within the Morgan dollars. The irony is that common-date circulated Morgan dollars almost always buy, sell and trade as if they are bullion. As the silver price rises, so does the price for the common circulated Morgans.

But this classic all-American series is a large one. Within its span of dates—1878 to 1904, then one final hurrah in 1921—there are some very high “highs” and some rather hidden “lows” among the mintages. Coins like the 1881-S with a mintage of 12.7 million pieces set the bar for the high mintage, common-date coins. I’m going to be looking for some strategic, hopefully hidden, lows.

Many of the common-date Morgan dollars have mintages that total several million, even if they don’t get as high as the 1881-S, and these common dates tend to have price tags of $55 to $60 in a grade such as Mint State-63. That’s an attractive grade of mint state without being a truly stellar one. But, attractive or not, it also serves as a good baseline for prices.

Now look at a cluster of dates and mintmarks that are not quite common, but are not the key or semi-key coins in the series. The 1882-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC, and 1887-S all have mintages of more than 1 million coins, but never higher than 1.75 million. Their prices for examples in the MS-63 grade? How about $200 to $250?

That’s really not too bad. Plus, as the price of silver rises, these dates aren’t as heavily affected because they already command a premium when compared to other Morgan dollars. Adding good-looking examples of these four dollars to your collection might be a very good idea in a time when common silver seems to have uncommonly high prices.



2. 1927 and 1935 Peace Dollars.

The Peace dollar series is considerably shorter than that for the Morgan dollars, but there are at least two coins within it that merit serious collector attention at a time like this. This highly attractive design, the work of Anthony de Francisci, was produced for only 10 years, but that occurred over a 17-year period.

In that relatively short time there are a couple of well publicized key coins, but at least two quiet sleepers. A quick look at a reference list of these dollars shows that seven date/mintmark combinations were coined to totals in the eight figure range. The 1925 saw just over 10 million produced, and the 1922 saw 51.7 million produced, making it the most common Peace dollar by a long shot. Both cost around $30 in MS-63.

Look though at the two coins I have just mentioned as sleepers. The 1927 has a mintage of 848,000 coins. The 1935 comes in at 1,576,000.

Neither of these are as low as the rather famous 1928 or the very famous 1921 high relief. But both probably exist in lower numbers than those mintage figures simply because of the melts that have occurred in the past when silver jumped in price (the most famous being the big price spike in the early 1980s). The 1927 comes in a bit higher at $185 in MS-63, but the 1935 lands at a mere $105.

If you think about these prices for a moment, you’ll quickly realize the potential that is there. The 1927 is more than 10 times less common than those common-date Peace dollars, yet costs less than twice as much. The 1935 might not be quite as scarce, but then again, it doesn’t cost as much either. Without a doubt, both of these dates ring in as sleepers.



3. A Walking Liberty Half.

Collectors familiar with United States silver know that the Walking Liberty half dollar series may be one of the most collected set of coins that calls itself U.S. silver. High end pieces command high end prices at auction. Avid, well-heeled collectors try to assemble sets that have been certified by third-party grading services in the highest possible grades. In short, there is always a buzz around these coins, or at least around their cream of the crop. So, it might be a bit surprising to think there is even one sleeper in the series. But I believe there is one.

Take a close look at the 1946-D in the Walking half dollar series. Sneaking in at the penultimate year, the 1946-D has a mintage of 2,151,000 coins. On the surface, that’s not a rare coin, as anything produced in the millions can’t really be too uncommon. But it is the lowest mintage of any Walking Liberty half dated in the 1940s. And its price tag in MS-63 is only $65.

To make a comparison or two for the 1946-D, the 1945 is a very common Walking Liberty half, with a mintage of 31.5 million. It costs $40 in MS-63. Unless meltings have taken an impact, the coin that is 15 times more common only costs a few dollars less than the 1946-D.



4. Proof Franklins.

So far I have looked at three different series of U.S. silver coins, all of them considered in one way or another to be beautiful, popular coins. Franklin halves do have a certain popularity to them, but in general it lives in the shadow of the Walking Liberty halves in terms of popular demand and overall prices. That fact has been mentioned many times within the pages of Coins, and yet somehow the prices never do seem to jump up too far. We can take advantage of that in a market where all silver is priced rather high.

The Franklin half dollar series had proofs minted at Philadelphia every year from 1950 until the end of the series in 1963. The number of proofs rises pretty steadily from 51,386 that first year, 1950, to a very respectable 3,075,645 the final year. In that span of years though there remain a couple of sleepers.

The 1954 proof Franklin half dollars saw a total of 233,300, which isn’t too bad. To land one today in a grade such as Proof-65 you need to lay out $125. But since proof Franklins can be snagged in much higher grades, why not put out $250 for one in Proof-68 with a cameo finish? By any stretch of the imagination, that’s got to be a beautiful coin.

But take a look at the mintage of the 1956 proof Franklin half. There are 669,384 on the record, which makes it not quite three times more available than the 1954. Yet when comparing, in PF-65 this coin only costs $50, and in PF-68 with a cameo finish it costs $70. That’s rather amazing, really. The coin that is three times more common costs roughly four times less in an extremely high grade. If you can get your mitts on one of these silver gems, why ever wouldn’t you?



5. Standing Liberty Quarters.

Moving down in size to the Standing Liberty quarter, we come to another coin that has an almost rabid collector and fan base. Standing Liberty quarters were issued for a relatively short span of time, from 1916-1930, with no production in 1922. There are several dates and mintmarks with mintages well above the 10 million mark, and several key or semi-key coins with mintages between 1 million and 2 million. There are even two keys, the 1927-D and 1927-S, below that, with the 1927-S firmly pegged at the lowest spot. Yet there are a couple of sleepers.

Look at the 1929-D, the 1929-S, the 1930 and the 1930-S Standing Liberty quarter. The 1930 is the common monkey in this barrel, with 5.6 million to its name. The 1929-D has only 1.35 million. The other two are higher in mintage than the 1929-D, but still are very close to it. Yet the prices for all of them in MS-63 are virtually the same: $225.

These are definitely coins that qualify as true sleepers.



6. Proof Maria Theresa Thalers.

This final addition to the list probably seems like an odd duck. After all, it’s not a U.S. coin, and it may qualify as the most copied coin in history. For those unfamiliar with these large silver pieces, all Maria Theresa thalers are dated 1780 even though many of them are far more modern. You see, the Maria Theresa thaler, was issued originally from the Austrian mints, but it quickly made its way to various parts of the world far from central Europe.

Indeed, the Maria Theresa thaler was so accepted in parts of Africa and south west Asia as a silver trade coin that other governments couldn’t make headway with their own trade dollars. The solution to this quandary was for those governments to mint Maria Theresas of their own. The date always stayed 1780, even though many of them were made in places such as Birmingham, England, or Paris, and Rome. There are even Maria Theresa from Bombay, India.

Today you can find Maria Theresa thalers in the inventories of most well-stocked dealers of foreign coins. Certainly, large shows are a good place to find some. Do some patient searching and you should turn up a few of these very large silver pieces in proof. The examples with frosted surfaces can be quite good looking. Equally good looking is the price. Many dealers consider these to be simply pretty versions of the same old bullion coin they have known for a long time. That means the price may only be a few dollars higher than the non-proof version. When Maria Theresa thalers trade at $20 or so, it’s wonderful to find a proof that only costs $25.

Now, it’s essentially impossible to find an exact number for the proof Maria Theresa thalers, which makes it hard to estimate how much such a coin will appreciate in value. But the cost of a single piece is far less than any of the other coins we have just looked at, which makes it hard to think you could lose money here. If you have always been a stalwart of collecting U.S. coinage, this might make for an amusing foray into new territory.



Well, there you have it, a recipe for some silver fun even when the prices for precious metals are high. Take your time, do some comparison shopping, and be patient. You might find that there are some great sleepers to be had. Good luck.



More Resources:

Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes 4-CD Set, 1782-1866

Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths About U.S. Coins

2010 Standard Catalog of World Coins 2001-Date, 4th Edition

State Quarters Deluxe Collector's Folder





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