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Inexpensive Type Coins Make Great Sets
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
January 03, 2012

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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At some point in every coin collector’s life, he or she realizes that collecting everything is out of the question. (Louis Eliasberg was the exception here, of course, as he formed a complete collection of all known U.S. issues.) Usually the issue is cost, as there are many coins that are simply too expensive for ordinary collectors to contemplate owning.

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Another problem can be availability. That is, even if the collector is rich, there are some coins that are so rare that an appropriate example may not be offered during the individual’s collecting lifetime.

So what is the collector of modest means and finite life span to do? One possibility is to be satisfied with incomplete sets. As examples from my collecting life, I soon discovered that if I wanted to collect either Barber or Standing Liberty quarters, I would have to be content to form sets missing at least one key coin in each case (1901-S for the Barbers and 1916 for the Standing Liberties).

Another possibility that is particularly relevant for 19th-century issues is to collect by type rather than striving for complete date/mintmark collections. As Q. David Bowers explains in United States Coins by Design Types, “instead of collecting a single series or specialty by die varieties or mintmarks, a display is formed consisting of one each of many different motifs.”

In other words, rather than trying to assemble a set of all the different dates and varieties of nickel three-cent pieces, for example, the type collector is content to have just one nickel three-cent piece for his type collection. With this introduction, I will now list 10 early type coins that I consider to be interesting and relatively inexpensive. Each can be obtained in a nice, collectible grade at the present time for $100 or less. Note that my list is not intended to be exhaustive; I can think of at least as many additional early types that could be included in an inexpensive set as the ones I’ve chosen to discuss here.

1. Draped Bust half cent in Very Good-8. With a design by Robert Scot, a decent circulated Draped Bust half cent will be an impressive coin to show your non-collecting friends. Coined between 1800 and 1808, most of the dates had relatively large mintages, so finding one in VG-8 for $100 or less should not be terribly difficult.

If you have a choice of dates, the one to look for is 1803, with a mintage of just 97,900 pieces. The November 2011 edition of Numismatic News “Coin Market” assigns this date a value of $95 in VG-8 and $105 in Fine-12.

On one interesting variety of 1804 half cent, Liberty appears to have a spiked chin. With a listed value of $105 in VG-8, it’s possible that you can obtain a well circulated, but still presentable, example of this variety for $100 or less.

2. Draped Bust large cent in VG-8. Like the half cent, the large cent of this period was designed by Robert Scot. Also like the half cent, this is a suitably old and impressive type coin for your inexpensive early collection.

Although this series of large cents was minted between 1796 and 1807, you’re unlikely to find any of the pre-1800 varieties for less than $100, unless it’s in a condition that you wouldn’t want to include in your collection.

Beginning in 1801, however, you’ll find that most of the dates are valued at $100 or less in VG-8. Actually, the only date from 1801 to 1807 that is worth more than this is the 1804, which is a key date that lists for $1,000 even in About Good-3.

If you have a choice of dates, go for the 1806 at exactly $100 in VG-8. This is a coin with a mintage significantly below that of the 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln cent, and you can be sure that 1806 large cents were not differentially saved.

3. Two-cent piece in About Uncirculated-Uncirculated. The two-cent piece was designed by James B. Longacre, who is better known for designing the Indian Head cent. This was a short-lived series minted between 1864 and 1872, with only proofs struck in 1873. The two-cent piece is perhaps most noteworthy as the first U.S. coin to display the motto “In God We Trust.”

If you haven’t priced two-cent pieces lately, you may be amazed to find that most of the early dates, between 1864 (large motto) and 1867, should still be available in AU-50 to Mint State-60 for $100 or less. The most expensive of these, the 1867, lists for $96 in AU-50; the earlier dates range between $88 and $98 in MS-60.

Of course, an MS-60 two-cent piece might be a real horror, with staining or damage but no wear. You may find that a nice AU-55 or -58 would be a more presentable coin for your set.

4. Nickel three cent piece in AU-Unc. Because of hoarding of all silver coins, including the silver three-cent piece, a nickel version of the denomination, with suitable design change, was introduced in 1865. The coin was also useful for retiring fractional currency of the three-cent denomination. Silver hoarding continued until 1876, after which the nickel three-cent piece became less useful and mintages (with one exception), dropped precipitously.

Designed by James B. Longacre, nickel three-cent pieces were coined between 1865 and 1889, with low mintages and some proof-only issues after 1876. The one exception to the low mintages in the latter years of the series occurred in 1881, when more than a million of the coin were struck. For type purposes, all of the dates through 1876 (and 1881) are valued at less than $100 in AU-50, with the 1876 (162,000 minted) having the highest value at $95 in this grade. In MS-60, three-cent pieces from 1865-1868 are worth exactly $100 each. As before, a coin in AU-55 or -58 might be more attractive than one in MS-60.

5. Capped Bust dime in Very Fine-20. Designed by John Reich, Capped Bust dimes were minted between 1809 and 1837, with minor design changes in 1828. Although some of the earlier dates are priced below $100 in F-12 (1820, 1821, 1823/22, 1825, 1827), dates with values appropriate for our inexpensive early type set are found in the dimes of the second variety, coined from 1828-1837.

Capped Bust dimes of the second variety valued at less than $100 in VF-12 are some of the 1829 varieties (medium 10 cents, small 10 cents), 1830 small and large 10 cents, and all of the dates from 1831-1837. Mintages are relatively large for the period, ranging from 485,000 to 1,410,000.

6. Seated Liberty dime in AU-50. Designed by Christian Gobrecht, Seated Liberty dimes, in one form or another, were minted between 1837 and 1891. Varieties include dimes with no stars on the obverse, dimes with stars, dimes on which the stars are replaced with “United States of America,” and dimes with arrows at the date. Seated Liberty dimes valued at less than $100 in AU-50 can be found in the group minted between 1875 and 1891.

Within this group, you’ll find a large number of dates to choose from. Examples include 1875, 1875-CC, 1875-S, 1882-1884, and 1887-1889. All of these have rather large mintages, which is why they’re so reasonably valued for coins in the late 19th century. Given the choice, I would probably opt for the 1875-CC because of the mintmark.

7. Capped Bust quarter in VG-8. There are two varieties of Capped Bust quarters, the large-size (27mm diameter) variety designed by John Reich and minted from 1815 to 1828 and the reduced-size version (24.3mm) designed by William Kneass and coined from 1831 to 1838. Kneass also omitted the motto above the eagle on the reverse.

Although several of the earlier version are valued at or below $100 in G-4 and would be well worth including in an inexpensive type collection, I’ve chosen to highlight the smaller coin, as it should be available in a slightly higher grade for the same money. In fact, with one exception (1834 O/F in OF), all of the dates from 1831 to 1838 are valued between $90 and $100 in VG-8. If you can afford a slightly better coin, you’ll find that the value listed for each in F-12 is either $110 or $115. With the exception of 1835, of which nearly 2 million were coined, mintages range from 156,000 (1833) to 832,000 (1838).

8. Seated Liberty quarter with motto in Extremely Fine-40. Designed by Christian Gobrecht, with motto Seated Liberty quarters were minted from 1875 to 1891. Several dates at the beginning of the series (1875-1878) and a few at the end (1888-S, 1891, 1891-S) had large mintages and should be available in a nice circulated grade for $100 or less. In EF-40, the following dates have values of $62.50: 1875, 1876, 1876-S, 1877-S, 1878, 1888-S, 1891, and 1891-S. In addition, the variety of 1876-CC with fine reeding lists for just $90 in EF-40.

Another Seated Liberty 25-cent type that I find appealing and remarkably inexpensive is the version with both arrows at the date and rays around the eagle. The purpose of the arrows and rays was to indicate that the weight of the coin had been reduced. All three date/mintmark varieties of this type are inexpensive, although none qualify for the under $100 in EF-40 category.

The 1853 arrows and rays quarter had a mintage of more than 15 million and lists for just $44 in VF-20. The same coin with a New Orleans mintmark had less than a tenth of the mintage and is worth $85 in VF-20.

In 1854 and 1855, the arrows were retained, but the rays were removed. With large mintages, both 1854 and 1855 list for $70 in EF-40. The “normal” variety of the 1854-O is worth just $60 in VF-20.

9. Bust Half Dollar in VF-20. Capped Bust half dollars, designed by John Reich and minted between 1807 and 1836, come in a bewildering array of variations and are great fun to collect. In fact, there’s even a well known organization of collectors of these coins. Called the Bust Half Nut Club, the club was formed “in the late 1960s as a group dedicated to collecting, studying, and sharing information among fellow members about Bust Half Dollars attributed by Overton [famous reference identifying different die pairs] die marriage.” Obviously, the BHNC is not appropriate for someone interested in just a type coin of this variety.

For the type collector, sizable mintages mean that there are many possibilities for your collecting pleasure. According to the second edition of the Professional Edition of the Red Book (A Guide Book of United States Coins), “Examples of most dates and overdates are easily found in just about any grade desired, from Fine and VF to MS.”

Dates listing for $100 or less in VF-20 begin to appear and become plentiful between 1821 and 1836. In fact, there’s at least one variety in the under-$100 category for each date during this period.

Of course, after you purchase one of these large and attractive coins, you may decide that you would like to pursue the whole series. From there, it’s an easy step to the BHNC.

10. Seated Liberty half dollar in VF-20. Seated Liberty half dollars were designed by Christian Gobrecht and were coined, often in sizable quantities, between 1839 and 1891. Within this lengthy period, there are varieties without the motto “In God We Trust,” with arrows and rays, with arrows only, and with the motto. In each case, the type collector should be able to find a number of dates that cost less than $100 apiece in VF-20. Toward the end of the run, from 1875 through 1891, several dates list for $100 or less even in EF-40.

In the first group of Seated Liberty halves, minted from 1839-1853, examples of dates worth less than $100 in VF-20 are 1839 with drapery, 1840 small letters, 1840-O, 1842 medium date, 1847, 1847-O, and 1850-O. The range of values for these dates is from $65 to $90.

As with the Seated quarters discussed above, 1853 brought a weight reduction to the Seated Liberty half dollar. In VF-20, the 1853 with arrows and rays lists for just $88.

In the run of motto-less Seated Liberty half dollars minted from 1856-1866, the majority of the dates list for less than $100 in VF-20. Several of these are valued at either $100 or $105 in EF-40.

The same can be said for many of the dates with mottoes, minted between 1866 and 1891. Mintages dropped a great deal after 1878, with the exception of 1891, and you will hard pressed to find any of these dates in the under $100 category in any grade.

Of course, it’s easy for me to list coins for an inexpensive type collection based on values found in “Coin Market.” The question is, “Can you really purchase nice coins at these prices?” From my limited experience, the answer is yes. In 2009, for example, I bought a certified VG-10 1831 Capped Bust quarter for $80. A little over a year later, I found an 1835 that I would conservatively grade F-12 for just $82.

I looked on eBay at finished auctions to see what some of these types were selling for. In each case, I was able to find coins that fit the grade and price criteria.

I will admit that some of the coins I saw were optimistically graded and sometimes wildly overpriced even when graded correctly. However, if you are willing to overlook the dross, you can find decent coins, and you should be able to obtain them for amounts in line with the information in this article.

Happy type collecting.



More Coin Collecting Resources:

2012 U.S. Coin Digest: Type Coins

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Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition



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