By Al Doyle for CoinWeek....
The good news: It's tax refund season, which often provides collectors with the funds to indulge and buy a special coin.
The bad news: Many Americans will be receiving lower refunds than they have gotten in recent years. There may still be enough to venture into the numismatic market, but this year's splurge will take place at a moderate level.
Even in a year of smaller direct deposits and checks from Uncle Sam, collectors should be able to take $100 to $500 from their refunds to buy something that would normally be out of reach. So what are some of the better buys in this price range?
Don't scoff at the idea of buying a special coin for $100 to $150. Knowledge and diligent searching can pay off in the quest for scarcer material. This batch of better-date nickels are solid values.
Consider the 1921 Buffalo in the MS-60 to MS-62 range. This issue is overshadowed by the key-date status of the 1921-S, but nice '21-Ps are hardly common stuff. The 1934-D may fall into the short set category, but it's elusive in MS-63. Those who prefer circulated Buffalos might seek the 1918-S in full horn Very Fine. Stepping up to Extra Fine is also a feasible option.
It's not the most publicized series, but Liberty nickels include plenty of tougher dates at wallet-friendly prices. The 1895 and 1896 sport original mintages below 10 million. Something in the EF-45 to MS-60 range would make a nice addition to a collection. The same applies to the 1884.
What if silver is more your style? Seated Liberty dimes of 1875 to 1891 can be found for under $100 to $150 in AU-55 to MS-61. Go a bit lower on the grading scale, and the Carson City dimes of 1875 to 1877 become a very appealing option.
Set aside a Ben Franklin to $150 from a tax refund and turn it into a nice (EF-40 to MS-61) Barber or Standing Liberty quarter. The 1913-D Barber quarter (mintage 1,450,800) in EF to AU looks like a winner, as does the 1906-O (mintage 2,056,000) in EF. Numismatists who are captivated by the classic design of the Standing quarter can choose from 27 different dates in the series in Extra Fine or better without exceeding the $150 mark.
Speaking of silver quarters, Canada's Edward VII and George V issues of 1902 to 1936 tend to be heavily worn from circulation. These attractive coins are worth a look in EF to MS-60. If more modern Canadian products are on the list, lower-mintage silver Maple Leafs such as the 1995, 1996 and 1997 (just 100,970 struck) include an ounce of silver as a play on bullion prices.
If the tax refund is on the higher side, a purchase of $200 to $500 could be on the agenda. Vintage copper is always popular, and a pair of short-lived series fit nicely into this price range.
Classic Head cents of 1808 to 1814 are far from common in Fine or better. Pick up an evenly worn Fine with chocolate brown surfaces, and you've got a 200-year old prize.
Coronet Head half cents of 1849 to 1857 are available for $200 and up in MS-60 to MS-63. With just eight dates, completing the series in circulated or Mint State condition is a realistic goal for the average person.
Anyone with an appreciation for classic artistry will be drawn to large-size U.S. currency. Series 1902 $5 and $10 National Bank notes are riveting examples of old-style engraving (check the Pilgrims landing on the back of the $5), and the price is right for notes in "collector grades" such as Very Fine and Extra Fine.
Currency dealer Tim Kyzivat of Western Springs, Illinois. didn't hesitate to recommend the Series 1902 Nationals.
"They are certainly a good option in VF to AU," he said. "Most people will want a note from their hometown or state, If you're looking for a type note, go for the highest grade you can afford from a common area such as New York or Chicago. Eye-appealing $5s trade for $275 to $350, and the $10s are in the same general price range. A large-sized National from anywhere would be a nice addition to a collection."
Kyzivat offered another piece of advice for paper money fans.
"1902 to 1908 date backs are much rarer than the plain backs, but they sell for a small premium," he said. "You get significantly better rarity for about the same money."
Ever wanted a key date, but it was too expensive? Michael Hauser of Hauser's Coin Co. in Lakeland, Fla. advised collectors to take a look at current prices before waving the white flag of surrender:
"Since the market is driven by bullion now, you can sometimes get key and semi-keys for $250 to $500," he observed. "Some of the better dates are cheaper than they were five years ago."
This could be a good time to search for scarcer dates from the pre-1850 era. It may take some patience to find an 1814 Bust dime or the 1848 Seated Liberty half dollar in VF or better, but the ultimate prize is worth the wait.
Prices for common-date Morgan and Peace dollars have risen in recent months, which means the scarcer issues may be a better deal relative to the so-called "generic" items. 1889-S and 1891-O Morgans in MS-63 along with the 1934 Peace dollar (mintage 954,057) in MS-64 all make the under $500 list with room to spare.
Owning a gold coin of any size is the dream of many collectors, and even a modest tax refund can make it happen. Modern 1/10-ounce issues such as the Eagle, Maple Leaf and Austrian Philharmonic are under $200, and a wide range of older fractional gold as well as modern 1/4-ounce products can be had for less than $125 (the Mexican 2 1/2 peso) to $500.
Even with spot prices in the $1665/ounce vicinity, pre-1933 U.S. gold coinage such as Liberty and Indian $2.50 and $5 pieces can still be had for $500 or less. That includes some low-mintage $2.50 Libs. Among the dates to look for are the 1888 (16,098 struck), 1890 (8,813) and 1895 (6,119).
Don't let a smaller than expected tax refund keep you out of the market. It doesn't take four figures to purchase a coin or note that stands out as something special.