by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ………
Many numismatists have been forced to adopt cautious spending habits when it comes to buying coins as the U.S. economy and employment market stumbles along. Even lean times don't diminish a strong collecting instinct, but having less disposable income means fewer impulse purchases and a greater emphasis on seeking out something better than normal.
So what are some of the better options for the cost-conscious U.S. coin specialist in 2013? These 10 series include a number of items that provide solid value for the money spent..
Affordable and historic: While the earliest U.S. coins tend to sell for more than what hobbyists can afford, there is one happy exception to the general rule. Check out the Draped Bust half cents of 1800 to 1808. Decent-looking specimens of these 200-year old plus coppers aren't common, which means spending $100 or so for a half cent in Fine or $175 in Very Fine is a smart way to go.
If lower-mintage dates are of interest, consider the Coronet half cents of 1849 to 1857. Three of the eight dates struck for circulation feature mintages of less than 40,000, and a second trio were produced to the tune of 40,430 (1856), 55,358 (1854) and 56,500 (1855). Don't be scared off by those numbers, as prices are reasonable.
The smallest Bust coinage: Due to considerable popularity and more than 400 varieties, Bust half dollars get a great deal of attention and publicity. At the other end of the spectrum, Bust half dimes tend to be neglected.
It's an ideal series if a complete date set is the goal, as there are just nine coins (1829 to 1837) to obtain. There are no killer keys, and the price per coins is in the $65 to $110 range in Fine and Very Fine. Eye appeal is a must, as many pieces that technically meet the grade aren't very attractive.
Find them if you can: Middle of the pack dates such as the 1875 three-cent nckel along with the 1874 and 1876 Shield nickels may draw blank stares from most collectors, but just try and obtain these "sneaky rare" pieces in Extra Fine.
The 1875 trime's mintage of 228,000 is less than the famed 1916-D Mercury dime, so its elusiveness makes sense. The mid-1870s Shield nickels were struck in decent numbers (3,538,000 and 2,530,000 respectively), so why are there relatively few survivors in the higher circulated grades? Blame it on poor strikes combined with heavy attrition from circulation. It may take some time, but not a ton of cash ($300 to $350 total) to get these underrated dates in EF.
MS-63 is the grade: Why buy common Morgan dollars when scarcer dates can be obtained for $150 to $500? Silver dollar specialist Louis Fogleman of The Coin Shop in Farmington, N.M. explained how to go for better dates without breaking the bank.
"Instead of buying an 1885-O in MS-65, get an 1885-S in MS-63," he said. "Look for hand-picked, nice -63s. Get a 1900-S instead of the 1900-O or P-mint. CC Morgans in MS-63 are worth buying. Value is the key word today. Get coins that aren't available in huge numbers, because these are the coins educated collectors will want when it's time to sell."
A pair of Peace dollars might work for budget-minded buyers who want something better. The mintage for the 1926 (1,939,000) is a fraction of the annual runs for the 1922 to 1925 P-mints. For $75 or so - just a little more than the cost of the most common dates - the value-oriented collector can bag the scarcer date. Moving up the rarity scale, just 848,000 Peace dollars were struck at Philadelphia in 1927, and a certified MS-63 can be had for less than $200.
Be a contrarian: Commemorative half dollars of 1892 to 1954 have been in a prolonged slump. The good news is that many issues are now available at lower prices than they were in the 1990s. Anthony "Mr. Commem" Swiatek of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. recommends several scarcer halves on his best buy list.
"The Hawaiian in MS-65 looks so cheap to me right now," Swiatek declared. "The Missouri plain or 2x2 has come down from $5,000 to $2,200, and I think they offer a lot of potential."
Consider these commemoratives if your budget doesn't allow for four-figure purchases.
"The mintage of the 1935-D and-S Boone with the small 1934 date added is 2,000 apiece," Swiatek said. "If the Mint came out today with a coin that had a mintage of 2,000, it would sell out in a few minutes. The Boones are real winners. The Gettysburg is a good buy for under $500 in MS-64. It has always been a very popular coin."
A traditional favorite: Few American collectors have never purchased an old Indian Head or Lincoln cent. Mark Chaplin of Virg Marshall III in Wymore, Neb. provided his list of best buys in those perenially popular series.
"The 1894 Indian cent in anything above Fine is a really underrated coin," Chaplin said. "I have never seen any quantity of them in VF and EF. The 1885 is similar to the 1894. It's not that expensive, but VFs and EFs always on my want list.
As for Lincoln cents, "I always have trouble keeping the 1909-S in Fine in stock," Chaplin said. "Everybody wants them. It's an easy seller, and I never have very many in stock. I'm always looking for the 1934-D and 1935-S in MS-64 and -65. The '35-S in particular can be had to find with a full strike."
Whether this year's coin budget is skimpy or abundant, these and many other good buys are waiting to be discovered. Happy hunting in 2013.