A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #171 …..
As stated at the beginning of part 1; copper:
The purpose here is to put forth options, mention some pertinent facts related to coin prices, and provide advice, for people who would like to obtain classic U.S. coins and do not wish to pay more than $500 for any one coin. Those who will not spend an amount near $500 may prefer my earlier series on classic U.S. coins that cost less than $250 each, or my piece for absolute beginners. (Clickable links are in blue.)
This series is aimed at people who have not committed to present collecting objectives or are wondering about future collecting plans. A very general understanding of coin types and coin grades is all that is needed to understand the points being discussed. (Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70: Poor-01; Fair-02; AG-03; Good-04,06; VG-08,10; Fine-12,15; VF-20,25,30, 35; Extremely Fine-XF-40,45; AU-50,53,55,58; ‘Mint State’ -60 to -70.) Many exciting, classic U.S. coins are not expensive.
Here in part 2, the focus is on silver dimes. For less than $500 per coin, series of silver dimes can, to some extent, be collected by year, ‘by date’ (including mint locations), or by type. There are many different sets that may be assembled. Options are discussed.
A ‘type coin’ is one of the least scarce dates of a design type. A ‘type set’ usually includes one representative of each design type in a set of coins of different design types. Nineteenth century type sets are popular, especially those that are limited to one denomination, such as dimes, or limited to one metal: copper, nickel, silver or gold.
Scott Travers notes that “type coins trade more frequently than better dates. People know what they are worth.” Scott recommends “coins with original color, coins that have not been altered or dipped.”
A type set of classic, silver dimes requires just twelve coins: 1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796-97; 2) Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1807; 3) Capped Bust, ‘Large’ 1809-28; 4) Capped Bust, ‘Small’ 1828-37; 5) Liberty Seated, No Stars on Obverse (front) 1837-38; 6) Liberty Seated with Stars and No Drapery on Obverse 1838-40; 7) Liberty Seated with Stars and Drapery on Obverse 1840-1853, 1856-60; 8) Liberty Seated — Arrows & Stars on Obverse 1853-55; 9) Liberty Seated – Legend on Obverse 1860-73, 1875-91; 10) Liberty Seated – Arrows & Legend on Obverse. 1873-74; 11) Barber 1892-1916; 12) Mercury 1916-45.
Silver dimes of the thirteenth type, Roosevelt 1946-64, are modern coins, not classic coins. Post-1934 Mercs are modern coins as well, though someone collecting Mercury Dimes ‘by date’ should include them all, if practical. (Please read the reasons as to why 1933/34 is the dividing line between classic coins and modern coins.)
When interviewed in relation to the topic of coins currently valued at less than $500 each, Scott Travers spoke highly of “bread and butter coins, the ones in the grades of 63, 64 and 65 that are type coins, which exist in sufficient quantity to be traded frequently enough to allow for their fluidity in acquisitions and sales. They are easy to track and easy to purchase,” Travers emphasizes. Scott finds Liberty Seated and Barber Dimes, plus pre-1931 quarters, that grade from 63 to 65 to “offer tremendous values” when “they are available in the $500 range.”
Travers is the author of The Coin Collector’s Survival Manual, of which seven editions have been published. Further, he has written a variety of other books about coins. Moreover, Travers is a frequent commentator on radio and television programs. Scott has also served as an expert witness in several legal cases relating to coins.
In terms of pre-1917 dimes that grade from 63 to 65, there are many dimes from which to choose. A PCGS or NGC certified MS-63 1858, which is of the Star Obverse (front) type (#7 in the list above) could probably be found for below $500. In Nov. 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-63 1858 for $427.63.
Regarding the type with the legend on the obverse (1860-73, ’75-91), there are many PCGS or NGC certified MS-63 or MS-64 dimes available. For example, in Dec. 2012, Heritage sold a PCGS graded MS-64 1875-S for $352.50.
Although Travers’ point regarding the “fluidity” of markets for the least scarce dates is well taken, some collectors prefer better dates. For many people, collecting relatively rarer coins is more fun than collecting less rare coins. Besides, rare coins are famous among seasoned collectors and in the history of coin collecting.
Scarce or rare Liberty Seated Dimes in Extremely Fine(XF)-40 to AU-55 grades are available for well under $500 each. It may be a good idea to consider PCGS or NGC certified representatives of the following dates, from the 1830s and 1840s, in the grades indicated in parentheses: 1837 No Stars (EF-40), 1838 Small Stars (AU-55), 1839 (AU-55 or higher), 1839-O (AU-55), 1840 No Drapery (AU-55 or higher), 1840-O (EF-40), 1840 With Drapery (EF-40), 1841(AU-55 or higher), 1841-O (AU-53), 1842 (AU-55 or higher), 1842-O (EF-40), 1843 (AU-55 or higher), 1844 (Fine-14 or maybe VF-20), 1845 (AU-55 or higher), 1845-O (VF-20), 1847 (AU-53), 1848 (AU-55 or higher), 1849 (AU-55 or higher).
These are scarce coins, some are rare. Plus, they have commanded respect in the history of coin collecting and have historical significance overall. The U.S. was quite a different place in the 1830s and 1840s, mostly agrarian, and the nation had yet to become a world power.
In Nov. 2012, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS graded EF-40 1837 ‘No Stars’ dime, with a CAC sticker, for $382. In June 2012, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded AU-55 1839-O for $402.50.
Most of the later date Liberty Seated Dimes are available as well. The point just made is that a large percentage of Liberty Seated Dimes from the 1830s and 1840s can be obtained in Extremely Fine-40 or higher grades for less than $500 each.
It is true that someone seeking a nearly complete set of Liberty Seated Dimes will not be able to acquire every date for less than $500 each. If coins that grade from Good-04 to Very Fine-20 are included in addition to Extremely Fine to AU grade coins, however, a set of business strike Liberty Seated Dimes, dating from 1837 to 1891, can be completed except for maybe seven or eight coins, for less than $500 each! Many can be obtained for less than $250 each. In fact, the least scarce dates generally retail, in Fine-12 grade, for less than $35 each.
Before 1838, all U.S. coins were minted in Philadelphia, and, before 1942, Philadelphia Mint coins never had mintmarks. The New Orleans (‘O’) Mint was founded in 1838, the San Francisco (‘S’) Mint in 1854. The Denver Mint began striking U.S. coins in 1906.
Barber Dimes were minted from 1892 to 1916. These are not nearly as scarce as Liberty Seated Dimes.
Returning to Travers’ recommendation of coins that grade from 63 to 65, there are many Barber Dimes available, which are certified as grading 63 or 64, for less than $500 each: 1892 (MS-64), 1892-O (MS-63), 1893 (64), 1896 (63), 1897 (64), 1898 (64), 1899 (64), 1900-S (63), 1901 (64), 1902 (64), 1903 (64), 1904 (64), 1905 (64), 1905-O (63), 1905-S (64), 1906 (64), 1906-D (63), 1906-O (63), 1907 (64), 1907-O (63), 1908 (64), 1908-D (63), 1909 (64), 1910 (64), 1910-D (63), 1911 (64), 1911-D (64), 1911-S (63), 1912 (64), 1912-D (64), 1912-S (63), 1913 (64), 1914 (64), 1914-D (64), 1914-S (63), 1915 (64), 1915-S (63), 1916 (64), 1916-S (64).
So, for less than $500 each, a collector could build a substantial partial set by date (including U.S. Mint locations). Rather than collecting by date (and mintmark), however, collecting ‘by year’ is an option, obtaining one of each year regardless of Mint location. Usually, the Barber Dimes that are not available for less than $500 in MS-63 grade are available in lower grades for less than $500 each. An 1894 and an 1895-S could be purchased in an AU grade for considerably less than $500 a piece. A ‘year’ set of business strike Barber Dimes is certainly practical, given a $500 per coin maximum.
In April 2013, Heritage sold a PCGS graded EF-45 1895-S, with a CAC sticker, for $258.50. In Aug. 2012, this same firm sold a PCGS graded AU-55 1895-S for $282.
Additionally, for less than $500 per coin, a set of Mercury Dimes could be completed. The only real stumbling block would be the 1916-D. A PCGS or NGC graded, Fair-02 or AG-03 1916-D should cost less than $500.
Except for the 1916-D, the 1921, the 1921-D, the 1926-S and the optional 1942/41 overdates, every date in the series of Mercury Dimes costs much less than $500 each in AU-58 grade. Most could be obtained in PCGS or NGC certified MS-64 grade for less than $500 each.
“Since post-1916 silver coins tend to be easy to find in gem, MS-65 and higher, I would not recommend them in 64,” John Albanese declares. “Mercs come so nice, MS-64 pieces are not exciting. Buy the gems or buy Very Fine to AU grade coins. People can collect Mercs in AU-50 to AU-55 for almost nothing, just a little over bullion in most cases. Even the best dates are reasonable in AU-50. It should be easy for collectors to negotiate with dealers who have a few AU grade Mercury Dimes,”
Albanese founded the CAC in 2007 and has been a major force in the coin business since the early 1980s.
In contrast, Kris Oyster likes Mercury Dimes in “MS-63 and MS-64, PCGS or NGC. Buy pretty coins with luster. Do not worry about whether the coins have full bands,” Kris says. Oyster is a managing director at the Dallas Gold & Silver Exchange.
In my view, before buying Mercury Dimes, a collector should first decide how much he or she likes the Mercury Dime series. For a type set, a single PCGS or NGC graded MS-66 dime, from the 1920s, is a good idea. It may be best to avoid the coins that are designated as “Full Bands,” as the premiums tend to be large for a minor difference in appearance. The overall detail on each coin, though, should always be a consideration.
For Mercury Dime enthusiasts, a complete set is practical for less than $500 per coin. It is probably best to forget about the 1942/41 overdates, as these are not really needed for a set ‘by date’ (and U.S. Mint location) anyway.
A 1921 and a 1921-D in Very Fine-30 or so could be found for less than $500 each. In Sept. 2012, Heritage sold a PCGS graded VF-30 1921 for $381.88. In March 2010, Stacks-Bowers sold an NGC graded Very Fine-35 1921-D for $335.
A really pleasing, naturally toned, 1926-S in certified AU-50 grade can be obtained, with some patience, for well under $500. Heritage sold a PCGS graded AU-50 1926-S for $322 in July 2011, and an NGC graded AU-53 1926-S for $345 in March 2010. Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded EF-45 1926-S for $262. I will not comment on these specific coins, as I have not seen them. The point that pleasant, naturally toned, key date Mercs, except maybe the 1916-D, are available for less than $500 is indisputable, though it is always a good idea for each bidding collector to hire an expert to inspect auction lots and other coins.
As for the other dates in the Merc series, AU-55 to AU-58 grade pieces are often sound choices. There are attractive Mercury Dimes that have just a slight amount of wear. Finding really nice AU Mercs would be time consuming, though fun.
Early dimes are much scarcer than Mercs. Fortunately for collectors, early dimes are available for less than $500 each.
Among Capped Bust, “Large” size, dimes, an 1825 and an 1827 could possibly be obtained for less than $500 each in EF-40 grade, certainly these two dates could be found in VF-30 or -35 grade for less than $500. Among Capped Bust, “Small size,” dimes, which were minted from 1828 to 1837, a few dates can be found in AU-50 to AU-53 grade for less than $500 each. Matt Kleinsteuber recommends these.
In Very Fine grades, a whole set of Capped Bust “Small” dimes could be completed, except an 1829 ‘Curl Base 2,’ for much less than $500 each. This is an enjoyable quest.
John Albanese recommends “most bust dimes in Very Fine to AU, depending on the date,” for less than $500 each. “It takes a lot of work and patience to buy nice, circulated bust coins. Many have problems,” Albanese adds. “Nice Very Fine to AU bust silver coins are rarer than most people realize,” John asserts.
In sum, there are a wide range of options in regard to dimes priced at less than $500 each. Before focusing on any one type or series, assembling a type set may be best.
Recent auction data may be employed to provide a sample type set of classic dimes, for educational purposes. I am not recommending the specific coins listed, as I have not seen them. For all I know, some could have been doctored or be otherwise problematic. My guess is that several of them are really nice coins and a point here is to give an impression of the coins that could practically be included in a type set of dimes for less than $500 each, sometimes much less than $500!
Retail prices are usually a little higher than auction prices, though auction prices are higher than retail prices in some instances. Collectors may wish to include different dates or the same dates in different grades. There is no point in seeking a Draped Bust, Small Eagle dime for a price below $500, so a 1796 or 1797 dime has to be the lone exception to the $500 limit. The average price for a whole type set of dimes could certainly be much less than $500 per coin. (Abbreviations used below: HA= Heritage, SBG= Stack’s-Bowers, LS= Liberty Seated)
1. Draped Bust, Small Eagle: 1796 NGC “AG Details,” HA 08/12, $881.25
2. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle: 1807 PCGS graded AG-03, HA 12/12, $352.50
3. Capped Bust, “Large”: 1820 PCGS VF-35, SBG 08/12, $441.00
4. Capped Bust, “Small”: 1832 PCGS AU-53, HA 02/13, $440.63
5. LS, No Stars: ’37 PCGS EF-40 CAC, HA 11/11 $402.50
6. LS, No Drapery: 1838 Large Stars NGC EF-45, HA 05/13, $135.13!
7. LS, Stars Obv., Drapery: 1842 PCGS AU-50 CAC, HA 09/12, $188.00
8. LS, Stars Obv., Arrows: 1854 PCGS AU-53, Goldbergs 09/11, $150.
9. LS, Legend Obv.: 1861 PCGS MS-64, HA 08/12, $381.88
10. LS, Arrows: 1873 NGC MS-62, SBG 03/12, $491
11. Barber: 1907 NGC graded MS-64, SBG 05/13, $223.00
12. Mercury: 1916-S, PCGS MS-66 CAC, HA 02/13, $381.88
The purpose here is not to promote any particular design type, series, grading service, or grade range. It is important to illustrate the many options available to collectors who wish to acquire classic dimes and do not wish to pay more than $500 per coin. Although not all sets can be truly completed, collecting dimes from 1809 to the present, by date (and mintmark), is certainly practical, for less than $500 per coin. Collectors of classic U.S. coins usually do not expect all of their sets to be totally complete.
©2013 Greg Reynolds
Readers who are interested in other types of classic U.S. coins, and do not wish to spend more than $500 for any one coin, may wish to click to read earlier parts of this series: