By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek....
Has the holiday season sapped your coin budget? We know how that goes. But despair not! We’ve put together a list of five great modern coins that you should be looking for right now. None of them will break the bank, and finding them may be richly rewarding!
1968 Proof Quarters with Deep Cameo
Proof sets returned in 1968 after a three-year hiatus. The Mint had upped the price from $2.10 to $5.00 despite the fact that the coins themselves were intrinsically less valuable (even the last silver piece - the Kennedy half dollar - was only 40% silver). What had changed in five years was the Mint’s investment in better packaging materials. Swapping the brown envelope and thin plastic wrapper for an attractive, hard plastic display case meant that newer proof sets would preserve better going forward. That was the plan, anyway. The reality of the situation was somewhat more complicated. The hard plastic cases were not airtight, making the coins of this era even more susceptible to oxidation, hazing, and toning than the pre-’64 proofs.
There was also an effort to produce more cameo coinage in the reintroduced sets, with the emphasis on the silver-clad Kennedy half. You can find other coins in the set with frosty white cameo devices, but they are less common. This is especially true concerning the 1968 Proof quarter.
PCGS has graded fewer than 200 1968 quarters designated Deep Cameo, and of that total, fewer than 25 graded PR69DCAM. These coins typically sell for upwards of $2,300 dollars at auction. This may come as a surprise to those who think every modern proof is issued a PR69DCAM label when submitted to a third party grading company, but it’s indicative of a transitional phase of proof production that encouraged the Mint to experiment in order to keep up with customer demand and deliver a world-class product.
1968-S quarters sell in the $100-200 range in PR68DCAM and is a $50-$100 coin in PR67DCAM. No matter how you look it, this is a coin that outperforms the run-of-the-mill 1968 proof set and with the cost of acquisition so low (1968 proof sets sell for the silver cost of the half dollar), it pays to take a look.
Varieties to Consider: The 1968 proof set is chock-full of varieties, due perhaps to the Mint trying to keep up with the three million plus orders they had for the set. Look for DDOs, DDRs, and even an RPM.
Full Step Jefferson Nickels from 1965-1970
The Jefferson nickel set is the ultimate beginner’s set, you say? Well, sure - if you aren’t too concerned about strike or bag marks. The Jefferson nickel has delighted and frustrated series specialists for years, especially because finding Full Step examples dated 1965-1970 is so damned hard.
Even in Choice BU, a 1965 Full Step Jefferson (non-SMS) will set you back five thousand dollars. Ditto for the 1968-D. The relatively “easy” 1968-S and 1970-S still fetch hundreds of dollars at MS-63 and MS-64. In Gem, you’re looking at four figures. All told, the major third party grading companies have seen fewer than 200 Full Step Jefferson nickels from this six-year period.
There are some problems common to the series from this time. A lack of eye appeal, poor luster, and mushy strikes are to be expected. Also, what defines a Full Step Jefferson varies from year to year and mint to mint. Some can be found with six steps and some with five. It’s enough to drive you crazy.
But that’s not the end of it. Excessive contact marks also keep most of the five-cent coins struck for circulation from achieving high grades. More than most coins, the Jefferson nickel’s design has a knack for bringing out scuffs and scrapes. Since Jefferson’s bust dominates the obverse, practically every hit is in a focal area. On the reverse, a misplaced ding will dash any hopes of pulling out that valuable, needle-in-a-haystack Full Step coin.
Discouraged yet? Don’t be. Even with all of this working against you, Full Step Jeffersons are out there. You just have to look and keep looking. These common-date coins carry no numismatic premium unless they come certified, so getting rolls and rolls of them raw is no big investment. If you’re anything like us, the thought of spending a cold winter day sitting at a grading lamp counting steps can be awfully compelling. Who knows? You might find that truly exceptional nickel.
Must-Buy Book: Bernard Nagengast is our kind of numismatist. His book The Jefferson Nickel Analyst (2nd ed., 2002) is the alpha and omega on the probability of finding these elusive coins. Even if you aren’t ready to dedicate years of your life looking for five- and six-step Jefferson nickels, but want to make a serious go at virtually any other modern series, you can learn a lot from Nagengast’s approach. We can’t recommend it enough.
1977-S Doubled Die Eisenhower Dollar Proof
Disclosure Time: Charles is an active member of the Ike Group.
Here’s your chance to get in on the ground level of an exciting variety that is unpublished and unsearched. Ike Group member Andy Oskam reported this newly-discovered doubled die obverse Ike dollar after a dealer showed him one at the 2012 Whitman Expo in Baltimore. According to Andy, the coin “has doubling in the IN GOD WE TRUST MOTTO, which appears as very nice north-south doubling with left-side letters of the motto being the clearest.”
The doubling is so dramatic that it’s practically naked-eye visible. How it eluded collectors and variety hunters for all these years is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the doubling is so significant that it makes every Ike doubled die currently listed in the Cherrypicker’s Guide look nondescript, and given the fact that we currently know of only ONE example, finding another one at your local coin shop could prove to be lucrative indeed!
The Ike Group is trying to get its hands on the discovery piece in order to catalogue it and include it in their upcoming Eisenhower dollar series guide. As more examples turn up, it’s only a matter of time before the 1977-S DDO Ike Proof becomes a required coin for the Complete Variety Ike Registry Set. If that happens, you won’t be the only person searching for it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
About the 1977-S Proof: The 1977-S Proof is found in 1977 proof sets. Although the market is saturated with tens of thousands of pretenders, really thick, frosty cameo Ike proofs from 1977 are worth holding onto if you are willing to take a long view. In 1978, the Mint changed its proof coining process, allowing for consistently-rich cameo contrasts, but Ikes from 1971-1977 are hit or miss, no matter what the TPG holder says.
1981-S Business Strike Susan B. Anthony Dollar in High Grades
Forget all the nonsense about the Susan B. Anthony Wide Rim variety and the 1979 and 1981 Type 2 Proofs. Sophisticated collectors of the series know that in terms of sheer difficulty, the 1981-S business strike is the toughest coin to find nice.
The coin was produced solely for mint sets and shipped from San Francisco to Denver for packaging. The jaunt didn’t suit the coins well at all, as most BU 1981-S SBA’s grade out at MS-64 or lower. Still, with some diligence, MS-65 examples are not elusive. Finding one will net you $25-$30 dollars in today’s market. Pull a MS-66 and you’ll do even better, with examples trading at $500-$600.
Find a second MS-67 and the sky’s the limit: The only one yet graded by PCGS has a long pedigree of Anglemier, Golan, Murphy, and now resides in the number one 1981 Mint Set Registry Set belonging to PCGS member haletj. It’s not a strong 67 to our eyes, which means a stronger 67 could command $10,000 or more if offered to the right buyer.
1981 would have been the end for the series, had a sudden and unexpected shortage of the coin in the Treasury’s reserves not taken place in 1999, a year before the launch of the Sacagawea golden dollar. Interest in the series is only slightly better today than it was during its initial production run. Nevertheless, a market is growing for MS-66 and better specimens from all dates and mint marks. The hobby-at-large may not know it yet, but series like these are key to the future growth of the hobby. Great coins are still available for a small premium over face value now, but probably won’t be once all of the mint sets are picked over. You know what they say about those who wait too long?
With a distribution of over three million sets, nobody is going to confuse the 1981 Susan B. Anthony dollar for a key date. Sure, there are those who like to point at mintages and suggest that this makes the coin rarer. That’s plain dealerspeak for I’d like to make a couple extra bucks on folks that don’t know better. If you’d actually like to see the 1981 Susan B. Anthony dollar become scarce, spend the ones that don’t look up to snuff. That’ll help thin the herd, draw new collectors into the hobby, and might even help your bottom line down the road.
2008 Silver Eagle – Reverse of 2007 Variety
The American Silver Eagle is a popular coin both inside and outside of the hobby. This is both good news and bad news for this variety (perhaps more correctly referred to as a transitional error). The good news is that most non-traditional coin dealers (read: bullion stores) and collectors who have the coins are unlikely to know about the well-publicized variety. The bad news is that a fair number of the estimated 45,000 or so 2008 Silver Eagles struck with the 2007 reverse are likely out of the hands of the coin hobby and held by bullion investors.
At this point, approximately 6,000 of the coins have been attributed, leaving a majority of them in the wild... to be discovered by you.
There are several naked-eye pick-up points to help you differentiate the 2007 reverse from the 2008. Many guides point to the different U’s in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. On the 2007, the U has serifs at the top, while the 2008 forgoes the serif look in exchange for a U drawn with a trunk on the right side. And this isn’t the only change in the lettering, as the coin underwent a complete typographical overhaul. The 2007 also features prominent serifs on the foot of the 1 in 1 OZ. The 2008 version lacks this feature.
The 2007 has more spread among the stars above the heraldic eagle. On the 2008, the rows of stars practically touch one another because the stars are slightly larger. Lastly, the tilde between the words SILVER and ONE (at about six o’clock on the reverse) has sharp angles on the 2007 and is rounded and wavy on the 2008. It is also slightly longer on the 2007.
Right now, this variety sells for $300-$500 apiece in MS-69, the typical grade for circulation strike bullion coins. In MS-70, you may get a price approaching $1,000, but the odds of getting this kind of price is fading as populations grow to the expected ratio of one MS-70 for every 10 MS-69. If you are fortunate enough to find one and make MS-70, we’d advise to sell while you still can.
Also, attractive toners in this variety will likely command premiums well beyond recent auction results.
A Quick Note: If you like American Silver Eagles, or bullion coins in general, be sure to check out John Mercanti’s new book from Whitman American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program (2012). Our review is posted here. Charles briefly visited with Mr. Mercanti at the recent Whitman Expo and was pleased to get his copy personalized and signed.
Nagengast, Bernard A. The Jefferson Nickel Analyst - 2nd Edition. E & K Cointainer Co., 2002. Print.
Fivaz, Bill and J. T. Stanton. Cherrypicker’s Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins (Vol. II). Ed. Ken Potter. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, LLC., 2011. Print.
Yeoman, R. S. A Guide Book of United States Coins 2013. Ed. Kenneth Bressett. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, LLC., 2012. Print.
FLIP OF A COIN:
The Grey Lady: Nowadays, we have a fairly set idea of the role of the first lady. It wasn’t always so. Take, for example, First Lady Anna Harrison. Mrs. Harrison was the oldest first lady in U.S. History, and due to illness she never moved to Washington with her ill-fated husband, President William Henry Harrison. Her widowed daughter-in-law Jane served as first lady instead. Anna Harrison was one of five first ladies featured in 2009’s First Spouse $10 Gold Bullion Program.
Six: The number of people whose quotations appear on the reverses of U.S. Commemoratives: Emma Lazarus (1986 Statue of Liberty dollar), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1991-1995 World War II dollar), James Madison (1993 Bill of Rights $5), Joshua Chamberlain (1995 Civil War dollar), Eugene Kennedy Shriver (1995 Special Olympics dollar), Abraham Lincoln (2009 Abraham Lincoln dollar). Personally, we think blocks of text work better on medals than on coins, per se, but it’s one of the identifying trends of the modern series.
Now I Want Ice Cream: In the 1830s, a Kentucky farmer named Josiah Sprinkle minted his own silver dollars and put them into circulation. Local businesses seem to have had no problem accepting them, because, like so many other DIY denominations in American history, they contained a full dollar’s worth (or more) of silver! The government eventually brought Mr. Sprinkle into court for passing counterfeit money, but a local judge and jury acquitted him on all counts. Unfortunately, no known “Sprinkle” dollars exist. You can read all about it in the 2012 edition of Pete Smith’s excellent American Numismatic Biographies.