Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #224
A CoinWeek Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds....
In the history of coin collecting in the U.S., a large percentage of enthusiasts have sought to complete sets. Indeed, almost all collectors of U.S. coins have aimed to complete a widely recognized set ‘by date’ or by type, at one time or another. In coin stores and at coin conventions, it is often hard to find key dates to sets of classic U.S. coins. In the upcoming auction by the firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg, a substantial number of such ‘key date’ coins will be offered. The purpose here is mention offerings of specific coins and to provide helpful related information for beginning to intermediate level collectors.
From June 1st to 4th, the Goldbergs will auction a wide variety of coins and other numismatic items at their offices in Los Angeles. This event was planned to occur shortly before the start of the Spring Long Beach Expo, which is open to the public from June 5th to 7th. Undoubtedly, many of the collectors who participate directly, or through dealer-agents, in auctions or at coin conventions, are building sets.
One reason why coin collecting is distinct from many other collecting pursuits is that coin collectors often like to complete sets, while collectors of paintings, signed baseballs, ancient pottery, time pieces, rare books, jewelry, animation art, vintage weapons or antique furniture do not usually think in terms of ‘completion’ or ‘sets.’ Indeed, in the culture of coin collecting in the U.S., there is substantial agreement regarding the definitions of major sets. While some aspects of ‘set building’ are subject to varying opinions, the overall definitions and requirements of sets of classic U.S. coin series are largely objective. There is widescale agreement regarding rules, terms and boundaries.
Of course, not all coin collectors wish to complete sets and an excellent coin collection does not need to include a complete set of any sort. While there are other accepted collecting plans, the topic here stems from the longstanding tradition of a majority of U.S. coin collectors seeking to complete sets, at one time or another.
Almost all the keys and semi-key dates mentioned herein are intensely demanded by collectors who seek to complete sets. Several of these coin issues are famous because they are needed to complete sets.
More than a few of the coins mentioned here will sell for less than $2500. Moreover, clues are provided relating to obtaining key dates for less than $1000 each. There are many series of classic U.S. coins that can be practically collected without spending more than $500 on any one coin, though, in regard to some sets, it is necessary to splurge to acquire a key. Also, in many cases when a key date is mentioned, collectors should keep in mind that lower numerical grade or lesser non-gradable representatives of that same date may be much less costly.
One of the most famous coin issues of all time is the 1799 large cent. Joseph Mickley, a pioneering collector in the 19th century, became intrigued when he failed to find a 1799 large cent, the year in which he was born. Mickley systematically assembled sets of classic U.S. coin series and he served as a role model for many other collectors. A large part of his collection was auctioned by the firm of W. E. Woodward in 1867 and the catalogue for that event remains a landmark reference.
Coins of other years in the series of Draped Bust Large Cents are not rare. The 1799 and her sister, the 1799/8 overdate, are the keys. The 1799 ‘Normal Date,’ which I call “Normal Numerals,” is very scarce; there are fewer than 1000 in existence. Only a handful grade above VF-20. The PCGS graded “MS-61” Dan Holmes 1799, which was formerly PCGS graded “AU-58,” was auctioned by the Goldbergs for $977,500 in Sept. 2009.
The currently offered 1799 cent has serious problems and is non-gradable. It has been authenticated by the PCGS and is said to have the details of a Fine grade coin. Miss Liberty and the numerals of the date are very clear, as are the letters in three of the four words in the legend, “STATES OF AMERICA.” The wreath and the denomination, “ONE CENT,” are well outlined with some detail.
The cataloguers figure that it merits a net grade of ‘VG-08.’ A gradable Fine-12 1799 would have a retail value of around $15,000, and a gradable VG-08 coin might retail for $6750 or so. It is hard to place even a ballpark value on this piece, especially without examining it.
Though not nearly as rare as 1799 Draped Bust Cents, the 1823 and her nearly identical twin, the 1823/2, are keys to the series of Matron Head Large Cents, which date from 1816 to 1835. There is a non-certified 1823/2 in this auction that is catalogued as grading “Fine-12.” The ‘overdate’ is particularly clear.
Although I am not commenting on the quality of this specific piece, it is indisputable that it will be much less expensive than 1823/2 large cents that grade VF-25 or higher, which almost always sell for much more than a $1000 each. A PCGS graded ‘EF-40’ 1823/2 was recently auctioned for more than $3000.
Though much more common than 1823/2 large cents, the 1877 is the key to the series of Indian Cents, which were minted from 1859 to 1909. In circulated grades, most of the other dates are relatively inexpensive. More than a few dates in Good-04 grade can be obtained for less than $2 each, and, for less than $50 per coin, a large number of dates in various grades can be easily obtained. An 1877 in Good-04 grade, however, would be likely to retail for $500 to $700.
In this auction, there is an 1877 that was judged to be non-gradable by experts at the NGC and is stated to have the ‘details’ of an AU grade coin. An 1877 that really graded AU-50 would sell for more than $2000, possibly much more. This piece might be a good value for a price below $1000. After all, it could fit into a set of EF-40 to AU-53 grade Indian Cents. It is not unusual for collectors to build such a set.
Besides the 1877, the 1909-S is the scarcest business strike in the Indian Cent series. There are three in this auction, all of which are PCGS graded: VG-10, VF-25, and MS-62, respectively. The 1909-S that is graded “VF-25” has a sticker of approval from the CAC.
Although the 1909-S Indian is much scarcer than the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent, there is no doubt that the most famous of all one cent coins is the 1909-S with the designer’s initials, VDB, appearing prominently on the reverse (back of the coin). The 1909-S VDB is the key to the series of Lincoln Cents, which are the most popular series.
In this auction, there are two 1909-S VDB Lincolns, a small number for a major coin auction. One is PCGS certified ‘MS-64 Red & Brown.’ The other is NGC graded “AU-58.” Collecting Lincolns in AU grades is inexpensive and easy. Only the keys are costly. A 1909-S VDB that is NGC graded AU-58 is not much more expensive than one that is NGC graded EF-40.
Also, a certified “AU-58” key date is often purchased by collectors who are assembling sets in ‘mint state’ grades and wish to save money by buying keys that are graded “AU-58.” In a large number of instances, a coin that is certified as grading “AU-58” does not appear significantly different from a coin of the same date that is graded “MS-62” by the same service.
Partly because of the popularity of Lincolns and Indian Cents, people overlook the series of Two Cent Pieces. The 1864-‘Small Motto’ and the 1872 are the key business strikes. Representatives of both are in this auction. Curiously, each is PCGS certified ‘MS-64-Brown,’ with a sticker of approval from the CAC. In my view, a market price for a certified “MS-64” 1872 would not be a good value for a collector. I suggest a certified AU-50 grade 1872 or a Proof-64 1872, either of which would cost dramatically less than a certified ‘MS-64’ 1872. (Be sure to read my 2011 article on Collecting Two Cent Pieces.)
In the series of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Dimes, the 1802 is a semi-key; it is much more valuable than the least scarce dates in the series. The 1804, though, is the undisputed key. Even so, 1802 dimes are rarer than most collectors realize. I estimate that fewer than 210 survive, including those that are non-gradable. The 1802 in this sale is PCGS graded “AU-53.”
In the series of Liberty Seated Dimes, the keys are the Carson City Mint issues from 1871 to 1874. There are three of these in this auction. An 1871-CC is PCGS graded “MS-62” and is thus one of the highest certified of this issue. Heritage auctioned this same coin on July 31, 2009, at which time it was NGC graded “MS-62.” I then saw it, briefly. My impression then was that it had been moderately to heavily cleaned in the past, and, much later, naturally retoned nicely. It is an attractive coin.
In AU-50 and higher grades, the 1872-CC is much rarer than the 1871-CC. Indeed, in grades above AU-53, the PCGS and the NGC together list just five 1872-CC dimes, including one in this auction, which is NGC graded as “AU-55.” This is the same coin that sold in the pre-ANA auction of Aug. 12, 2011, for $16,100.
In this June 2014 auction, there is an 1873-CC, with arrows, which is PCGS graded “AU-53.” It is the second highest graded by the PCGS. At the moment, I am drawing a blank in regards to the history of this specific coin. Later, I will remember. It is not the CAC approved, PCGS graded “AU-50” coin that Heritage just auctioned in April.
The rarity of the 1871 to 1874 Carson City dates prevent most all interested collectors from completing a set of Liberty Seated Dimes, especially since the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ is unique. Collecting Mercury Dimes ‘by date’ is dramatically easier.
The key Merc is the 1916-D, which can cost more than $800 in Good-04 grade. The 1921 and the 1921-D are semi-keys. All the others are very inexpensive in sub-30 grades, and modestly priced even in Extremely Fine-40 grade, though I suppose an EF-40 grade 1926-S might retail for more than $200.
In this Goldbergs auction, there is a 1916-D that is PCGS graded ‘Good-06.’ In January, the Goldbergs auctioned a different PCGS graded ‘Good-06’ 1916-D. That one was CAC approved and it realized $969.
There are two 1921-D dimes in this auction. One is PCGS graded “MS-67” and CAC approved. The same “MS-67” 1921-D was earlier auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers in August 2012 for $5750, though it did not then have a CAC sticker. The other is NGC graded “VF-35,” and it may sell for less than one-tenth as much as this “MS-67” 1921-D.
As with Liberty Seated Dimes, the Carson City Quarters dating from 1871 to 1874 are rare and are key dates. The 1870-CC quarter is a rarity, too. There were no 1870-CC dimes.
The 1860-S quarter is at least a semi-key. It is one of the ten rarest dates in a long series, and it is the rarest Liberty Seated Quarter that was minted in San Francisco. There are two PCGS graded 1860-S quarters in this auction, “VF-25” and “VF-35” respectively. This is not the same PCGS graded “VF-35” 1860-S that Heritage auctioned in Sept. 2013 for $7050.
Even VF-25 is a high grade for an 1860-S quarter. There are less than fifteen in existence that grade above VF-35. The highest graded by the PCGS is certified as ‘EF-45.’
There are no Barber Quarters that are as rare as an 1860-S Liberty Seated Quarter. All three keys in the Barber Quarter series are relatively very scarce and all three were produced at the San Francisco Mint. The 1896-S is the only one of the three that was struck in the 19th century.
In this auction, there are two CAC approved, “Good-04” grade 1896-S quarters, one is certified by the PCGS and the other by the NGC. In Sept. 2012, the Goldbergs auctioned a different 1896-S quarter that is also NGC graded “Good-04” and CAC approved. It was from the “Dr. Charles Ruby Collection,” and it brought $644. In March 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “Good-04” 1896-S, without a sticker, for $628.63.
Standing Liberty Quarters are more popular than Barber Quarters. Thousands of collectors seek to complete sets of the coins in this relatively short-lived series, dating from 1916 to 1930.
Two keys in the series of Standing Liberty Quarters are the 1916 and the 1918/17-S overdate. It could be fairly argued that the 1923-S is a key, too. In this auction, there will be offered a 1916 that is PCGS graded ‘Good-06’ and a 1923-S that is PCGS graded “AU-55.”
Though not at all rare, the 1932-D and the 1932-S are the keys to the series of silver Washington Quarters. In this auction, a 1932-D is PCGS graded “MS-64” and a 1932-S is NGC graded “AU-58.”
For either a 1932-D or a 1932-S, an “AU-58” grade coin would cost dramatically less than a “MS-64” grade coin. Given that ‘mint state’ Washington Quarters tend to be unexciting anyway, the difference in cost between AU-58 and MS-64 grades might mean that AU-58 pieces are better values for most interested collectors. These often ‘fit’ into ‘mint state’ grade sets well enough.
IV. Half Dollars
Although Flowing Hair Half Dollars were minted for just two years, 1794 and 1795, those dated 1794 are scarcer and and much more popular than 1795 halves. Indeed, these are the first U.S. Half Dollars. There are two 1794 halves in this auction. The first is PCGS graded “VF-25.” The second is NGC graded “VF-20.”
‘Lettered Edge’ Capped Bust Halves were minted from 1807 to 1836. Besides the 1817/4 overdate, the rarest ‘date’ in the Capped Bust Half Dollar series is the 1815/2 overdate. There are no 1815 ‘normal date’ halves.
In this auction, there is an 1815/2 that failed to receive a grade from the PCGS. The cataloguer seems to imply that it is in a PCGS holder that indicates it has the ‘details’ of an AU grade coin. Interested collectors may wish to hire an expert to view this coin. It will be dramatically less expensive than a PCGS graded AU-50 1815/2. Further, it might possibly be an excellent deal for a collector building a set of EF to AU grade Capped Bust Halves, especially for a collector who cannot afford to spend more than $10,000 for an 1815/2 that is PCGS or NGC graded as “AU-50” or higher.
Among Gobrecht ‘Reeded Edge’ Half Dollars, the 1836 is the key business strike. Though halves of the type struck from 1836 to 1839 are accurately referred to as “Reeded Edge” Capped Bust Halves, this name is misleading as they are of a design that is much different from that of ‘Lettered Edge’ Capped Bust Halves that were minted from 1807 to 1836. “It has been traditional to refer to the 1836–1839 halves as Reeded Edge,” R. W. Julian notes, “even though they are almost completely the work of Gobrecht.” I suggest that these be called Gobrecht Halves.
In this auction, there is an 1836 Gobrecht Half that failed to receive a numerical grade from the PCGS and is said to have the ‘details’ of an AU grade coin. Was it from the same consignment as the just mentioned 1815/2?
It may be a good idea for budget-minded collectors, who are seeking to complete sets of business strike halves, to consider this non-gradable 1836 Gobrecht ‘Reeded Edge’ Half. On Jan. 9, 2014, Heritage auctioned a different 1836 half that is similarly described, “Reeded Edge -- Smoothed -- PCGS Genuine. AU Details.” That 1836 went for $2,245.43.
A nice AU-50 to -53 grade Gobrecht ‘Reeded Edge’ 1836 would be likely to sell at auction for an amount between $4000 to $6000. While this coin has been doctored, there are a lot of ‘doctored’ coins that have been mistakenly assigned numerical grades by the PCGS and the NGC. Some genuine coins that fail to receive numerical grades are good values for prices paid and involve less risk than similar numerically ‘graded’ coins.
Liberty Seated Half Dollars were minted from 1839 to 1891. Among pre-1866 Liberty Seated Half Dollars, the scarcest date, excluding overdates, might be the 1852. It is a semi-key to the whole series. An NGC graded “AU-55” 1852 is in this auction.
In the series of Walking Liberty Half Dollars (1916-45), there are several pre-1921 dates that are semi-keys. A 1919-S in this auction is PCGS graded “MS-64” and is CAC approved.
Perhaps all three of the 1921s should be classified as key dates, the 1921, the 1921-D and the 1921-S, though a 1921-S is not that hard to find in grades below VF-20. There are two 1921-S halves in this auction. One is NGC graded “MS-64” and the other was not awarded a numerical grade by the NGC.
This non-gradable 1921-S is said by experts at the NGC to have the ‘details’ of an ‘Extremely Fine’ level grade. It maybe true that this coin has been chemically modified. Even so, an NGC graded Extremely Fine-40 1921-S would be very likely to sell for more than $3500, if offered at auction next month. This coin will probably sell for much less and may not be ‘bad looking.’ There are collectors who seek and can afford most Walkers in EF-40 to AU-55 grades, yet cannot afford or will not pay for the keys in such grades. For such a collector, this coin might be well suited, though I will not usually recommend coins that I have not seen.
V. Silver Dollars
The 1893-S is the key to the series of Morgan Dollars. More than five thousand exist. There are three in this auction. In other Goldbergs auctions, there have been more than ten. It is easy to find 1893-S Morgans. Of these three, the first is PCGS graded “VF-25” and the last is PCGS graded “VG-08.” The other failed to receive a numerical grade and is in a PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder. It has the details of a VF grade coin. As a PCGS graded VF-20 1893-S would retail for more than $4750, this coin could be a good value for someone completing a set of Morgan Dollars, especially if it brings less than $2500.
The 1934-S Peace Dollar is even less scarce than the 1893-S Morgan. There are certainly more than 12,000 1934-S Peace Dollars in existence. Although the 1921 and the 1928 are more expensive in Good to Very Good grades, and several dates are more expensive in the gem (65 and higher) grade range, the 1934-S is generally the key to the Peace Dollar series. There are two in this auction, the first is NGC graded “MS-64” and the second is PCGS graded “AU-55.” The certified “AU-55” coin might very well sell for one-seventh of the price of the certified “MS-64” 1934-S.
In sum, there are many key date U.S. coins from various series in the upcoming Goldbergs auction. Some of these may be excellent values for collectors, with practical budgets or self-imposed spending limits, who wish to complete sets. When forming collecting budgets, it is important to reflect upon the costs of keys in various grades. In some cases, an AU grade key will fit well into a set of ‘mint state’ coins, or a VG-10 grade key may fit into a set of Fine-12 to VF-30 grade coins. In other cases, a non-gradable key may fit well enough into a set of coins, with about the same level of detail, which have received numerical grades. With sensible planning, research and sound advice, many budget-minded collectors can accomplish objectives that they previously thought were impossible.
©2014 Greg Reynolds