By Al Doyle for CoinWeek .....
One of the most important issues in coin collecting strategies is to find a financial comfort zone and work within those parameters. For some numismatists, anything over $10 might be a stretch, while others can write five and six-figure checks with little concern. How about a more typical scenario?
For many American collectors, spending an average of $100 per coin is a financially realistic way to go. Since not every potential purchase in this price range is going to come in at exactly a C-note, what are some of the many options in the $75 to $125 range? Obtaining coins in this manner should result in an average purchase price somewhere around $100.
Copper enthusiasts can indulge in something far more historic than modern small cents. Draped Bust half cents are the most affordable 200-plus year old U.S. coins around, and something in the $100 range is sufficient for a specimen in Fine. Classic Head half cents are a budget-friendly series, and low-mintage Coronet half cents such as the 1854 (55,358) and 1856 (40,430) easily fit into this price range in circulated grades.
Large cents dating back to the Liberty Head series of 1816 through the end of big copper era in 1857 are another specialty that fits into a middle-class budget. Two-cent pieces in the Extra Fine to MS-61 range are an excellent series for the person who wants something different.
If you can spare a Ben Franklin, why not go for scarcer copper-nickel coinage instead of the most common dates? The 1875 and 1876 three-cent nickels have lower mintages (228,000 and 162,000 respectively) than the 1916-D Mercury dime, while the 1879 three-cent nickel was struck in smaller numbers (38,000 business strikes and 3,200 proofs) than the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter.
The same line of reasoning applies to the Liberty nickel series. Why settle for the very common 1911 or 1912 when the somewhat scarcer 1889, 1890, 1892 and 1897 are well within the reach of the $100 shopper? Everything from tougher dates in Fine to certified MS-64s and MS-65s makes the cut in the very popular Buffalo series. If Jefferson nickels appeal to you, consider early proofs of 1938 to 1942 and 1950 to 1952.
A collector could go crazy on dimes ranging from the Capped Bust series in Fine and Very Fine plus dozens of different Seated Liberty dates in the VF to MS-60 range. The options in Seated dimes include branch mint pieces struck at New Orleans, San Francisco and Carson City. No Seated dimes were struck in New Orleans from 1861 to 1890, which makes the 1891-O an interesting and reasonably priced item.
Much of the Barber dime series - including tougher dates in circulated grades - is ideal for the $100 collector. Several keys will be out of reach, but the vast majority of the series can be obtained in Fine or better without going broke. Take a look at pre-1934 Mercury dimes, which are considerably more elusive than the later issues in the series. With 26 different date and mintmark combinations available for $125 or less in Mint State grades, this is a project that won't be completed instantly.
Price guides show dozens of Seated Liberty quarters in Fine or better listed at $75 to $125, but decent-looking pieces are hard to come by except for a few of the most common dates. The same situation applies in Barber quarters, especially when it comes to pre-1900 coins and O-mints in Fine or better. Both series offer a good measure of rarity for the money.
A number of high-priced dates prevents the completion of a Standing Liberty quarter series by the average person, but obtaining as many pieces as possible in EF or better will lead to a very attractive collection. The $100 numismatist will have wide access to Washington quarters, including earlier issues in uncirculated grades, lower-mintage proofs and colorfully toned pieces.
It doesn't get much better for the person with a mid-level budget than Bust half dollars in Fine and VF. In addition to a basic date set, the sharp-eyed specialist should be able to pick off a few Overton varieties. As with the smaller denominations, Seated Liberty and Barber halves in circulated grades are series that require some effort and knowledge to collect when compared to more modern options.
Walking Liberty half dollars are at the top of the heap when it comes to the most artistry per dollar spent. The $100 approach provides the ability to collect slabbed MS-62 to MS-65 "Walkers" as well as earlier dates in circulated condition.
More than a few collectors play the $100 game with Morgan dollars. That often means multiples of certain dates in everything from circulated pieces to slabbed MS-63s and -64s, but the cartwheel lovers don't mind accumulating their favorite series. Peace dollars are a logical place to go, and the options include dates such as the 1927 (mintage 848,000) and 1934 (954,057) in basic Uncirculated condition.
If you have the courage and instincts to be a contrarian, one series is clearly out of favor. Demand and prices for commemorative half dollars of 1892 to 1954 are depressed, which means a fair number of issues are available for $125 or less. This could be your opportunity to purchase the eye-grabbing Oregon Trail for a very reasonable price.
While the middle of the pack shopper clearly has limits on what can be bought, there are also a wide range of opportunities for building a significant collection on an average wage. Work smart, be patient, and watch your holdings grow.