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Collecting Short Sets Avoids Pricey Rarities
By Ginger Rapsus

Once upon a time, there was a new collector who discovered Morgan silver dollars. She loved the Liberty head on the obverse and the proud eagle on the reverse. She liked the fact that these coins were made of 90 percent silver, were used as real money, and had a heft and a weight that impressed her. This lovely old coin was so different from the modern coins she saw in change every day.

But then, the new collector learned more about this series. She found that this coin was made from 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921. She saw the many different mintmarked coins and noticed the prices on a few of these coins, particularly Carson City issues, were priced out of her budget. And she wondered how long it would take to locate one of each date and mintmark in the condition of her choice.

As you might have guessed, that new collector was me.

What’s such a new collector to do? She can collect short sets of her favorite series.

A long and extensive series of coins, such as the Morgan dollar, can be collected as a short set in a few different ways. Date sets, consisting of one dollar from each year of issue and ignoring mintmarks, can enable a Morgan dollar lover to build a beautiful and meaningful collection, while avoiding the high-priced rarities.

The 1879-P and 1879-O Morgan dollars are common. The 1879-CC is a better date. A short set collector who saved one dollar of each year can choose a “P” or “O” mint coin of the year 1879, and find the coin in Mint State for a reasonable cost. The 1895-P is the stopper in the Morgan dollar set, with only a few hundred proof specimens made. The appearance of this dollar at auction causes much excitement, and a fancy bid is required to obtain it. The date set collector can buy a 1895-O or 1895-S for her set. Neither of these coins is common, but they are much less expensive, and a lot easier to find, than the 1895-P.

There are other variations on this theme. Collectors who enjoy history and the Old West may want a set of all the Carson City Morgan dollars. Such a set is historical and always a favorite with numismatists. A custom holder, shaped as the state of Nevada, can house this set.

Other large and challenging sets can be broken down as short sets. The Washington quarter set, minted since 1932, has no real stoppers, but is a long series that can be broken down in many different short sets.

Washington quarters can be collected as a date set, one of each date since 1932. None were minted with the dates 1933 or 1975. Collectors can save one of each date, one of each 90 percent silver date, one of each clad date, or any combination. All San Francisco issues can be saved, all Denver Mint, or all Philadelphia Mint.

Proof sets of Washington quarters can be quite attractive. Even this set can be broken down into short sets. The Philadelphia proofs, the San Francisco proofs, the 90 percent silver proofs (which include the modern 1992 to date “S” proof coins from the silver set), any or all of the above make nice sets.

And don’t forget the most popular short set of them all: the state and territorial quarters of 1999-2009. This set can be broken down further, too. All Denver coins, all Philadelphia coins, all proof coins, the 90 percent silver quarters ... so many possibilities.

Collecting a short set of a favorite series can lead to specializing in that series. A short set can always be expanded to include the coins that were not in your original short set. A collector who thinks he may like Washington quarters may find that this modern series offers its own challenges, and decide to collect a complete run.

Large cent collectors have had their favorite set broken down, too, as early years, middle years and late years. The late years present a good beginning to the specialized collection of large cents by date or by variety. When such a set is finished, the large cent fan can move on to the middle years, and finally, to the challenge of the early years. Much can be learned along the way.

Mercury dimes have always been popular and considered to be one of the more attractive designs in the history of U.S. coinage. Collectors who cannot afford a 1916-D for a full set can own a short set of Mercury dimes from 1941-1945. Holders are available for this set. The coins look beautiful in Mint State, too. Some of these coins, notably the 1945-P, are difficult to find with full strikes.

The above set of dimes spans the World War II years. What more appropriate set can accompany these coins than a set of 11 war nickels with the large mintmarks on the reverse above Monticello? Holders are available for this set, too, with perhaps an engraving of a World War II scene. The war nickels contain silver, as nickel was needed for the war effort. This set-within-a-set has a lot to offer to Jefferson nickel fans, World War II buffs, silver lovers, or anyone who wants a nice set of modern and historical coins.

What better way to remember the valor of your father or grandfather in World War II than to put a set together of coins that were used on the home front.

Buffalo nickels also can be collected as a short set, from the years 1934-1938. The All-American coin can present a lifetime challenge as a complete set, but a short set is within reach of almost any collector. The design is a favorite and looks lovely in Mint State. I have seen a number of these sets in a favorite dealer’s window, so obviously, many collectors are interested in owning short sets of Buffalo nickels.

Lincoln cents have become very popular in the last few years, with the changes in the reverse design, and the series’ 100-year history. Short sets of Lincoln cents can be collected in a number of ways.

Besides a date set, holders are available for sets from 1941 to date, 1934 to date, the Lincoln Memorial series from 1959-2008, and proof coins. Many dates of Lincoln cents were struck in proof. There were proofs struck at Philadelphia and San Francisco. And for those who really enjoy a challenge, there are the matte proofs of 1909-1916. I once knew a collector who pursued this set of only nine coins, fell in love with it, and began building another set.

Any large series of coins can be collected as a short set, in many different ways. Some ways are popular and are done by many hobbyists. Others are not necessarily so. Build whatever set suits you, your interests, and your pocketbook. You may find that a number of lovely short sets can be collected, and offer the satisfaction that comes with completing a set, but without the big cash outlay. With all of us once again rediscovering the value of a dollar (even one threatened by inflation) collecting but not spending budget-busting amounts of money makes a lot of sense.

The relaxation of the hobby is its own reward and the knowledge you gain can be put to good use when you tackle the next collecting challenge.


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