By Mark Benvenuto
With the price
of gold hovering near $1,000 an ounce, and
silver firmly entrenched in its own double
digits bracket, a pessimistic collector might
think it’s time to lay low and perhaps look into
improving his or her different series of copper
coins. After all, precious metals seem to be
priced for the rich, and not for the common
collector, at least right now. But there are
often some opportunities in times of adversity,
and right now is no exception.
Buying silver bars, silver bullion,
non-circulating legal-tender silver coins, and
common silver dollars is definitely not the
thing to do in this economic climate. But buying
silver coins with some serious growth
potential—sleepers that is—might just be the
perfect thing to do. Here is a six pack of
potential sleepers that won’t flatten your
wallet, and that just might turn you a neat
1. Morgan Dollars.
It’s somewhat ironic that in a time like this,
when silver and gold prices are high and still
climbing, that there are some good buys within
the Morgan dollars. The irony is that
common-date circulated Morgan dollars almost
always buy, sell and trade as if they are
bullion. As the silver price rises, so does the
price for the common circulated Morgans.
But this classic all-American series is a large
one. Within its span of dates—1878 to 1904, then
one final hurrah in 1921—there are some very
high “highs” and some rather hidden “lows” among
the mintages. Coins like the 1881-S with a
mintage of 12.7 million pieces set the bar for
the high mintage, common-date coins. I’m going
to be looking for some strategic, hopefully
Many of the common-date Morgan dollars have
mintages that total several million, even if
they don’t get as high as the 1881-S, and these
common dates tend to have price tags of $55 to
$60 in a grade such as Mint State-63. That’s an
attractive grade of mint state without being a
truly stellar one. But, attractive or not, it
also serves as a good baseline for prices.
Now look at a cluster of dates and mintmarks
that are not quite common, but are not the key
or semi-key coins in the series. The 1882-CC,
1883-CC, 1884-CC, and 1887-S all have mintages
of more than 1 million coins, but never higher
than 1.75 million. Their prices for examples in
the MS-63 grade? How about $200 to $250?
That’s really not too bad. Plus, as the price of
silver rises, these dates aren’t as heavily
affected because they already command a premium
when compared to other Morgan dollars. Adding
good-looking examples of these four dollars to
your collection might be a very good idea in a
time when common silver seems to have uncommonly
2. 1927 and 1935 Peace Dollars.
The Peace dollar series is considerably shorter
than that for the Morgan dollars, but there are
at least two coins within it that merit serious
collector attention at a time like this. This
highly attractive design, the work of Anthony de
Francisci, was produced for only 10 years, but
that occurred over a 17-year period.
In that relatively short time there are a couple
of well publicized key coins, but at least two
quiet sleepers. A quick look at a reference list
of these dollars shows that seven date/mintmark
combinations were coined to totals in the eight
figure range. The 1925 saw just over 10 million
produced, and the 1922 saw 51.7 million
produced, making it the most common Peace dollar
by a long shot. Both cost around $30 in MS-63.
Look though at the two coins I have just
mentioned as sleepers. The 1927 has a mintage of
848,000 coins. The 1935 comes in at 1,576,000.
Neither of these are as low as the rather famous
1928 or the very famous 1921 high relief. But
both probably exist in lower numbers than those
mintage figures simply because of the melts that
have occurred in the past when silver jumped in
price (the most famous being the big price spike
in the early 1980s). The 1927 comes in a bit
higher at $185 in MS-63, but the 1935 lands at a
If you think about these prices for a moment,
you’ll quickly realize the potential that is
there. The 1927 is more than 10 times less
common than those common-date Peace dollars, yet
costs less than twice as much. The 1935 might
not be quite as scarce, but then again, it
doesn’t cost as much either. Without a doubt,
both of these dates ring in as sleepers.
3. A Walking Liberty Half.
Collectors familiar with United States silver
know that the Walking Liberty half dollar series
may be one of the most collected set of coins
that calls itself U.S. silver. High end pieces
command high end prices at auction. Avid,
well-heeled collectors try to assemble sets that
have been certified by third-party grading
services in the highest possible grades. In
short, there is always a buzz around these
coins, or at least around their cream of the
crop. So, it might be a bit surprising to think
there is even one sleeper in the series. But I
believe there is one.
Take a close look at the 1946-D in the Walking
half dollar series. Sneaking in at the
penultimate year, the 1946-D has a mintage of
2,151,000 coins. On the surface, that’s not a
rare coin, as anything produced in the millions
can’t really be too uncommon. But it is the
lowest mintage of any Walking Liberty half dated
in the 1940s. And its price tag in MS-63 is only
To make a comparison or two for the 1946-D, the
1945 is a very common Walking Liberty half, with
a mintage of 31.5 million. It costs $40 in
MS-63. Unless meltings have taken an impact, the
coin that is 15 times more common only costs a
few dollars less than the 1946-D.
4. Proof Franklins.
So far I have looked at three different series
of U.S. silver coins, all of them considered in
one way or another to be beautiful, popular
coins. Franklin halves do have a certain
popularity to them, but in general it lives in
the shadow of the Walking Liberty halves in
terms of popular demand and overall prices. That
fact has been mentioned many times within the
pages of Coins, and yet somehow the prices never
do seem to jump up too far. We can take
advantage of that in a market where all silver
is priced rather high.
The Franklin half dollar series had proofs
minted at Philadelphia every year from 1950
until the end of the series in 1963. The number
of proofs rises pretty steadily from 51,386 that
first year, 1950, to a very respectable
3,075,645 the final year. In that span of years
though there remain a couple of sleepers.
The 1954 proof Franklin half dollars saw a total
of 233,300, which isn’t too bad. To land one
today in a grade such as Proof-65 you need to
lay out $125. But since proof Franklins can be
snagged in much higher grades, why not put out
$250 for one in Proof-68 with a cameo finish? By
any stretch of the imagination, that’s got to be
a beautiful coin.
But take a look at the mintage of the 1956 proof
Franklin half. There are 669,384 on the record,
which makes it not quite three times more
available than the 1954. Yet when comparing, in
PF-65 this coin only costs $50, and in PF-68
with a cameo finish it costs $70. That’s rather
amazing, really. The coin that is three times
more common costs roughly four times less in an
extremely high grade. If you can get your mitts
on one of these silver gems, why ever wouldn’t
5. Standing Liberty Quarters.
Moving down in size to the Standing Liberty
quarter, we come to another coin that has an
almost rabid collector and fan base. Standing
Liberty quarters were issued for a relatively
short span of time, from 1916-1930, with no
production in 1922. There are several dates and
mintmarks with mintages well above the 10
million mark, and several key or semi-key coins
with mintages between 1 million and 2 million.
There are even two keys, the 1927-D and 1927-S,
below that, with the 1927-S firmly pegged at the
lowest spot. Yet there are a couple of sleepers.
Look at the 1929-D, the 1929-S, the 1930 and the
1930-S Standing Liberty quarter. The 1930 is the
common monkey in this barrel, with 5.6 million
to its name. The 1929-D has only 1.35 million.
The other two are higher in mintage than the
1929-D, but still are very close to it. Yet the
prices for all of them in MS-63 are virtually
the same: $225.
These are definitely coins that qualify as true
6. Proof Maria Theresa Thalers.
This final addition to the list probably seems
like an odd duck. After all, it’s not a U.S.
coin, and it may qualify as the most copied coin
in history. For those unfamiliar with these
large silver pieces, all Maria Theresa thalers
are dated 1780 even though many of them are far
more modern. You see, the Maria Theresa thaler,
was issued originally from the Austrian mints,
but it quickly made its way to various parts of
the world far from central Europe.
Indeed, the Maria Theresa thaler was so accepted
in parts of Africa and south west Asia as a
silver trade coin that other governments
couldn’t make headway with their own trade
dollars. The solution to this quandary was for
those governments to mint Maria Theresas of
their own. The date always stayed 1780, even
though many of them were made in places such as
Birmingham, England, or Paris, and Rome. There
are even Maria Theresa from Bombay, India.
Today you can find Maria Theresa thalers in the
inventories of most well-stocked dealers of
foreign coins. Certainly, large shows are a good
place to find some. Do some patient searching
and you should turn up a few of these very large
silver pieces in proof. The examples with
frosted surfaces can be quite good looking.
Equally good looking is the price. Many dealers
consider these to be simply pretty versions of
the same old bullion coin they have known for a
long time. That means the price may only be a
few dollars higher than the non-proof version.
When Maria Theresa thalers trade at $20 or so,
it’s wonderful to find a proof that only costs
Now, it’s essentially impossible to find an
exact number for the proof Maria Theresa thalers,
which makes it hard to estimate how much such a
coin will appreciate in value. But the cost of a
single piece is far less than any of the other
coins we have just looked at, which makes it
hard to think you could lose money here. If you
have always been a stalwart of collecting U.S.
coinage, this might make for an amusing foray
into new territory.
Well, there you have it, a recipe for some
silver fun even when the prices for precious
metals are high. Take your time, do some
comparison shopping, and be patient. You might
find that there are some great sleepers to be
had. Good luck.