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Ten Great Holiday Gifts
By Mark Benvenuto

The holidays are closing in again, faster than many of us could have thought possible and that means time to do some holiday buying. Whether you have a huge list of friends, or just a select few to shop for, I'll cut right to the chase and give you 10 ideas of coins that have got to please someone. I've skipped a few of the obvious ones, but I've put a few on this list that many collectors may not have thought about too much.

1. Silver Eagles, Maple Leafs, Pandas, or Other Bullion Coins.

These non-circulating, legal-tender pieces, or bullion coins, all have one thing in common - they're big. And let's face it, there's a bit of the raven in all of us, with the desire to collect shiny things for the glitter alone. So, if you have people on your list for whom you can think of nothing at all, why not try a silver bullion coin?

The prices of these coins are tagged to the price of silver. That means most of them will cost less than $20 today, especially if you buy a piece that isn't in proof. Pandas historically cost a little bit more, but that's because the Chinese mint tends to keep the mintages rather lean. Silver American Eagles fall in line with most of the other world silver, which mean $20 can net you just about any, except perhaps one of the earlier scarce dates.

2. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars.

If you want a big piece of silver that was minted about a century ago, try a Morgan dollar - and then add a Peace dollar to it. These two are another duo within the many U.S. coinage series that just plain catch a person's eye. That friend, co-worker, or family member doesn't have to be an avid numismatist to appreciate the beauty of a Morgan or Peace dollar. These two are coins that simply demand some attention.

Prices of Morgan and Peace dollars are also attention getters, or at least the prices of the common pieces are. For example, the 1881-S, with more than 12 million to its total, runs about $50 in Mint State-60. Certainly, that's not the best of the best, but it can often be a very attractive coin. Shop around a bit for a good example.

When it comes to attractive coins, Peace dollars, sporting Anthony de Francisci's design, have even more to offer. The 1922 can be had in MS-60 for around $25, as can the 1922-D, the 1923, and the 1924. Not only is that a good price for a fine-looking coin, but also, in the case of the 1924, it's something of a bargain. You see, the 1922 is the most common date of the series, with 51.7 million minted. The 1924 has 11.8 million to its total, but the same price attached to it, at least in lower mint-state grades. If you really want to make someone happy, there are also scarcer dates that can be purchased.

3. An Uncirculated Walking Liberty Half or High-End Franklin Half Dollar.

Walking Liberty half dollars are perennial favorites among collectors and a handsome-looking example of this half could be the spark that creates a new collector. For the Walking Liberty halves, several of the dates toward the tail end of the series can be had for $35 each, usually in a grade such as MS-60.

At this point, a person might claim that coins in MS-60 are pleasant to look at, but not truly eye catching. Well, for the Walking Liberty half dollars at least, a small increase in price can get you some pretty good coins.

What I mean here is that all those dates that will cost $35 in MS-60 will generally cost only $75 in MS-64. No matter how you look at it, MS-64s are very good looking items. What it comes down to in making a choice like this is simply whether you have that level of budget for the people on your holiday list.

You should also take a look at the proofs. For those who don't collect this series, there were proofs issued from the Philadelphia Mint every year, starting in 1950. By the last few years of the series, even the proof mintages had gone more than 1 million coins per year. You may be surprised to find that your $20 to $40 expense nets you a Proof-65 or even Proof-66 coin. Now that's a neat gift!

4. A United States Proof Set, Plus a Proof Set from a Foreign Country.

OK, proof sets as holiday gifts are something of a mainstay. They work well if someone in the family has had a baby that year, or even as the gift that's just wrapped and waiting for that unannounced party guest. They generally cost less than $50, and they always look good.

But try a new twist this year. Add a proof set from another country into the mix. Is your family proud of its English heritage? Well then, why not a set from the British Royal Mint? These sets are rather royal looking themselves and can be purchased from many sources.

But you don't have to have a family tree that runs to a certain country to add a foreign proof set to your gift list. Do you have a friend who was stationed overseas, either in war or in peace? There are proof sets from the countries that came out of Yugoslavia, from the many different nations of Europe, or even from South Asia and the Far East.

5. A Crown-Sized Piece from a European Country That Has Converted to Euros.

While I'm on the subject of various world coins, why not look at the wide variety of crown-sized silver coins from the nations of Europe. Germany is a nation with a particularly rich heritage in crown-sized silver coins. Those from the smallest of the German states might cost a bit, but coins such as the five-mark pieces from Prussia and Bavaria can often be found in near uncirculated for $50 or less.

Coins like these are a great way to give a gift that in turn gets a person curious. They now have a piece of history in their hand, but have to have a bit of fun in finding out just where one of these states were, and why they are no longer minted. It's a great present for a young collector, but it can open a new door for a more seasoned collector and friend as well.

6. A Euro Proof Set.

If old and geographically odd is not the way to go, how about going back to the idea of proof sets as a gift, only this time look at euro proof sets from any of the member states of the European Union. Many collectors have commented that the euros of Italy and Greece, as well as those of France and Spain, seem to have become instruments of national pride, at least for those producing them. Undoubtedly, many of them are lovely. When you do some hunting around for those on your list, you'll most likely find the prices are equally lovely.

7. One Coin, no Matter How Tiny, from a Country or State That is Remarkably Tiny.

How about Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, Vatican City, Hong Kong, Lesotho, Tristan de Cunha, or Andorra. All of these places, and quite a few more that I haven't mentioned, qualify as very small and as issuers of a lot of coins. These can be fun gifts for young people and the adults on your holiday list.

What is really amazing about the coins of some of the lands I have just listed is that you can find them in the junk boxes that some dealers keep. The smaller coins of Hong Kong, for example, often cost $1 or less and are fun to collect. Dig a few out of some bargain bin, and turn them into stocking stuffers.

8. A Coronet Gold $5.

If you are trying hard to get gifts for everyone on your list, and to do it on the cheap, a gold coin may not be the way to go. On the flip side, if you want a gold piece that is affordable and has some serious history to it, Coronet gold $5s are for you.

First minted in 1839, the Coronet design is the work of Christian Gobrecht and was the design used for that coin up to 1908, with only minor alterations throughout all those decades.

The series saw some amazing highs and lows. For instance, the first year of issue, 1839, sports these gold $5s from the Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Dahlonega mints.

The 1839-C mintage was only 17,205, which makes it too expensive for almost anyone's shopping list this holiday season. But by 1847, the mintage total for the Philadelphia Mint was 915,981 coins, making this the most common coin in the series for decades. At $375 in Very Fine, it's not too tough on the wallet either.

To go one better, if the 1847 seems common, try out the 1881, with 5.7 million pieces. This coin runs around $235 in MS-60, which isn't bad for a gold coin with that amount of history attached to it.

9. A Silver Roman Denarius and a Herodian Copper.

These two coins may seem an odd choice for a gift, but both are pieces with religious connections that resonate with some. The first, the silver denarius, is said to be the type of coin Jesus held up as an example when he told the learned men to: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Roman denarii today is the price. Since these coins were made throughout the empire, there are plenty available in the market. Some have prices below $100, and all are bound to make someone happy during the holiday season.

The second of my ancient coin choices, the Herodian copper coin, which is said to be the same coin as the small copper pieces the poor widow put into the temple box, when Jesus pointed out to the people that she had given more than they had, because she gave all that she had to live on. These small coppers are coins that King Herod was allowed to produce, even though he was subordinate to the Roman Empire.

They served a special function, because they did not have a royal portrait on them. That lack of portrait meant that these coins could be used to pay the temple tax. A coin with a portrait on it was considered a type of idol, and could not be.

When it comes to purchasing a Herodian piece or two as a gift, you may be very pleasantly surprised to find that these cost far less than a king's ransom. Many of them were quite crudely made, which helps keep the prices low. But even well-centered pieces will often cost less than $20.

10. The Gift of Knowledge - a Subscription to Coins, Coin Prices, or Any Other Krause Numismatic Publication.

There is no going wrong with a subscription to Coins or one of its sister publications. You get the latest in coin prices, good articles, and a host of dealers from whom you can buy excellent coins to enlarge your own collection.

Plus, a knowledgeable collector is usually a happy collector. The more you know about the subject, the less you are going to overpay for a new item. With all that going for one subscription, it's a surprise that every collector doesn't already get their mitts on these magazines each month.

Well, there's a laundry list of items you can give to family, friends, close relatives (or the relative who only shows up around the holiday), friends at work, or even to yourself. I've included some of those big pieces that have a great feel in the hand, some that have great history attached to them, at least one piece that is made of gold, and quite a few that will have you scouring an atlas to find where they were issued. Plus, I've planted the seed about keeping this magazine, or others like it, coming at you all year around.

Enjoy the holidays!

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