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10 Picks for Those Who Like Large Silver Coins
By Mark Benvenuto

Let's be frank with one another - one of the plain, old-fashioned fun parts of coin collecting is getting your hands on really big coins. Yes, yes, there's a certain joy when you acquire a beautiful Indian Head cent with traces of mint luster. There's that pride of ownership when you add a gorgeous little item, like a pristine three-cent silver piece, to your growing collection. And who wouldn't be overjoyed to put a certified specimen of a 1916-D Mercury dime in his or her collection, in any grade? But all those coins are missing one thing. They don't have the heft of a big silver dollar.

Here then is a list of 10 big silver coins that just about all of us will like. I'll start with U.S. silver, but I'll end up straying outside the borders a bit as I assemble my top 10 list. When all is said and done, however, this will be two amazing fistfuls of silver, numismatic fury.

1. Morgan Silver Dollar. There is absolutely, positively no doubt that everyone who wants to hold a big silver coin in his or her hand could do with a Morgan silver dollar. For all the neophytes out there, these U.S. dollars were minted from 1878 until 1904, then again in 1921. Demand for them was perhaps never as great as the supply, since there were mountains of the metal being mined in the western territories as the United States grew in the 19th century, and much of that became Morgan dollars. That's good news for any collector today, even those on a tight budget. Some of the most common dates and mintmarks are available in lower mint-state grades for only $50. Coins such as the 1880-S and the 1881-S, for example, are probably going to be considered common until the start of the next millennium, with mintages of 8.9 million and 12.7 million, respectively. But at $50 in Mint State-60, you end up holding a piece of history in your hand without having to shell out a fortune. And it's a sharp looking piece of history at that. The 1879 is an even more common date, with 14.8 million to its tally, but that means its price in MS-60 is even lower yet. If the $50 zone is still a tad too much, the 1921 Morgan dollars made at the Philadelphia Mint cost only $30 in MS-60. Even if you have never been one for collecting silver dollars, $30 has got to be a price that whets your appetite.

2. Peace Silver Dollar. Anyone who attends a coin show or strolls into a dealer's shop and stares at the Morgan dollars will probably be hard pressed not to see a few Peace dollars as well. The two designs are perennial collector favorites, and dealers always seem to have them. The Peace dollar series is shorter than the Morgans and can best be characterized as starting with a bang and ending with a whimper. But that doesn't mean there aren't some great coins to be had in the series, and it doesn't mean there aren't some great prices, too. The bang for the Peace dollars technically didn't start with its first year. It started with its first full year, 1922. The 1921 Peace dollars are well known to collectors because they are a high relief design that was modified early in 1922. At just over 1 million produced, the 1921 high relief Peace dollars shouldn't be all that costly, but the continued demand for them keeps the cost up. For example, a specimen in Fine-12 costs $135. The 1922 Peace dollar, on the other hand, in what is called the normal relief, costs a mere $40 in MS-63. There were more than 55 million of them produced, and thus there are probably quite a few that remain available in mint state. If the early dates of the Peace dollar series was the just mentioned bang, the whimper has to be the tail end of the series. The last year in the series to see an eight-figure mintage was the 1925. The 1925 saw a total of 10.1 million coins produced. Its prices today reflect it, pretty much mirroring those of the 1922. A last note on prices for the Peace dollars concerns the very whimpering tail end of the series. The design was shelved in 1928, but then dusted off again in 1934 and 1935. The 1935 coins from Philadelphia cost about $60 in MS-60. Since there were 1.5 million of these Peace dollars made, they're not super rare.. Yet compared to the 1925 or 1921, you're getting something of a bargain. It's food for thought when you choose to go hunting for one of these big silver coins.

3. Seated Liberty Silver Dollar. Many collectors stay away from the Seated Liberty dollars simply because the prices are always high, or at least higher than those of the Morgan and Peace dollars. That's true. But let's take a look at a couple of the dates, and see if there isn't a reason to save up for a purchase. Seated Liberty dollars are the largest example of the design work of Christian Gobrecht. Minted at four different mints from 1836 up to 1873, with some modifications along the way, Seated Liberty dollars have only two years to its list for which more than 1 million coins were made. The 1872 leads the way with 1.1 million, and the 1871 follows closely behind with 1.07 million. So, it seems logical to think that these two coins might provide the base line price for a common coin. The bad news is the prices that make up such a baseline: $2,250 in MS-60, and $400 in Very Fine-20. Those are tough to swallow, although the price for very fine is one we might be able to save for, even if money is tight. The good news becomes those same prices appear when look at some of the lower mintage Seated Liberty dollars. For example, the 1859-O only has 360,000 coins to its total, yet the two prices I've just quoted are nearly the same for this coin and are similar for the 1846. It has only 110,600 coins to its name, yet the VF-20 price is $490, while the MS-60 price climbs just a bit, to $2,700. Also look at the 1840. This early dollar has only 61,005 coins to its tally, yet has the same VF-20 price as all the others, and an MS-60 price of $3,950, not twice as much as the common coins. Yes, the prices of Seated Liberty dollars can be considered high. But wow, what potential in this series.

4. Spanish Colonial Eight Reales. The next piece of big silver I want to add to the list comes from south of the border. Some collectors are aware that the coins of Mexico, or rather, Spanish colonial Mexico, were legal within the young United States up until 1857. They are not listed in catalogs today as being U.S. coins, and indeed they aren't. But they were part of the U.S. economy for decades, and thus would make a good addition to the trio I have just mentioned. Plus, they are definitely big silver. From the late 1700s until well into the 1800s, the design of the Spanish colonial eight reales was the monarch on the obverse, and the royal coat of arms of Spain - the arms of the House of Castille and Leon - on the reverse. They are generally considered attractive, and the beauty of such coins is matched by the beauty of its price tags. For example, an eight reales of King Charles IV, minted right at the turn of the 19th century, will probably cost you no more than $40 in Very Fine or Extremely Fine. Of course, if you shoot for mint-state pieces, you might have to haggle a bit to keep the price down.

5. Mexican "Cap and Rays" Silver Peso. Since we are down in Mexico, it wouldn't be fair to ignore what are sometimes called the "cap and rays" dollars. These are the successors to the eight reales, first issued after the Mexican War of Independence, and they get their name because of the prominent Liberty cap on one side, with rays surrounding it. The opposing side sports the eagle, snake, and cactus design also seen on the Mexican flag. Cap and rays dollars were issued for decades, saw some circulation in the United States, and like its eight reales siblings, have great prices attached to them today. The $50 I mentioned earlier will probably land you an excellent example of this big silver coin. Even $25 will probably still fetch a good-looking piece to add to your collection.

6. Canadian Silver Dollar. It wouldn't be fair to focus so much on the silver coins of Mexico without giving a bit of attention to the silver dollars of our northern neighbor. The year 1935 marks the beginning of the Canadian silver dollars, or at least those issued for general circulation. King George V graces the obverse of these from 1935 until 1952, while Queen Elizabeth's image resides on all the rest. The first few years of the design show an image of King George that can only be described as imperial, with the impressive crown and robes. That design gave way after only two years to a simpler, uncrowned but still handsome version of the king. The price tags for these early Canadian silver dollars is actually a bit better than those of the Morgan and Peace dollars. Fifty dollars may not land you high end mint-state coins, but an EF specimen of the 1935 or 1936 might not be out of reach.

7. U.S. Trade Dollar. Since we have just looked north and south of our borders, it is certainly fair to add to our collection a big silver U.S. coin that was made to circulate outside those same borders. Perhaps obviously, I am referring to the U.S. Trade dollar of 1873 to 1885. Like the Seated Liberty dollars, the U.S. Trade dollars are on the expensive side, or at least seem so when compared to the eight reales. The most common date and mintmark is the 1877-S, with a total of 9.5 million coins. It will cost $140 in VF-20 and $940 in MS-60. Not pocket change, to be sure, but at least the VF price is reasonable. As with the Seated Liberty dollars, there is some potential among the Trade dollars for a good buy on a lower mintage coin. To give just one example, the 1873, costs nearly the same in VF-20, and only a couple hundred dollars more in MS-60. But it has an official total of only 396,635 coins. Doing a little bit of math proves that the 1873's mintage is more than 20 lower than the 1877-S. Yet its prices are just about the same. That's definitely a good deal.

8. British Trade Dollar. The United States wasn't the only nation to get into the trade dollar arena - in fact, it might have been the last. The Mexican and Spanish colonial eight reales were all used at times as trade coins when Western businesses were trading with concerns on the Chinese mainland in the 1800s. Britain realized this before the United States did, and produced a trade dollar that remains both handsome and affordable today, with a magnificent obverse, sporting a figure of Britannia as ruler of the seas. Many of these coins were actually minted outside of Britain, in cities such as Bombay (which, admittedly, was a British possession at the time). But whether they are British, or Indian, these trade dollars can be collected quite easily today, for prices like those I've already mentioned. You may be able to find good specimens for less than $50 each, if you take some time and do a patient search.

9. British Crown. I probably shouldn't mention British trade dollars without taking at least a passing look at its domestic counterpart, the crown. These big silver coins traditionally have the monarch on the obverse, and a variety of designs on the reverse, including Pistrucci's beautiful and powerful rendering of St. George slaying the dragon. An easy way to collect crowns, or add a few well chosen ones to any collection of big silver, is to find one choice looking piece per monarch. The crowns of King Edward VII start the 20th century, followed by those of George V, then George VI, and then those of Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, those of Elizabeth are in copper-nickel, making the crowns of George VI the last true big silver coin in this series that might fit into the assembly we are forming. The news for prices of these crowns is at least as good as the British trade dollars, and maybe even better than the Canadian dollars. If you don't insist on specimens in higher mint state, $25 is not an unreasonable price to pay for a hefty British crown.

10. Maria Theresa Thaler. I'll end our 10 big silver coins with a coin that was only minted for one year - or so it would seem. The Maria Theresa thaler is a trade coin first minted in Austria in 1780. It circulated widely in huge portions of Africa, as well as parts of southwest Asia. It inspired enough confidence that other nations tried to imitate it. When colonial powers recognized that local peoples wanted Maria Theresa thalers only, and not look a likes, they decided to just take the design and re-issue it. As a consequence, there are millions of these large silver pieces, many of them made in the 20th century (despite the date), and many of them made far from Austria. But, since you can't tell them and the originals apart, how much does one cost? The answer to that question is a collector's dream come true. Maria Theresa thalers generally cost a bit more than bullion. Sure, proof versions, or satin finish uncirculated pieces may cost a premium. But the average Maria Theresa thaler often costs no more than $20. Well, we started with some U.S. favorites, moved to the south and north of our borders for a few more excellent silver coins, then went on a bit of a world hopping tour to find some exotic trade silver. Taken all together, we have given you some great ideas for silver that won't flatten your wallet (with maybe one or two exceptions), that has some tremendous history to it, and that just, plain feels great in the hand. You can certainly add more big silver to your personal shopping list. But whatever you choose to assemble, enjoy the coins, and enjoy the hunt.


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