Issues When You Need a Challenge
By Ginger Rapsus
Need a change of
pace? Collecting can be more than filling holes
in an album, or crossing off items on your want
list. A creative approach to numismatics can
enable a collector to build a unique collection
that has its own challenges.
A set of United States coins of their first year
of issue makes an impressive, and different,
collection. Some coins are very easy to find,
maybe in change, while others are more scarce
and expensive. Some fans of type collecting
acquire a first year of design type coin of some
series to spice up their sets.
Some first year coins are easy to find. Many
first year coins were saved, as something new
and different, and beautiful Mint State pieces
can be found. Such first year coins as the 1916
Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half dollar,
the 1946 Roosevelt dime, and the 1932 Washington
quarter are readily available, but not all
necessarily cheap as you go up the grading
Quite a few 1909 VDB Lincoln cents were put
away. The new one-cent coins depicted Abraham
Lincoln, the first circulating United States
coin bearing a presidential portrait. The old
Indian Head cents, made since 1859, were still
being made in 1909. After 50 years, a new design
was welcomed and noticed by the public. I have
seen old photos of people standing in line at
banks to obtain the new cents.
History repeated itself in 1964, when the first
Kennedy half dollars were released. Americans
who mourned the recently slain president waited
in line to buy one or two specimens of the new
coin. Many of the Kennedy halves were saved as
souvenirs. From that time on, half dollars
virtually disappeared from circulation. The 1964
Kennedy half dollar is a prime example of a coin
that has historical value, metallic value – made
of 90 percent silver – and good collector
demand. This would be a favorite coin in a first
year of issue collection.
Another first year coin of the last century is
the 1938 Jefferson nickel. Never number one on
the collectors’ hit parade, the Jefferson nickel
has been around for over 70 years. This coin
could be found in change, although it would take
a lot of searching. The best part about this
design today is that Mint State coins are not
hard to find and not that expensive.
The first dollar coin in 36 years was struck in
1971. Eisenhower dollars were not that popular
and rarely used as money. The same was true of
the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which began in 1979
and was probably one of the most unpopular coins
in numismatic history. Sacagawea dollars,
beginning in 2000, and the President dollars,
beginning in 2007, are known to modern
collectors, and I see a few dedicated coin
people using these coins as real money, to buy a
cup of coffee, to pay bus fares, or to use as
tips in restaurants. Some vending machines take
the dollar coins and some do not.
Not enough challenge for an advanced collector?
Try the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter. With a
mintage of only 52,000, this is one of the
rarest coins of the 20th century, with worn
specimens selling for thousands of dollars.
Perhaps a collector can fudge a little, and
acquire a 1917 Type II quarter. The Type II
design was used from 1917 until the end of the
series in 1930, and is not that scarce.
The Buffalo nickel of 1913, Type I, is easy to
find in Mint State. The Type II, while not as
common, is not exactly a stopper and can be
added to a first year of issue collection, as
the coin is still dated 1913.
Going back to the 19th century, another first
year nickel with two distinct types is the 1883
Liberty Head nickel, with and without “Cents.”
Many examples of the former were saved by people
who believed the coin was scarce and would be
worth a lot of money in the future. The coin is
not scarce – one coin dealer had a basket filled
with them in his shop – but is an interesting
piece. Its companion coin, the 1883 with
“Cents,” was not saved and may be harder to
find, especially in higher grades.
The first Peace silver dollar, struck in 1921,
is its own distinct type, as it was made in high
relief. The design was modified in 1922;
however, the 1921 is usually not recognized as a
separate type. I have yet to see a holder for a
type collection that treats the two as major
types. The coin is beautiful and scarce in
higher grades, but not that expensive.
Morgan silver dollars, a big favorite among
collectors, were first made in 1878. There are
three distinct varieties, concerning the number
of tail feathers on the eagle. Demand is high,
but the supply is also pretty good, which means
a collector can find all three dollars as a
first year coin without many problems.
Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars were
first made in 1892. The three coins together
would look nice, and again, are not especially
rare. Barber coins are among those that held up
well in circulation; the basic design is there,
even in good condition. Of course, the coins in
higher grades with more detail are better
looking, and a collector will be happier with
higher graded coins in the long run.
I remember, when I first saw a Barber quarter
with full detail, I was surprised at how
different the coin looked, with the full
“Liberty” on the headband, and details on the
eagle and the ribbon on the reverse. My
perception of the coin had been set by all of
the worn examples I had seen.
If the 20th century coins don’t give you enough
challenge, you can see how far back you can
build your first year of issue set. The first
Seated Liberty dimes and half dimes came without
stars on the obverse, giving the coin a lovely
cameo appearance. These coins are scarce. The
first regular issue Seated Liberty dollar, 1840,
isn’t that hard to find, but go a little further
back with dollars. The 1795 Draped Bust is
scarce and expensive, and of course, the 1794
Flowing Hair dollar is a major rarity.
The first large cents were struck in 1793, in
three different types: the Chain, Wreath, and
Liberty Cap. The Chain and Wreath are in high
demand from type collectors, while the Liberty
Cap is the rarest of the three. That design
continued through 1796, but if you want the
first year, it will cost you. The 1793 half cent
is also a rare coin, in high demand from type
Capped Bust coinage of the early 19th century is
attractive. The half dime of 1829 and dime of
1809 may not be difficult to find – the half
dime, in particular, may seem absurdly cheap –
but quarters of the first year, 1815, may
present a challenge, especially in high grades.
Capped Bust half dollars of 1807 led off a
series famous for many different varieties. A
good number of 1807 halves, four or more, can
appear in a first year set.
And when varieties are included, a first year of
issue collection can keep a numismatist shopping
for a long time.
When the first year collection is complete, or
nearly complete, a new collection can complement
this set – a last year of issue set. Some coins
in their last years were ignored by collectors
and the public alike, and a few scarcer items
can be obtained at not too painful a cost. The
designs may show subtle differences, too.
Side-by-side comparisons may prove interesting.
First year of issue coin sets can be fun and
worthwhile. You can make them as challenging as
your finances and interests allow.