Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Collecting U.S. Coins

Collecting U.S. coins is a popular numismatic pursuit, but deciding exactly how to collect them is not necessarily an easy task. Our nation's rich history and the eclectic artistry of its coinage have inspired many different approaches to collecting, with each option having a distinctive appeal.

Assembling a collection by denomination provides a nice overview of 200+ years of U.S. regular-issue coinage. Some denominations are familiar - cents, nickels, dimes and quarters are used every day. Others, like half dollars and dollars, are elusive, but still contemporary. Obsolete fractional issues, such as the once-popular half-cent, the Civil War-era 2-cent piece, the surprisingly useful 3-cent coin, and the short-lived 20-cent piece, are charming in their eccentricity.

Most U.S. denominations have experienced changes in their physical characteristics over time, and those variations can be the basis for collecting by size and composition. Dollars are a great example: during the 19th century, there were standard silver dollars, slightly larger Trade dollars and tiny gold dollars. In the 1970s, large copper­-nickel dollar coins were replaced with a smaller version, and those, in turn, gave way to this century's golden dollars (golden in appearance, not content).

Other denominations have been modified as well. There are large cents, and there are small cents. Three-cent pieces and 5-cent coins come in both silver and copper-nickel versions. Dimes and quarters switched from silver to copper­ nickel in 1965; half dollars did the same in 1971 after a brief, interim period of 40-percent silver.

Of course, money is more than just metal, and collecting by design type embraces the diversity of American coin design. A "type" is defined by its major motif, for example, Indian Head cents, Barber dimes or Peace dollars. The 18th, 19th and 20th centuries already offered an abundance of "types," but during the 21st century, state, territorial, and national parks quarters, and Sacagawea, Native American and Presidential Dollars, have taken design diversity to an entirely new level.

Where a type collection includes exactly one coin of each design, collecting by subtype involves multiples. Consider the Lincoln cent, which is fertile ground for subtype collecting. Over the course of more than a century, our most common coin has been made of bronze, zinc-plated steel, brass and copper-plated zinc. And it's had seven, different reverse designs—four in 2009 alone.

Subtypes can also be defined by partial design changes. For example, the word "CENTS" was added to the Liberty Head nickel in 1883, and there are "raised mound" and "recessed mound" Buffalo nickels of 1913.

Going beyond types and subtypes is the approach of concentrated collecting. The idea is to choose a compact set of coins that includes every major subtype within a series, every decade of the series' lifespan, and every mint that coined the series. For any series, there are many different ways to create a concentrated collection. For example, the following three coins constitute a concentrated collection of Standing Liberty quarters: 1917-D (Type 1), 1925(-P) and 1930-S. Alternatively, a 1917-S (Type 1), 1924-D and a 1930(-P) would serve the same purpose, as would a 1917(-P, Type 1),1927-D and 1930-S.

Countless other combinations are possible. Whatever specific pieces you choose, concentrated collecting allows you to capture the essence of a series with a small number of coins.

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