A “Dream Collection” of U.S. Coins, Part I

Twenty years ago, in September 1995, I wrote a feature article for Issue #30 of our company newspaper, The Coin Collector. At the time I was challenged by a reader to build a “Dream Collection” of U.S. coins, keeping the cost under $5,000. In this and a couple of upcoming blogs I will reprint this article and update the prices to 2015, to see how much it would cost (according to the 2016 Guide Book) to build this dream collection today.

Ground Rules

While reading a program bulletin put out by the American Numismatic Society, New York, I noted that Dr. Leo Mildenberg was set to present a talk, “A Dream Collection of Greek Coins.”

I didn’t get a chance to attend Dr. Mildenberg’s presentation, which I’m sure was outstanding, but the title of his talk prompted me to turn my thoughts to a “Dream Collection of United States Coins.”

If money were no object, what coins would I include?

First, I gave myself some ground rules. I have a bias, and that is an interesting coin is more desirable to own than an expensive one, all things being equal. For that reason, you will find the “lowly” 1909 V.D.B. cent (you can buy one on the market for just a couple of dollars) on my list.

Also, in the interest of having this article be less than book length, I am including just federal coin issues from 1793 to date. Were I to include colonial coins or territorial gold coins, the article would quadruple in size, for almost all of these are interesting to me!

Another requirement was that this be a small collection — compact enough to fit in an exhibit case with space for an index card describing each. At this point in my daydreaming I see a group of U.S. coins including an 1804 silver dollar, 1885 trade dollar, MCMVII Extremely High Relief $20, and other legendary treasures.


A Letter from Ohio

However, a week or two later there arrived in the mailbox a letter from J.B., a Cleveland, Ohio, reader who commented:

“I have always enjoyed your articles and publications and dream about many of the coins and the stories about them. I would like to see an article written by you along these lines: ‘What coins would I buy with $5,000 if this were all I could spend over a lifetime, and which coins would show the beauty, history, unusual stories and monetary policies of our country?’

Upon reflection I decided to limit my Dream Collection of United States Coins to a total expenditure of under $5,000. No longer would it include such delicacies as the 1804 dollar and 1885 trade dollar, nor would there be an Extremely High Relief MCMVII $20. This would at once fill the request of J.B and also make the collection more challenging. Doing something on a budget is always more of a challenge than having an unlimited checkbook. Further, I had the thought that a $5,000 collection would probably be affordable to most Coin Collector readers, should anyone want to actually form one.

To form a common ground with my readers I have used prices in the new 1996 edition of A Guide Book of U.S. Coins. Actual coin prices may vary.

Here goes:


U.S. Copper Coins

Half cent: 1828 12 Stars. EF-40 ($150) [2016 Guide Book: $250]: One of my favorite half cent varieties and inexpensive, too (although market prices for truly nice coppers might be above the Guide Book values listed here). A die cutting blunder.

Half cent: 1857 EF-40 ($125) [2016 Guide Book: $180]: A rare issue and the last of the half cents. Mint Director James Ross Snowden wrote that most of the 35,180 pieces minted were melted rather than released. Here you have a sleeper. Expect to pay a bit over Guide Book however.

Large cent: 1817 15 Stars VF-20 ($120) [2016 Guide Book: $150]: But expect to pay a bit more. One of the most fascinating die-cutting blunders in American coinage history. I have always considered the overall aspect of this issue to be a bit unusual, and were it not for the fact that it is die-linked with other varieties for the reverse, I would say that it was made somewhere else besides behind the Mint’s front door.

Large cent: 1818 MS-60 ($300) [2016 Guide Book: $450]: A little messenger from the thousands of large cents dated 1816, 1817, 1818, 1819, and 1820 from the famous Randall Hoard, about which several fine articles have been written. Here you get a Mint State large cent and some nostalgia, too.

Large cent: 1857 EF-40 ($70) [2016 Guide Book: $200]: Scarce last date of the large cent series.

Indian cent: 1859 EF-40 ($75) [2016 Guide Book: $110]: Fist of the Indian cents, and the only year with the laurel wreath reverse design.

Indian cent: 1861 EF-40 ($75) [2016 Guide Book: $110]: America at war, brother against brother. The 1861, second year of the new design with Oak Wreath reverse, is the lowest mintage issue of the copper-nickel Indian cents.

Indian cent: 1864 Bronze. EF-40 ($30) [2016 Guide Book: $70]: First of the bronze cents

Lincoln cent: 1909 V.D.B. MS-63 ($20) [2016 Guide Book: $30]: First of the Lincoln cents, a storied, controversial (in its time), and very satisfying variety. Cheap because millions were struck, and specimens were hoarded for their novelty. Certainly one of the most interesting of all U.S. coins regardless of price range.

Lincoln cent: 1943-D Steel. MS-65 ($4.50) [2016 Guide Book: $10]: Representative of a very unusual coinage metal (no copper this year), of America in World War II and also a coin from the Denver Mint.

Lincoln cent: 1995 Doubled Die. MS-65 ($50 estimated) [2016 Guide Book: $50]: This one is not priced in the Guide Book [1996], as quantities kept turning up as that book went to press in spring 1995 (the book is printed a year ahead of its cover date). I include this, as it is a coin with an interesting story in our own time. Just about anyone can remember all the excitement it recently caused.

Two-cent piece: 1864 Large Motto. EF-40 ($32) [2016 Guide Book: $50]: A reminder of a denomination that lasted for but a short time.

Total copper coin cost: $1,051.50 [2016 Guide Book: $1,660].

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