Coin Collecting is No Joke… Parts I and II
Collecting Coins with Jeff Figler
by Jeff Figler
Yes, coins. Those small little things that people carry around with them or store them in safe places.
As with some other types of collectibles such as records, it is difficult to select the most valuable or rare. What I will discuss in the next set of columns are coins that most experts believe are the “best” U.S. coins of all time. Again, keep in mind that if you think you have a valuable coin that is not mentioned, I cannot mention them all, and there are price guides that can tell you their value. Lets start.
Many experts say that the “best” American coin is the 1804 Silver Dollar. Up until recently, the 1804 Silver Dollar was the most valuable coin, until being supplanted by the 1933 Double Eagle. This 1804 coin has received more publicity probably than any other coin in the world. In fact there have been books written about this coin, including The Fantastic 1804 Silver Dollar by Eric Newman and Kenneth Bressett. To date only 15 of these coins are known to exist, although a few of these have been auctioned in the last few years.
A second extremely popular coin is the 1943 Bronze Cent. Ironically, the 1943 Bronze Cents were actually mistakes, which the U.S. Mint finally admitted in the 1960’s. How was it a mistake? Without getting too complicated , the story goes like this. In 1943, the U S. Mint began using steel blanks in order to conserve copper for use in World War II. More than a billion of these coins (often called “steelies”) were made. However, a handful of the 1943 cents were found to be made by bronze blanks which had somehow been mixed with the steel blanks. Thus, there are about a dozen 1943 Bronze Cents known to exist, but almost all of them were pulled from circulation.
Now for some real trivia. Once in a while you will hear the expression “my two cents worth.” Sound familiar? Well, believe it or not there actually was a 2- cent piece. This piece was issued in 1864 and was the first coin to have the familiar motto “In God We Trust.” For history buffs, this motto was proposed by Reverend M. R. Watkins of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania. This 2 –cent piece was actually prompted by the Civil War. During the war, all gold and silver disappeared from circulation, and bronze coins took center stage. However, the public did not readily accept the new coin. Even though almost 33. million of these coins were produced in the first two years, production quickly dropped. The Coinage Act of 1873 discontinued the piece.
Most of the 2 – cent coins were saved and stashed away. People have saved them as curious pieces, and most people don’t realize that the United States ever had this coin. They have heard of a $2 bill, but not a 2 – cent coin. If you get one, hold on to it. Maybe this is a reason for you to check the change you get after making a purchase. And if you see one, remember, it’s the real thing, not a joke.
I remember that when I was growing up I would always hear that the 1909 – S VDB Lincoln Head Cent was one of the true rare American coins. It was true then, and is true today.
There were actually 484,000 of these coins minted, which would seem to be an awfully large number for a rare item. But considering that there are a considerable number of coin collectors, owning one of these coins can still be a bit difficult. However, if you look hard enough, and have a little patience, you can find one.
You may wonder why this coin is so famous. It was the coin in 1909 for which Victor David Brenner (hence, the VDB) created the famous bust of Abraham Lincoln, that has lasted to this day. Brenner started something new – – placing the image of an actual person on a circulated coin.
However, Brenner went a bit too far for the American public, and Mint officials of the time, objected to his putting his initials VDB near the bottom of the back of the coin. The initials were quickly removed later that year. Thus, there are four 1909 Lincoln cents varieties. There are 1909 coins with and without the VDB, and 1909 – S cents with and without the VDB. The 1909 – S VDB is by far the rarest of the four varieties.
Another of the most valuable coins through the years has been the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel. Evidently it was a coin that was not supposed to be minted and only half a dozen are known to exist. The Liberty Head Nickel series came to an end in December 1912, and the following year was replaced by the Buffalo Nickel. The only explanation as to why there were any 1913 Liberty Head Nickels at all was because Samuel Brown was the Clerk of the Mint in 1912 and 1913 and he made a few for himself and a select few others using Mint equipment. This coin is regarded as one of the very toughest to obtain and in 1972, one of the six coins known to exist became the first American coin to top the $100,000 mark. That same coin was valued at about $2 million thirty years later. It was even the subject of an episode of the TV program Hawaii Five-O.
The 1794 Silver Dollar was the first dollar coin ever issued by United States. It is very rare to find one as only 2,000 were ever minted, (with 242 being rejected) and approximately only 130 of those exist today. For history buffs, the Silver Dollar idea actually began in 1792, when the American government first considered its coinage system. The Silver Dollar and the Gold $10 Eagle were the cornerstones of the coinage system, and all other denominations were either fractions or multiples of those two. It is ironic that no wording of the denomination appears anywhere on the coin. If you think you have one, look to see that on one side is a head of Miss Liberty, with the word LIBERTY above her head, and eight stars on one side and seven on the other. On the reverse side there is a plain eagle with outstretched wings within a wreath of palm and olive branches. The words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA are on the outer edges of that side. By the way, not only was this coin the first US silver dollar, but also the first silver coin from the Philadelphia mint.