6 Experienced Coin Collector Favorites

Every experienced collector has a favorite coin, and as a Grand Rapids coin dealer, I have had the pleasure of seeing many of them.  While each collector’s personal favorite may not be the most valuable gem in their collection, there is usually a story behind it (as in the case of "The Extraordinary Eric Newman and His Extraordinary Favorite Coin").

As a Grand Rapids coin dealer, I am sometimes asked what the most important coins are for any experienced collector. There are, of course, a number of ways to answer that question, because every collector has different goals.   Instead of focusing on favorite coins, maybe the focus should be on coins that require a bit of collector knowledge.   As is the case with nearly all things, knowledge is power. In the collecting world, powerful knowledge can mean big value. 

Often, truly rare coins are as much about the condition or variety as they are about date and mint mark.   A seasoned collector who studies a particular series understands which varieties to look for, and which dates are the toughest to find in Gem condition.  A novice collector might not recognize such attributes. 

Experienced collectors enjoy the hunt and the challenge of acquiring truly rare and desirable coins.   They often specialize in a particular series, varieties, condition census coins (high known grades), or investment coins.  Depth of knowledge sets their collection apart from others.  

Examples include:

  1. Set and “Registry Set” Collecting -  For years, collectors have strived to put together full “sets” of a particular series of coins.  With the introduction of reputable third party grading services (PCGS, NGC), collectors began to put together “Registry Sets” -- collections that are registered and scored by the ratings services.  The objective is to put together a complete set of one series or type in the finest possible condition one can afford.

    Each coin scores registry points based upon the rarity and grade.  The rarer a coin is, the higher the score.  The better condition a coin is in, the higher the score.  The combined rarity and condition scores for all coins in the series result in a “Registry Set” score that can be compared to set owned by other collectors.   The registry craze has driven the price up on “condition census coins” (highest grade examples) of otherwise common coins. 
  2. Type Coin Collecting – Type coins are exactly that, one example of each coin made.  Type collections can be for 18th Century coins, 19th Century coins, 20th Century coins, gold coins, by denomination (1792-to date), or any subset thereof.  For the wealthy individual with lots of time, the big set is the US Coins Type Set – one example of every coin made… which is nearly impossible to assemble. 

    Type collectors usually select an attainable series and then acquire the best examples they can afford to complete that series.   Good example would be a US Cent Type Cent… one example of every US penny ever minted is not cheap, but can be done.
  3. Design Collecting - Before 1892, no American coin showed a recognizable person. The generic "Liberty" types, or generic "Indian Head,” represented freedom from British rule, because British coins always showed the head of the reigning monarch.  Some of us collect by a coin’s appearance, such as a full collection of coins with images of Indians.   Collecting one or more of these coins is a chance to learn more about the beautiful, historic U.S. coinage. 
  4. Early Commemorative Collecting. From 1892 to 1953, many U.S. commemorative coins were issued, mostly in half-dollar denominations. Most have a high premium, which is why they are distinguished from modern commemoratives, and price action on these coins fluctuates greatly over time. Condition is the key to value of early commemorative coins. 
  5. Error/Variety Coins.  Error coins (minting mistakes) and varieties (working die changes and mistakes) can be quite valuable and highly collectable.   Studying error and variety coins is also a great way to develop a better understanding of the minting process and how it can fail.  Errors are usually unique examples of coins that were damaged in the minting process.  These can include capped dies, off-center strikes, multiple strike coins, wrong planchet coins, double denomination coins (known as mules), and a number of additional errors. 

    Varieties are often referred to as errors but are actually products of mint working dies that were slightly different than the intended dies.   Because they are products of mint dies, thousands to hundreds of thousands of highly collectable varieties can be produced by one set of dies.  One of the most famous examples is the 1955 doubled die Lincoln Cent.   Of the 330,000,000 cents made that year, it is estimated the 24,000 were made from one working die that has obverse doubling.   A circulated 1955 cent is worth 2 cents, but a circulated doubled die is worth about $1,000.  Error and Variety collectors normally love the “treasure hunt” aspect of collecting.
  6. Key date, as an investment.  Key date coins are the rarest coins in a particular series.   If you collect Lincoln Cents, the 1909-S VDB is the key date.  Over time, strong collector interest has driven up the value of key date coins.  The percentage increase in value often outpaces the less rare coins in the same series.  Other examples include the 1893-S Morgan Dollar, 1916-D Mercury Dime, 1932-D Washington Quarter.   

What do you collect?  Are you an expert in the series you collect?   Studying coins and gaining expertise in a specific series or type of coin can be half the fun of collecting and will likely result in a far higher return on investment when the time comes to sell your collection.

We would love to hear how you collect.  Register your comments here, or contact us at Mullen Coins, 616-272-4402.