December 27, 1999
Lists are all the rage these days, as the dawn of the year 2000 gives rise to compilations of everything from the most important events of the last millennium to the best movies and books of the 20th century. The numismatic field is not immune to this "bug." In fact, I made a personal contribution to the hype by preparing an article for COINage magazine recently on the men and women who deserve consideration as the numismatist (or numismatists) of the century.
In the spirit of these centennial and millennial pursuits, the editors of Coin Universe have asked me to draw up a list of the all-time Top 50 U.S. coins. Obviously, any such list must of necessity cover more than just the 20th century. On the other hand, its coverage falls considerably short of a millennium, since federal U.S. coinage didn't get under way until the final decade of the 18th century and even Colonial coinage takes the time line back to only 1652.
In accepting this challenge, I realized full well that no list would satisfy every single reader, since everyone has a different frame of reference. I also rejected the notion of basing my selections solely on rarity or price performance -- or even on historical significance. All of these elements need to be given weight, along with popularity, but I felt that the criteria must be as broad as possible, reflecting the composite importance and impact of every coinage candidate.
I've chosen a list within a list -- the créme de la créme, if you will -- consisting of the coins I consider to be the Top 10. And I've rated these in order of importance from 1 to 10. Assigning a ranking to each of the remaining coins would be arbitrary, capricious and ultimately rather meaningless, so I've listed those chronologically from oldest to most recent. In each case, I've given a brief explanation as to why I selected the coin, with much greater detail on the Top 10.
Your comments, criticisms, suggestions and substitutions would be most welcome. And although my list and yours might differ substantially, I hope you will agree that all of the 50 coins cited here are worthy of serious consideration. I know I'd be delighted to have them in my collection!
Following are the 40 runners-up in my Top 50 list. They are listed chronologically, rather than in their order of importance.
Top 5: (left to right) 1907 Ultra-High Relief St. Gaudens double eagle, 1804 Childs silver dollar, 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent, 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and 1943 bronze Lincoln cent