This article was submitted to us by David Eagle in response to the previous eZine Survey Question. The interpretations and conclusions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of PCGS or its employees.
On January 29 (of this year, 2013) I received Volume 13 #4 of the PCGS email newsletter. In it there was a survey that asked "If Money Wasn't an Issue, Which Coin Would You Rather Own?" I went to answer, and then was stymied, because I didn't want any of the "coins" listed, at any price. The four choices were the 1913 Liberty Nickel, the 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle, the 1804 Dollar, and the 1894-S Dime. Let me take each one in turn, note my objections, and suggest a better option.
First, the 1913 nickel is pretty easy to dismiss. I think anyone looking at it dispassionately will conclude it is a counterfeit. Yes, made in the Mint using actual dies, but a counterfeit nonetheless. Here are the facts: (1) It was unauthorized. (2) The Mint has no official record of its production. (3) The first clue that they existed came six years later, when a former Mint employee (Samuel Brown) placed a "want to buy" ad in the Numismatist. (4) After the statute of limitations had passed, Brown offered the 1913 nickels for sale at the 1920 ANA Convention.
I refer interested readers to "Million Dollar Nickels: Mysteries of the Illicit 1913 Liberty Head Nickels" by Montgomery and Borckardt. In any event, I am not really trying to persuade you of the illegitimacy of the 1913 Liberty nickel. Instead, I am giving my reason for not wanting one. There is no accounting for taste, and I suppose some people might want to own one just for the notoriety. As for me, if money were no object, I would rather own the 1876-CC twenty cent piece.
The 1876-CC 20 cents has several things going for it. (1) It is the key to a short-lived series. (2) That series, the 20 cent piece, represents a "natural" decimal denomination, unlike the quarter dollar. Note that the Euro comes in denominations of 1-2-5-10-20-50 cents. (3) It was produced in quantity for circulation, and it became rare because of a post-production melt. (4) It was made at the short-lived Carson City mint, which is now a museum (a fun visit if you ever get to Carson City!). (5) It was made during our nation's centennial.
Next we consider the 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle. I would put this coin on the "honorable mention" list, because although I would love to have it, I would be loathe to actually own it! Apparently, since they have seized them, the U.S. government doesn't want anyone to own one of these coins. Since I don't have the gumption or firepower to take on the Feds, I will steer clear. On the other hand, their reason for objecting to private ownership of these coins is founded on the fact that Roosevelt illegally confiscated all the country's gold. Since I don't support this action by FDR, I am sympathetic to owners of the 1933 double eagle.
I would substitute the High Relief 1907 Double Eagle with Roman numerals. Since these didn't stack well, the design was "flattened" starting in 1908. So, the 1907 coins are more beautiful and desirable than later pieces. In fact, this Saint Gaudens design is widely considered the most beautiful U.S. coin.
Now on to the 1804 Silver Dollar. This is clearly a presentation piece, and was not struck to be a circulating coin. It was not authorized, and was minted over 30 years after its date. For this reason, I don't consider it a "coin" at all. Now, we each have our own collecting interests, and I do include some medals in my collection. These can be quite beautiful, and more affordable than comparable coins. But, what I would want more than the 1804 Dollar would be the 1839 Gobrecht dollar. This coin is absolutely beautiful, made for circulation, part of a short-lived series, and rare. Of the Gobrecht dollars, I prefer the one with the stars on the obverse rather than the reverse, but it would not take much arm-twisting to persuade me to own the 1836 instead!
Finally, the 1894-S dime. The problem here is the suspicious circumstances surrounding its origin. It is very different from the 1876-CC 20 cent piece discussed above, where a quantity was made for circulation, only to have most of them end up in the melting pot. Instead, it was made rare to begin with, and several of those pieces ended up being owned by the Mint director's daughter. Since I can't abide this apparent abuse of power, I don't want one of these coins.
As an alternative, I suggest another San Francisco product, the 1906-S U.S./Philippines Peso. This coin has a lot going for it. (1) It is the key to the U.S. peso series. (2) It is the key to ALL the U.S./Philippines series. (3) It is an excellent representative of officially authorized U.S. coins made specifically for use in a particular U.S. territory. (4) It has its own origin story, similar to the 1876-CC 20 cent piece. Over 200,000 were minted in San Francisco and put on a boat for Manilla. But the price of silver had escalated that year, and Congress decided to reduce the size of the peso. So, a message was sent to "send the boat back" when it reached port, so the 1906-S pesos could be melted and re-coined. But, apparently, the message was not received in time, and a few hundred escaped the melting pot so we collectors may enjoy their ownership today, or at least see one in a museum.
I can't let this article end without mentioning two more numismatic pieces. Although not strictly "circulating coinage", these pieces are so significant that they merit an inclusion in any list of desirable American numismatica. The first is the 1792 Wright "quarter dollar". This piece is technically a pattern. But, it was made by George Washington's hand-picked first chief engraver of the Mint. It is much more aesthetically pleasing than the ugly Chain Cent of 1793, and it is easy to see why Washington selected Joseph Wright. This design, or one much like it, was supposed to be on America's first coins. Unfortunately, Mr. Wright died while awaiting confirmation, and we ended up with Mint employees hurrying to engrave a die and get some coins out the door. We had to then wait over 40 years for another quality artist, Gobrecht, to bring beauty to our coinage.
The second is the 1915-S Panama-Pacific $50 commemorative, octagonal. This coin is impressive: physically large, large denomination, gold, octagonal, Minerva, an owl, dolphins, and did I mention it is one big hunk of gold? It is unique in several ways, and only 645 were made.
We each have our own collecting preferences, and now you know some of what matters to me. Your list would probably differ from mine, and that is part of the fun of answering these surveys. What coin did I leave out that you would like to add to the "If money were no object..." list?