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Collecting Rare Coins: A Great Hobby With Wonderful Options - Part 1


Collecting rare coins has been a passion shared by kings, sports personalities, famous actors and writers, and millions of people from all walks of life since the time of King Midas over 2,700 years ago. The coins from the earliest days were minted in Lydia, an area between the Mediterranean and Black seas. Many coins still survive from those ancient times, as do coins from the Romans and Greeks of 2,000 years ago.

Collecting rare coins is quite popular among the numismatic community, especially coins from the United States. In fact, issues from the U.S. hold almost every world-record price for a collectible coin.

This series explores many different series of United States coins from the very first issues, discussing the various collecting options that are available. In the first installment of this four-part series, we take a look at colonial coins and cent pieces.

Colonial Coins - The first coins struck in what is now the United States were minted in 1652 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These coins are usually referred to as "Pine Tree" issues, but in fact encompass the NE Shilling plus the Willow Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree coins. These silver coins are dated 1652 (with one exception) even though they were struck until 1682.

Other Colonial issues include coins that were struck in other countries but circulated in early America, and private or state issues that were struck outside the U.S. Mint.

Collecting options: Collectors of Colonial coins may opt to accumulate coins by type (one Colonial of each type, without attention to varieties and/or rare dates), state (collecting the Colonial issues of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, etc.), or variety. A variety collection can be extremely challenging, time-consuming and expensive, but equally rewarding and educational.

Half Cents - Issued from 1793 through 1857, this series of copper coins contains many rare and expensive dates. Some of the dates were struck only in proof, meaning that no pieces were minted for circulation. Mint state and proof pieces are valued not only for their condition, but for their color, with original mint red being highly desirable.

Collecting options: Collectors of half cents often collect by date, type or specialization (i.e., collecting the proof issues exclusively or collecting die varieties).

Large Cents - As is true with half cents, Large cents were issued from 1793 through 1857. This series has a huge following, with enthusiastic collectors willing to pay six-figure prices-and beyond- for the rare varieties they need to complete their collections. Extremely desirable coins from this series include the 1793 Chain cent, 1793 Wreath cent, 1793 Liberty Cap cent and many other issues.

Collecting options: Collectors of large cents build collections based on date, type, or variety; but regardless of the method of collection, you are sure to find many other collectors who share your interest.

Wayne Gretzky - Another famous collector

Flying Eagle and Indian Cents - The era of the "small cent" began in 1856 with the first Flying Eagle cent, and continues today. Collectors usually consider these two series as one. The Flying Eagle cent was only issued for three years, while the Indian cent was minted from 1859 through 1909.

Collecting options: Collectors typically assemble these by type and date, with some collectors opting for proofs and others for business-strike examples. A type collection usually includes a Flying Eagle cent, an 1859 Indian cent (no shield on the reverse), a copper-nickel cent (1860-64), and a so-called "bronze" cent (1864-1909).

Lincoln Cents - It's as American as baseball and hot dogs to collect Lincoln cents, and the popularity of this series is incredible. The 1909-S V.D.B. cent is possibly the most famous of all U.S. coins, and collectors of all ages seem to be on the lookout for one.

Collecting options: Collectors usually assemble this series by date and mintmark, even though there are several significant type coins as well. The mint errors of this series are popular too, including the 1955/55 Doubled Die and 1922 "Plain" cents.

Two Cent Pieces - Here's a trivia question: What is the first U.S. coin to have the motto IN GOD WE TRUST? The answer: the two-cent piece. This series lasted only ten years (1864-73) and is quite collectible though completing a collection can be somewhat of a challenge.

Collecting options: Because there is only one type, this series is collected by date, with the 1873 being a proof-only issue.

Three Cent Silvers - This tiny coin actually weighs less than one gram. The series runs from 1851-1873, comprising three different types and two different metal compositions. There is only one mint-marked coin, the New Orleans issue of 1851.

Collecting options: Type collecting is popular with the three cent silver, as is date collecting by business strikes and proofs. Proofs of the Type One (1851-53) are prohibitively rare, so most proof collections begin with the 1854 Type Two issue.

Be sure to check Part 2 of this series in which we examine the different nickels that have been in circulation.

Bruce Amspacher has been a professional writer since the 1950s and a professional numismatist since the 1960s. He won the OIPA sportswriting award in 1958 and again in 1959, then spent eight years in college studying American Literature. This background somehow led him to become a professional numismatist in 1968. Since then he has published hundreds of articles on rare coins in dozens of publications as well as publishing his own newsletter, the “Bruce Amspacher Investment Report,” for more than a decade. His areas of expertise include Liberty Seated dollars, Morgan and Peace dollars, United States gold coins, sports trivia, Western history, modern literature and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. In 1986 he was a co-founder of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

Colonials Three Cent Silvers (1851-1873) Two Cent Pieces (1864-1889) Lincoln Cents (1909-to Date) Flying Eagle Cents (1856-1909) Large Cents (1793-1857)

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