Halloween is upon us again, and neighborhoods and retail outlets from coast to coast are breaking out in shades of black and orange. Meanwhile, numismatists can celebrate the spooky October 31 holiday in their way by adding festive new coins featuring mysterious themes, mystical figures, and other unearthly references. Many coins make the ghoulish cut, but here are 13 particularly frightful coins sure to put a little more treat than trick in your coin ca-"boo"-net (sorry for the pun).
1793 AMERI. Flowing Hair Chain Cent
The 1793 AMERI. Chain cent is a coveted numismatic rarity, serving as the very first mass-produced coins the young United States Mint ever struck for circulation. However, the coin designed by Henry Voigt hasn’t necessarily won many hearts based on its artistic merits. The coin, showing Miss Liberty’s mouth frightfully pursed and her wispy hair tousled behind her head, has been deemed by many numismatists as downright "scary" in appearance, with one critic of the day writing the new "the chain on the reverse is a bad omen for liberty, and Liberty herself appears to be in fright." (Blackmore, Smithsonian.com)
Any concerns about the coin’s aesthetic appeal don’t seem to matter to collectors today, who value its important place in numismatics. PCGS estimates a total of only 187 examples are known to exist in all grades, and prices for this rare coin will probably "scare" just about any collector. Well-worn examples even in the grade of AG3 are fetching about $5,000 at auction. One specimen graded PCGS/CAC MS64+BN realized $1.5 million in a 2019 Heritage Auctions sale.
1888-O Scarface Variety Morgan Dollar
It looks like Miss Liberty got into a terrible fight on at least one popular variety of Morgan dollar. The 1888-O "Scarface" variety, officially cataloged as VAM-1B, is a rather striking coin, serving not only as one of the most drastic of all Morgan dollar varieties but arguably also the most desirable. This gory variety arose as a late to terminal state die crack running between the E and PLURIBUS running down Liberty’s nose and cheek, through to her lower hair curls.
As various specimens of the "Scarface" variety show progression of the die crack from earlier state to late state, not all Scarface Morgan dollars are as drastic in appearance or valuable as others. Those showing an earlier die state of the die crack are not as wild in appearance and thus not worth as much as one exhibiting a much deeper, more visible die crack. Regardless, this is a rare variety with PCGS MS64 examples commanding around $10,000 or more at recent auction events. It’s safe to say that if Miss Liberty were to walk into a Halloween party in her "Scarface" Morgan Dollar mask, she’d probably win an award for the freakiest costume.
1936 Delaware Tercentenary Half Dollar
What’s so scary about Old Swedes Church, the edifice depicted on the reverse of the 1936 Delaware commemorative half dollar? Nothing, really – in the daytime. It’s the centuries-old church and its reportedly haunted grounds at night that make this historic Wilmington, Delaware landmark a destination for ghost seekers. Consecrated on Trinity Sunday, June 4, 1699, Old Swedes Church – also known as Holy Trinity Church – stands as "the nation’s oldest church building still used for worship as originally built." Adjacent to the house of worship on the church grounds is a cemetery with the oldest legible headstone marking the grave of William Vandever, an innkeeper who died in 1718.
The graveyard, where more than 8,000 souls were laid to rest, dates back to 1638 when the area was first colonized by Swedes. Local lore of ghosts and hauntings at the 1638 Burial Ground date back to at least the 19th century and are one of the main lures for the many who take the 30-minute Ghosts in the Graveyard tour hosted by the Old Swedes Historic Site, at 606 N. Church Street in downtown Wilmington. Be warned, the evening ghost tour is deemed too scary for young children! (OldSwedes.org) In all the fright, don’t forget to add a Delaware commemorative half dollar to your collection – one can be had for about $240 in a grade of MS65.
1936 San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Half Dollar
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was built in 1936 as a double-decker suspension and cantilever bridge designed to carry motor vehicles between the Bay Area cities of San Francisco and Oakland. Now designated as part of Interstate 80, the iconic suspension bridge has seen its share of tragedy over its existence. Along with countless fatal auto accidents, the bridge has been involved in at least two deadly incidents that gained nationwide attention. On February 11, 1968, a United States Navy training aircraft crashed into the bridge’s cantilever span about 15 feet above the upper-deck roadway, causing the deaths of both airmen aboard the plane. Two decades later, on October 17, 1989, the deadly Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area and caused significant damage and destruction across the region. The 6.9 magnitude rush-hour rattler also caused a section of the bridge’s upper deck to crash to the lower deck, killing one motorist. The bridge reopened a month later, but a major part of the span was replaced in 2013.
The 1936 San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Half Dollar commemorates the bridge’s opening. At that time, many of these commemorative halves were sold for $1.50 at toll booths on the bridge. A total of the 71,424 San Francisco-struck halves were distributed, making this coin one of the more readily available classic commemoratives. Examples can be bought for around $200 in a grade of MS65. It’s a souvenir of a California landmark now dramatically altered in appearance due in part to the tectonic tragedy of yesteryear and modern reengineering to protect souls who may be on the bridge when the hypothetical but inevitable "Big One" strikes the region in the future.
1937 Battle of Antietam Half Dollar
The single bloodiest day of the United States Civil War occurred on September 17, 1862, when 22,717 people were killed, injured, or went missing during the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland. While tactically inconclusive, the battle led to a strategic victory for the Union and was soon followed by the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln changing the legal status of African Americans in bondage from slaves to freed people. While the Civil War ultimately ended in 1865 after Confederate General Robert E. Lee and bands of other southern rebels surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, the horrors of at the Battle of Antietam haunted Americans decades later.
The Battle of Antietam Half Dollar was released to honor the 75th anniversary of the bloody combat and originally issued for $1.75. The reverse of the coin, anchored on the obverse by generals Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan, shows Burnside’s Bridge, a key territorial player in the Battle of Antietam. Today, it is rumored to be one of the most haunted Civil War landmarks and is a major destination for ghost seekers. Meanwhile, those who seek Battle of Antietam Half Dollars can buy one in MS65 for about $550.
1992 White House Commemorative Dollar
Speaking of ghosts, one can’t forget about all the ghoulish sightings reported at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House’s haunted history dates back to at least the early 1860s when First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln began taking part in seances and spirit circles in the Red Room as a way to console herself over the death of her sons Willie and Eddie. An unknown teenaged boy named "The Thing" reportedly made himself known to many frightened members of President William Taft’s domestic staff in 1911. And a man named Jeremiah Jerry Smith who worked at the White House during the late 19th century claimed to have seen the ghosts of Lincoln, Grant, William McKinley, and several first ladies lurking about the stately mansion.
The White House is a key feature on the 1992 commemorative silver dollar honoring the historic presidential palace. The dollar, designed by Edgar Z. Steever and Chester Y. Martin, portrays an elevational view of the White House in all the landmark’s famous glory. The question, of course, is if any of these ghost stories are true. That may be something worth pondering upon holding in hand a nice example of the 1992 White House dollar, which trades for about $30 in a grade of MS69.
2000 New Hampshire State Quarter
While many New Englanders of a certain age long knew about the "Old Man of the Mountain," most Americans only became privy to this pareidolic rock formation in 2000, upon the issuance of the New Hampshire quarter featuring a visage of the famous natural landmark. The coin even helped draw waves of tourists to the series of five granite cliff ledges that sat atop Cannon Mountain in the White Mountain range of New Hampshire – until the formation collapsed due to natural causes on May 3, 2003. Many locals regarded the demise of the "Old Man" like a death, placing flowers and other tributes nearby the site in the days and weeks after the collapse. Today, the memory of the Old Man lives on in a memorial built alongside nearby Profile Lake.
The New Hampshire quarter honors the legacy of the majestic cliff formation that drew the curiosity of countless millions since it was first recorded by explorers Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks in 1805. Examples of the 2000-dated 50 State Quarter can be obtained for face value in circulation, though uncirculated and proof versions are readily available in the marketplace. Nice uncirculated examples in MS66 trade for $8, while clad proofs in PR69 realize $10 and similarly graded silver proofs snag $11. Gorgeous 90% silver proofs can be bought for about $10.
2000 Virginia State Quarter
The Virginia state quarter is anchored by a reverse design featuring the settlement of Jamestown, established in 1607 and named for English king James I. Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement in what was to later become the United States. While the settlement was eventually successful, serving as the nucleus of the Hampton Roads region of eastern Virginia, death by way of illness and war stole many souls in the city’s early days. Famine also ran rampant in Jamestown, with many English settlers afraid to leave the confines of their fort for fear of being killed by Native Americans. In some cases, a few desperate settlers resorted to cannibalism.
Anyone who visits the historic Jamestown sites will hear stories of ghosts, ghastly living conditions, and other horrors from the area’s earliest days as a settlement. Even if you’re unable to visit the site can open the door to the myriad stories, mysteries, and lore stemming from Jamestown’s fledgling period with a 2000 Virginia Quarter in hand – and a few good books, websites, or documentaries on the history of this early English-speaking New World outpost. Virginia state quarters can be found in circulation for face value, while nice uncirculated specimens sell for $8 in MS66. Clad proofs grading PR69 sell for $10, while 90% silver proof in the same grade gets $11.
2001 Vermont State Quarter
Let’s take a sweet break from ghosts and goblins and turn to the autumnal haven of Vermont, where countless tourists make annual pilgrimages to peep at the region’s colorful fall leaves in September and October. Among the most colorful of the deciduous trees in Green Mountain State are the sugar maple, which serves as Vermont’s official tree and the basis of the state’s robust maple syrup industry, which is booming these days. Not only does maple syrup and other sugary maple by-products serve as a staple for pancakes from coast to coast, but Vermont’s maple-flavored goodness is also found in a variety of many other food products, including some candies – a huge part of the modern Halloween tradition.
While maple-flavored candies and other sweet treats are often available only during the Halloween season, Vermont quarters are obtainable year-round and are perennially ideal for any collection of modern United States coins. The Vermont quarter, like other 50 State Quarters, can be plucked out of circulation at face value. However, those who wish to purchase uncirculated pieces can obtain one for about $8 in MS66, while clad proofs go for $10 and 90% silver proofs take $11, either in the grade of PR69.
2016 Harpers Ferry America The Beautiful Quarter
The Harpers Ferry America The Beautiful Quarter honors one of the most popular landmarks in West Virginia and also one of the most haunted places in the Potomac River Valley. Harpers Ferry, a small town with a colorful past, was established as a trading outpost where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. Robert Harper arrived in the area in the late 1700s and eventually operated a ferry servicing the two rivers. The town’s population swelled during the Civil War when Union forces established an armory and arsenal there – the latter raided by abolitionist John Brown.
The town’s ghostly past is well documented, with even the Washington Post covering the matter in a 1982 feature story, "Harpers (Haunted) Ferry". Many of the apparitions reportedly involve local figures who died during the nearby battles during the Civil War, including a freed slave seeking his family, a priest who passes through walls, a crying drummer boy, phantom soldiers, and Confederate spies. And that’s just the beginning. Harpers Ferry Quarters are lurking about in circulation, or collectible specimens can be bought for a relatively nominal amount. MS66 examples sell for $10, clad PR69 examples also trade for $10 and 90% silver PR69 examples are priced around $12.
2016 Mark Twain Dollar
One of America’s greatest authors was Mark Twain, the famous pen name of a man born in 1835 as Samuel Clemens. Dubbed by Noble Prize laureate William Faulkner as "the father of American literature," Twain wrote some of the nation’s most popular works of fiction, much of it with a satirical twist and a southern setting inspired by his colorful years in the South, including a stint as a Mississippi riverboat pilot. The eventual novelist authored 28 books and numerous short stories and commentaries, many addressing the various social matters of the day.
Some of his most iconic works are embodied on the 2016 Mark Twain commemorative silver dollar, including The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Though not depicted on the coin, one of his more popular pieces is "A Ghost Story," published in his 1875 volume Sketches New and Old. "A Ghost Story," based on a 19th-century hoax involving a "petrified giant" carved from stone and named the "Cardiff Giant," is an ironic tale featuring a rather humorous encounter between a New York City man and the ghost of the Cardiff Giant, the latter having been duped into haunting a mere replica of his body.
2016 Nancy Reagan First Spouse Gold Ten Dollar
Nancy Reagan was one of the most visible first ladies of the late 20th century, becoming a pop culture icon during her husband Ronald Reagan’s two-term tenure as United States president from 1981 through 1989. Many people claim she helped define the ritzy style of the 1980s, and her popular "Say No To Drugs" campaign was a school ground rally call during the heart of the decade. But there was a side of Nancy Reagan many didn’t know about until the end of the 40th president’s final term in the Oval Office.
Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer in planning her husband’s busy schedule. Nancy Reagan wasn’t the first of the first ladies to dabble in the occult, but she was one of the most devout in her astrological beliefs. The fact she used an astrologer to determine the commander-in-chief’s itinerary was particularly scandalous for the late 1980s. Sadly, Nancy Reagan is now gone, passing in 2016 – a dozen years after her husband died. Her memory lives on with the First Spouse $10 gold bullion coin, ironically issued the same year she died. An uncirculated example can be bought for a nominal numismatic premium over spot.
2017 Effigy Mounds America The Beautiful Quarter
In Harpers Ferry, Iowa, you can find one of the most mystical national monuments in the United States. Effigy Mounds National Monument is where some 200 ancient American Indian mounds are located, including many shaped like birds, deer, bison, lynx, turtles, and bears. The park, located in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, has historical connections with 20 American Indian tribes, and the mounds are spiritually and culturally significant to them and their culture.
Interestingly, many of the mounds are rectangular in shape, but why leaves researchers and archeologists scratching their heads. The millennia-old mystery persists, yet the wonders of Effigy Mounds National Monument can be enjoyed in hand. The Effigy Mounds America The Beautiful Quarter can be found for face value in pocket change, while uncirculated examples of the 2017 Iowa America the Beautiful (ATB) Quarter sell in MS66 for $5. Clad proofs and 90% silver proof in PR69 each sell for $10.