Half Cents, Two Cents, Three Cents, and Twenty Cents… They’re some of the many obsolete coins about which virtually all non-collectors know nothing. Yet, they are among the most colorful of United States coins, and their relative affordability means many collectors can incorporate them into their collections. The body of United States Odd Denomination coinage generally includes five long-retired types, including Half Cents (1793-1857), Two Cents (1864-1873), Three Cent Nickels (1865-1889), Three Cent Silvers (1851-1873), and Twenty Cent Pieces (1875-1878).
The complexity of an Odd Denomination type set can vary contingent on the whims of the collector, though a basic version of this collection generally contains one example of each of the five denominations listed above. As with any type set, grade and date are the wildcard factors in determining how easy – or challenging – the completion of this set will be. A collector can complete a five-coin version of an Odd Denomination set for as little as $350 to $400, while someone who vies for uncirculated examples of the scarcer dates may as well set aside five figures for the objective.
Entire volumes can be easily written about any one of the five denominations examined here, all coins that have dedicated collector followings in their own rights. Still, many collectors combine the Two Cent and Three Cent Pieces under a common collecting goal, while the short-lived Twenty Cent Piece is often lumped into a larger collection of quarter dollar coinage. Meanwhile, the Half Cent offers enough challenge on its own merits to be collected as an individual pursuit. The PCGS Set Registry reflects these common collecting strategies.
Half Cents are a Handful
The Half Cent was minted for the first 64 years of official federal coinage, and it was the nation’s lowest-mintage coin until inflation rendered the coin, valued at one two-hundredth of a dollar, all but economically irrelevant. Yet, by the time the Half Cent rolled off United States Mint presses for the last time in 1857, American coin collectors were already paying attention to these classic coppers, roughly the size of a modern quarter-dollar coinage.
Half Cents are scarce across the board, with most individual issues offering only a few thousand survivors or less across all grades. However, these coins aren’t as widely collected by date as, say Lincoln Cents or Morgan Dollars. So, it’s possible to obtain a decent circulated example for less than $100. And because a basic Odd Denomination requires just one representative, one might as well opt for a Classic Head (1809-1836) or Braided Hair (1840-1857) example, which offer some of the least-expensive options for type set collectors. Those with deeper pockets may consider a Liberty Cap (1793-1797) or Draped Bust (1800-1808), and then there’s a bevy of rare dates to choose, too.
Three’s Company, Twos, Too
The Two Cent and Three Cent coinage of the mid-19th century are novelties unto themselves, coins that time forgot – but not collectors. These unusual coins have stories worthy of telling. In 1864, the Two Cent Piece became the first United States coin to carry the national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST,” while the Three Cent coinage came en vouge in 1851, a time when first-class postage stamps were three cents apiece and were widely used to send mail across a country rapidly reaching for the Pacific shoreline.
Two Cent and Three Cent coinage is often collected as one, but this does not mean these coins are homogenous in all but denomination. Rather, this narrow area of the hobby entails at three major types and various subtypes. The bronze Two Cent coins saw Large Motto and Small Motto varieties during the first year of production in 1864, while a handful of significant varieties came along during the decade-long course of the series.
Meanwhile, the Three Cent Silver predated the Three Cent Nickel by more than a dozen years and spawned three distinct subtypes involving the size of the six-pointed star on the obverse and appearance of ornamentation on the reverse. A circulated example of each the Two Cent, Three Cent Silver, and Three Cent Silver can be bought for less than $50 apiece, though many pursue these pieces in top grades, which routinely set collectors back by hundreds and thousands of dollars.
Does any United States coin series rival the Twenty Cent coin in unpopularity? Try Susan B. Anthony Dollars… And we all know how things turned out for them. Fortunes weren’t much better a century earlier for the Twenty Cent Piece, intended for circulation on a coinage-starved West Coast but proving too close in size, design, and overall appearance to the quarter. The “Double Dime” was largely regarded as an unnecessary denomination, and it quickly fell out of favor with the public.
Twenty Cent coins are basically few in number, though enough examples exist of the most common issue, the 1875-S, to permit collectors across much of the financial spectrum to afford a specimen. Even still, the Twenty Cent coin remains the “key” of a basic Odd Denomination Type Set, and even a low-end example of an 1875-S graded PCGS G4 trades for around $100. Uncirculated specimens of the same coin fetch an entry-level figure of around $700, and those wanting something scarcer than an 1875-S must reach deep into the pocket or purse for at least a fourth figure.
- Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins. Doubleday, 1988.
- “History of ‘In God We Trust.’” United States Department of the Treasury. March 8, 2011. Accessed November 10, 2020.
- “The New Twenty-Cent Coin.” The Mansfield Herald. April 29, 1875. Accessed November 10, 2020.