In our sister hobby of stamp collecting (Philately) there is a name for the many stamp issues that were not a part of the regular postage series. They are referred to as “Back of the Book” since, not surprisingly, they are listed at the back of the famous Scott Catalog. Some of these areas include Airmails, Revenue Stamps, Officials, Postage Due, Parcel Post, Booklets, Locals, Essays & Proofs and the very popular Hunting Permit or Duck stamps. Many collectors focus on one or two of these areas, and are able to build very comprehensive collections since the scope is considerably narrower than trying to tackle the massive regular issues.
In coins, we have basically the same thing, though we’ve never called them Back of the Book issues – even though most are listed at the end of the Red Book. However like in the philatelic field, nearly all these areas offer many fascinating collecting adventures and opportunities. Here are some of the more popular numismatic series that would fall into this category:
- Colonials. Due to their early date of issue, Colonials are listed at the front of the Red Book. These generally begin in the early 17th century, and run through the end of the 18th century, by which time the U.S. Mint began regular operations. Colonials themselves may be divided into about a dozen categories, including State Issues, Private or Regional issues, Washington Pieces, early National issues (struck under the Confederation or prior to around 1792) and others.
- Commemoratives. Beginning with the 400th anniversary of the Columbus expedition in 1892 and continuing to the present day, special events and causes have been noted on non-circulating coins sold at a premium by the Mint or in earlier days, by the sponsoring entity. Commemoratives fall into two major groups... the "Classic" series (1892-1954) and the "Modern" series (1982-date).
- Patterns. While the regular issue coinage offers a plethora of great designs, these pale in comparison to the variety and beauty of many of the designs that, for one reason or another, were never adopted. While patterns exist for most of the history of the U.S. Mint, the heyday of patterns was in the mid-19th century. From the mid-1830s through the mid-1880s, hundreds of pattern designs exist and many can be purchased for a very reasonable price.
- Territorial or Private Gold. Regular U.S. Gold coinage was limited in the early days, and an imbalance in the world gold price in the 1830s resulted in the export and melting of most of the early Federal issues. The discovery of gold in the Southeastern United States in the early 1830s and in California in 1849 brought about the coinage of gold coins by private entities from around 1830 to the start of the Civil War.
- California Fractional Gold. This is really a subset of Territorial gold, but is often collected separately. These diminutive pieces were struck in denominations of 25 cents, 50 cents and $1 in both round and octagonal shapes. Most originals are dated in the 1850s and early 1860s, but numerous non-denominated souvenir issues were made after this period.
- Tokens. This is a large and multi-faceted field with quite a few issues for the inquisitive collector. These include Hard Times Tokens (1832-1844), Feuchtwanger Tokens (1837-1864), Lesher Dollars (1900-101), Civil War Tokens (1861-1965), Confederate Issues, Hawaiian Coinage, and Alaska "Bingle" tokens.
- Errors. Nobody’s perfect and when you strike billions of coins per year, there will be a few mistakes. Errors go back to the earliest days of the Mint, and include such varieties as clipped planchets, multiple strikes, blank planchets, off-center strikes, broadstrikes (struck out of collar), laminations, brockages and other minor defects. Perhaps the most collectible of the errors are coins struck on the wrong planchet (cent struck on a dime planchet for instance), coins struck in the wrong metal (1943 Copper Cent) and mules, such as the recent Washington Quarter obverse paired with the reverse of a Sacagawea Dollar.
- Assorted Bullion Issues and Mint Medals. This is a more recent field, and since the 1980s, the Mint has struck a wide variety of bullion issues, including not only the Gold, Silver and Platinum Eagles, but the American Arts Gold Medallions and various other non-denominated medals in silver and gold.
In future installments, we may delve a bit deeper into each of these areas, and explore the rich variety to be found.