There are so many coins that, due to their widespread fame, even non-collectors know about. Of course, there are the super-famous trophy coins that break into news headlines upon their sale, including the 1913 Liberty Nickel, 1894-S Barber Dime, and 1804 Draped Bust Dollar. Then there are rarities like the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent, 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent, and 1937-D 3-Legs Buffalo Nickel; these pieces enjoy familiarity among countless Americans and are actively sought by starry-eyed hobbyists and non-collectors who hope to strike it rich through circulation finds – but they (almost) always come up empty-handed with such ambitious objectives.
But there is another group of United States coins that are part of the collective American conscious yet aren’t budget breakers, either. These are coins that, often through sociocultural lore passed from one generation to the next, are irrepressibly linked to Americana even many decades after their production. And, thankfully for the coin collectors who wish to obtain such American treasures, they are generally not expensive to purchase. Let’s take a brief look at five such coins that are inextricably linked to American culture.
There are many nicknames that collectors have for the Indian Cent, which was designed by James B. Longacre and produced from 1859 through 1909. Yet, the Indian Cent endures as a coin that for generations of numismatists often became among the first stowed away into collections. And we aren’t even just talking about the collectors who grew up during the 20th century.
Even young collectors today are often first introduced to coin collecting through Indian Cents passed down to them or given as gifts by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or elderly friends and neighbors. “Indian Pennies” and “Indian Head Pennies,” as they’re so often informally dubbed, remain every bit as important to collectors today as they were more than a half century ago when they were waning from circulation. And nice, lightly circulated examples securely protected in PCGS holders can be bought for as little as $15 to $20 each or even less still.
1943 Lincoln Steel Cent
This coin often proves an unfortunate vehicle of disappointment for so many non-collectors who have “heard about” the coin often identified by hobby outsiders simply as “the 1943 penny” – a coin that many believe to be exceedingly rare and valuable. As diehard Lincoln Cent enthusiasts already know by this point in the article, the “rare and valuable” reference to the 1943 Lincoln Cent is an allusion to the transitional error known as the 1943 Bronze Lincoln Cent, a six-figure rarity that was made when a few bronze planchets were inadvertently struck with dies dated for 1943. Sadly, for the collectors who think the 1943 Lincoln Cents made from steel are rarities, they’ll have to continue searching for the valuable needle in the numismatic haystack.
In 1943, the United States Mint struck Lincoln Cents with a zinc-coated steel planchet to help save copper for World War II ammunitions. The move saved a lot of copper for shellcasings and other war necessities, but it left the public largely unhappy when steel cents were found to rust… Very quickly. Lincoln Cents, designed by Victor David Brenner, saw the resumption of their traditional bronze composition in 1944, but the 1943 Steel Cents became widely (and aptly) connected to the World War II era and remain popular collectibles today. They can be had in Choice Uncirculated grades for less than $25.
The Buffalo Nickel, which debuted in 1913, hasn’t been in production since 1938. Yet it remains one of the most popular vintage 20th century series, in part because, like the Indian Cent, it’s a coin that’s often passed down from older collectors to younger loved ones. And, like so many U.S. coins, it’s subject to some culturally persistent misnomer… No, the animal on the reverse of the coin isn’t really a “buffalo”; it’s an American bison. But all things being equal, the Buffalo Nickel remains a fixture in American numismatics and is commonly referenced throughout various pop-culture venues of yesterday and today.
The Buffalo Nickel series in itself yields some famous faces, with perhaps the most noteworthy of these being the aforementioned 1937-D 3-Legs variety – a coin born from overzealous reverse die polishing that virtually obliterated the bison’s foremost leg. That particular error-variety trades for several hundred dollars, but most Buffalo Nickels can be acquired for just a few hundred cents. While later-date Buffalo Nickels in uncirculated grades can be obtained in PCGS holders for less than $50, there are plenty of common-date, lightly circulated Buffalo Nickels that sell for a veritable song.
Walking Liberty Half Dollar
One of the nation’s most beautiful silver coins was the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, which was designed by Adolph Weinman and produced from 1916 through 1947. It had already accrued its fair share of followers during the coin boom of the 1950s and early 1960s, when millions of Americans actively participated in the hobby and coin folders could be found in every grocery store, drugstore, and five-and-dime. The series received a big boost a few decades later in 1986, when the Walking Liberty motif was adopted for use on the American Silver Eagle, which continues to this day as one of the world’s most beloved bullion coin programs.
Despite its fame and important place in the halls of American numismatics, the Walking Liberty Half Dollar isn’t necessarily an expensive coin. Why, some common-date, heavily worn specimens trade for close to their melt value as pre-1965 junk silver coinage. Of course, many collectors desire more than a well-circulated piece lacking so many of the details that helped make this series one of the nation’s most favorite of all time. Lightly circulated PCGS examples can be had for $20 to $30 or less, while there are a few issues in lower uncirculated grades than can be bought for less than $50.
When many Americans think of “silver dollars,” they imagine a Morgan Dollar – even if they don’t know what these coins are really called. In official nomenclature, the Morgan Dollar is really the “Liberty Head Dollar.” But that name doesn’t normally conjure up romantic images of the Old West, seedy saloons, and silver lodes as does the more popularly known “Morgan Dollar,” a coin named for its designer, George T. Morgan.
Beyond Lincoln Cents, there is perhaps no series more widely collected than the Morgan Dollar. It’s perhaps even safe to say that claim holds credence not just when talking about United States numismatics, but also the hobby in the global scheme, too (though there are no data to verify this). But nobody needs stats on this to know that the Morgan Dollar is firmly embedded in both the numismatic arena and the collective conscious of Americans. And while collecting an entire set of Morgan Dollars can take many years and many, many tens of thousands of dollars, one can add an uncirculated Morgan Dollar from 1921, the last year of the series, for around $50 or less.