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Try first issues when you need a challenge

Need a change of pace? Collecting can be more than filling holes in an album, or crossing off items on your want list. A creative approach to numismatics can enable a collector to build a unique collection that has its own challenges.

A set of United States coins of their first year of issue makes an impressive, and different, collection.  Some coins are very easy to find, maybe in change, while others are more scarce and expensive.  Some fans of type collecting acquire a first year of design type coin of some series to spice up their sets.

Some first year coins are easy to find.  Many first year coins were saved, as something new and different, and beautiful Mint State pieces can be found. Such first year coins as the 1916 Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half dollar, the 1946 Roosevelt dime, and the 1932 Washington quarter are readily available, but not all necessarily cheap as you go up the grading scale.

Quite a few 1909 VDB Lincoln cents were put away. The new one-cent coins depicted Abraham Lincoln, the first circulating United States coin bearing a presidential portrait. The old Indian Head cents, made since 1859, were still being made in 1909. After 50 years, a new design was welcomed and noticed by the public.  I have seen old photos of people standing in line at banks to obtain the new cents.

History repeated itself in 1964, when the first Kennedy half dollars were released. Americans who mourned the recently slain president waited in line to buy one or two specimens of the new coin.  Many of the Kennedy halves were saved as souvenirs. From that time on, half dollars virtually disappeared from circulation. The 1964 Kennedy half dollar is a prime example of a coin that has historical value, metallic value – made of 90 percent silver – and good collector demand.  This would be a favorite coin in a first year of issue collection.

Another first year coin of the last century is the 1938 Jefferson nickel. Never number one on the collectors’ hit parade, the Jefferson nickel has been around for over 70 years. This coin could be found in change, although it would take a lot of searching. The best part about this design today is that Mint State coins are not hard to find and not that expensive.

The first dollar coin in 36 years was struck in 1971. Eisenhower dollars were not that popular and rarely used as money.  The same was true of the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which began in 1979 and was probably one of the most unpopular coins in numismatic history.  Sacagawea dollars, beginning in 2000, and the President dollars, beginning in 2007, are known to modern collectors, and I see a few dedicated coin people using these coins as real money, to buy a cup of coffee, to pay bus fares, or to use as tips in restaurants. Some vending machines take the dollar coins and some do not.

Not enough challenge for an advanced collector?  Try the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter.  With a mintage of only 52,000, this is one of the rarest coins of the 20th century, with worn specimens selling for thousands of dollars. Perhaps a collector can fudge a little, and acquire a 1917 Type II quarter. The Type II design was used from 1917 until the end of the series in 1930, and is not that scarce.

The Buffalo nickel of 1913, Type I, is easy to find in Mint State. The Type II, while not as common, is not exactly a stopper and can be added to a first year of issue collection, as the coin is still dated 1913.
Going back to the 19th century, another first year nickel with two distinct types is the 1883 Liberty Head nickel, with and without “Cents.” Many examples of the former were saved by people who believed the coin was scarce and would be worth a lot of money in the future. The coin is not scarce – one coin dealer had a basket filled with them in his shop – but is an interesting piece. Its companion coin, the 1883 with “Cents,” was not saved and may be harder to find, especially in higher grades.

The first Peace silver dollar, struck in 1921, is its own distinct type, as it was made in high relief. The design was modified in 1922; however, the 1921 is usually not recognized as a separate type.  I have yet to see a holder for a type collection that treats the two as major types.  The coin is beautiful and scarce in higher grades, but not that expensive.

Morgan silver dollars, a big favorite among collectors, were first made in 1878. There are three distinct varieties, concerning the number of tail feathers on the eagle.  Demand is high, but the supply is also pretty good, which means a collector can find all three dollars as a first year coin without many problems.

Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars were first made in 1892. The three coins together would look nice, and again, are not especially rare. Barber coins are among those that held up well in circulation; the basic design is there, even in good condition. Of course, the coins in higher grades with more detail are better looking, and a collector will be happier with higher graded coins in the long run.

I remember, when I first saw a Barber quarter with full detail, I was surprised at how different the coin looked, with the full “Liberty” on the headband, and details on the eagle and the

If the 20th century coins don’t give you enough challenge, you can see how far back you can build your first year of issue set.  The first Seated Liberty dimes and half dimes came without stars on the obverse, giving the coin a lovely cameo appearance. These coins are scarce.  The first regular issue Seated Liberty dollar, 1840, isn’t that hard to find, but go a little further back with dollars.  The 1795 Draped Bust is scarce and expensive, and of course, the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar is a major rarity.

The first large cents were struck in 1793, in three different types: the Chain, Wreath, and Liberty Cap.  The Chain and Wreath are in high demand from type collectors, while the Liberty Cap is the rarest of the three.  That design continued through 1796, but if you want the first year, it will cost you.  The 1793 half cent is also a rare coin, in high demand from type collectors.

Capped Bust coinage of the early 19th century is attractive. The half dime of 1829 and dime of 1809 may not be difficult to find – the half dime, in particular, may seem absurdly cheap – but quarters of the first year, 1815, may present a challenge, especially in high grades.  Capped Bust half dollars of 1807 led off a series famous for many different varieties. A good number of 1807 halves, four or more, can appear in a first year set.

And when varieties are included, a first year of issue collection can keep a numismatist shopping for a long time.

When the first year collection is complete, or nearly complete, a new collection can complement this set – a last year of issue set. Some coins in their last years were ignored by collectors and the public alike, and a few scarcer items can be obtained at not too painful a cost.  The designs may show subtle differences, too.  Side-by-side comparisons may prove interesting.

First year of issue coin sets can be fun and worthwhile. You can make them as challenging as your finances and interests allow.

More Resources:

• Subscribe to our Coin Price Guide, buy Coin BooksCoin Folders and join the NumisMaster VIP Program

2010 U.S. Coin Digest, The Complete Guide to Current Market Values, 8th ed.

State Quarters Deluxe Folder By Warmans

Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 1928 to Date

Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition

 

 

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