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Type set spurs interest in many designs

Collectors are always told to specialize, but a U.S. type set has a lot to offer, for many reasons.  First of all, it’s a challenge like no other; it’s not just filling in the holes in an album.

Second, a collector could get a broad overview of the scope of American coinage, whether his or her collection starts with 20th century issues or goes all the way back to 1793. The set is historical, and ideal for the kind of person who likes to learn a little bit about a lot of things.

Searching and viewing the many different design types of U.S. coins can lead to a new collecting interest. The type collection can include any number of coins, varieties, and design changes as desired. And finally, such a set can keep a collector busy for a lifetime.

A U.S. type set, even just the 20th century set, was quite a challenge for me as a young collector. The albums for the full type set, going back to 1793, comprised two big volumes. A few of the later issues could be found in change, true, but if a collector wanted specimens that would truly show off the designs used on American coins, most of the coins would have to be purchased. It wasn’t anything like pulling old Lincoln cents out of pocket change.

Looking through the two big albums for a U.S. type set showed me what was involved in starting, and building, such a collection. There were the early silver and copper coins, the difficult small eagle silver coins, and all those Seated Liberty coins. There were familiar and odd denominations, such as half cents, two- and three-cent coins, and 20-cent pieces. Three distinct types of three-cent silver coins?  And half dimes, tiny coins, and large silver dollars, including a Trade dollar?

Collectors beginning a complete U.S. type set and continuing the challenge are, indeed, real numismatists. It’s more than just filling holes in an album. My forays into type set collecting excluded gold.

A few of the coins could be found in change, such as the modern clad dimes and quarters. A bright Lincoln Memorial cent wasn’t hard to find, along with the good old Jefferson nickel. The type collector could pick and choose the nicest coins, to represent the different design types. Some of the older silver coins, with mint luster, weren’t all that difficult for, even a Mercury dime and a Buffalo nickel.

One of my favorite coin dealers sometimes gave away premiums with orders, such as a Mint State war cent and war nickel. But the easy part of building the set soon ended. The 20th century type set couldn’t be finished without buying a few coins, such as the Barber dime, quarter and half dollar.

Barber coins were never number one on the hit parade, but they were plentiful enough at coin shops, especially in worn condition. The design was one of those that held up well even after years of circulation. But the pieces in Mint State, or close to it, looked so much better than the worn ones. And besides, the purpose of building a type set was to admire the different coin designs in all their beauty, or lack thereof. Why not get the better pieces, to show what the design really looks like?

The dime and quarter were available in choice condition, and so was the half dollar. One dealer mailed me a long list of the Barber halves he had for sale in better condition, and I picked the one dated 1900. I figured a turn-of-the-century year would be a good choice. Many other type collectors choose a coin by their first year of issue. That can get expensive right away, when you come to the Standing Liberty quarter.

The Morgan dollar included in the type set was, of course, the 1881-S.  Coins of that date and mint were well-struck with beaming luster, and showed off the Morgan design in all its beauty.  Every single coin in the type set couldn’t be that stunning, but coins in high grade circulated condition, showing a good deal of the design, and no damage or problems, would fit well into the set.

The 20th century coins were acquired without much difficulty, but I wasn’t up to the challenge or the expense of a deluxe type set, and I forgot about the set for a long time.  Years later, upon visiting a favorite coin shop during Christmas shopping, I became a fan of type collecting.

A Capped Bust half dollar converted me. The owner told me he had just purchased a collection of these early coins.  The quaint old design is in 90 percent silver and these large coins are well over a hundred years old. Once I saw the first coin in the collection, I was tempted to buy every one I could! I did not appreciate the beauty and history of the old designs until I really studied these half dollars. I spent some time with the set, and purchased a few to begin an all-new type set. Before I left the store, I decided to start again in building a type set. This time I was older and more serious and if I never finished the set, it didn’t matter. An appreciation of the older design types was the key to enjoying type collecting.

Those early coins beckoned. They were scarce and always would be scarce.

Half cents were never the most popular coins, and were available at reasonable prices, even in higher circulated grades.  I had no problem finding any of them, including the 1793, the famous one-year type coin. A dealer had one for sale at a nice price; there was some corrosion – not enough to make the coin unattractive, but the price was lowered.

The large cents presented more of a challenge. The first two, the 1793 Chain and Wreath cents, were scarce and in high demand from type collectors. The Draped Bust cent was hard to find in decent condition. I am not just talking about the amount of wear on the coins, but quite a few early coppers I saw had green spots and other flaws. Finding an old copper cent with honest wear, and a minimum of abuse and corrosion, took some looking.

The Fillet, or Classic Head cent of 1808-1814 was a challenge, too.  Made from inferior copper, these coins showed wear quickly, and the prices shot up with each improvement in condition.

Half dimes, too, will never be the number one coin on the collecting hit parade, and while some of the coins were expensive, none was really hard to find. I did have to search awhile for the small eagle coin of 1796-1797. The small eagle design is considered the scarcest among all design types, but a favorite dealer found one right away, after I told him I was looking.

The tiny half dime with the small eagle design was obtained in a trade with this dealer. A group of duplicates and other items was traded for the type coin.  The other half dimes, including a worn but presentable Flowing Hair variety, were obtained after a bit of looking.

A dealer in downtown Chicago had a selection of the Seated Liberty silver coins with no stars. This design, in demand by type collectors, is a lovely one in itself. The lack of stars surrounding the seated figure of Liberty gives the coin a cameo effect, much more pronounced in higher grades. I recall a half dime with ample mint luster; it looked like a little gem. The dime, too, looked beautiful.

Dimes in any type were not that difficult to find, even a small eagle dime.  A worn but nice coin with no marks or abuse was located in a downtown coin shop. Unfortunately, I could not afford this coin, and on my next trip, the coin was gone – probably snapped up by another type collector. Dimes seemed to be popular and in good demand, all designs and all conditions.

The odd denomination coins of the type set were not hard to find at local coin shops in any condition I could want.  Twenty-cent, two-cent and three-cent coins were always available to the type collector.  The dealer who found the small eagle half dime bought a collection of old-time silver coins, many of which were still housed in old-fashioned cardboard holders. The sulfur in the cardboard toned the silver coins amazing shades of blue and green.

A near-complete set of three-cent silver coins was a part of this collection.  The little coins were toned in different shades of blue; an 1862 coin was particularly choice.  The type collector needs three silver three-cent coins, and all three were obtained from this set. The dealer described the coins as “really sweet.”

Assembling a nice series of quarter types took more searching than I thought.  Besides the famous 1796, the 19th century issues were a bit tough. Finding a decent Capped Bust quarter was difficult, as many of these coins came well worn.  This is especially true of the large variety.  Many of the Seated Liberty quarters I saw, again, were quite worn, but looking around at coin shops and shows, I saw a fair number in Mint State. If a type collector wanted a high grade circulated quarter, it wasn’t easy. The 1873 Seated quarter with arrows, in particular, was the subject of a long search.

Quarters have always been a “workhorse” coin in commerce, and this has probably been true for many years, judging from the appearance of many quarters I found at shops and shows. It pays to search, however; sooner or later, the type collector will be rewarded with a find – a lovely coin that fits perfectly into your set. 

Half dollars, the U.S. coin with the most different types, were also tough to find in high grade circulated. The stopper to any type set is the small eagle half dollar of 1796-1797, and while I figured I could never own that type coin, I could obtain a nice selection of the other major types. There were even types-within-a-type.

The Seated Liberty coins included issues with and without the motto, “In God We Trust,” arrows at the date, rays around the eagle, with and without stars.  What seemed a daunting task in past years proved to be a worthwhile challenge later, as I learned more about the 19th century U.S. coins and their many design changes.  The Capped Bust half dollar, the coin that led me back to type collecting, had distinct types regarding the denomination and the edge devices.

Perhaps the small eagle half dollar (and quarter, too) were stoppers to a complete set, but the small eagle silver dollar of 1795-1798 was the easiest to locate. The type set of silver dollars only included seven major designs: Flowing Hair, small eagle, Heraldic eagle, Seated Liberty with and without motto, Morgan and Peace.  There was also the Trade dollar, a pretty coin in itself, which I learned had been one of America’s most disliked coins. None of these coins was that hard to find in any condition.

An unforeseen problem to the type collector was deciding what kind of album to house the coins. A blue folder didn’t seem right; it seemed to be more for the beginning collector, and a collector pursuing a full type set certainly wasn’t a beginner.  A coin dealer found a brown album to hold a “United States Type Set Collection.” Both sides of the coin were displayed, in individual pockets for each coin, with a few extra spaces for future issues.  Good thing, for upon studying the album, I found it did not have spaces for the “Arrows and rays” varieties of quarters and half dollars.

Collectors are always told to specialize in a series, but I am still a big fan of type collecting. If you like to know a little bit about a lot of things, type collecting is ideal.  Locating some type coins, learning that some are not as common as thought, is a learning experience.

Type collecting is special.  I rarely hear of a type collection being sold intact. A type set can be tailored to the collector’s needs. Instead of filling holes in an album, the type collector can decide which major and minor design types belong in his or her collection, and which ones can be left out.

The set can never really be completed, even if a collector can afford the pricey small eagle silver coins. New issues are being produced all of the time, with so many different types of coins minted in the year 2009 alone. Assembling a set of different issues of U.S. coins can lead to a new collecting specialty. Challenge, education, fun – all are part of pursuing a type set of U.S. coins.

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