By Mark Benvenuto
Throughout the entire collector community, it’s fair to say we all like hefty silver coins. It appears to be part of virtually every collector’s passion, and that desire can burn pretty brightly in many of us. Whether it is classic silver dollars or the big silver of foreign countries, these coins are those that are usually in the spotlight and always in collectors’ hearts.
We’ve made here something of a list, by no means all inclusive, of several big silver coins that a person might assemble as a stand-alone collection or that might serve as a series of jumping off points for several other collections. Without further ado, let’s present a “big eight” of big silver.
We have to start our list with the most popular silver dollar the United States has ever minted. Pounded out of five different mints over the course of three decades, with a final year separated from all the others, Morgan dollars have been collector favorites for nearly a century. If there is a problem with Morgans, or rather for placing one on this list, it’s finding just one. For those of us on a budget, any of the three different pieces made in 1921 become a tempting target. Even in upper Mint State grades, this trio is not too expensive. For those of us with a hankering for something that qualifies as more colorful, there are several years that bear the CC mintmark of the young Mint at Carson City. None of these are cheap in upper grades, but they have a certain “Wild West” romance attached to them.
The sheer scope of the Morgan dollar series means there are plenty of dates that might not qualify as common and yet are not the rarest, either. This means we can have some fun searching for a sleeper in the series – an undervalued date or mintmark. Whatever we choose, though, there is undoubtedly at least one beautiful Morgan dollar for any collector desiring one.
To fiddle with a famous quote, where the Morgan dollar goes, the Peace dollar is sure to follow. At least when it comes to collector hype, these two coins definitely go hand in hand. It can be as tough for us to select just one Peace dollar to add to a list as it is a single Morgan, but the Peace dollars at least constitute a shorter series, which means we have less to choose from overall.
The entire Peace dollar series has only a few rare dates within it. The 1921, which opened the new design, is one of them. The 1928 is undoubtedly a key, as it has the lowest mintage of the entire series. As well, the high relief version of the 1922 – high relief just like the 1921 – is also a key. But we’re not focusing on keys as the single coin we might want to add to our growing list. There are plenty of what might be called regular 1922s that are wonderfully inexpensive, even in the Mint State grade range. Several other dates and mintmarks that were pounded out between 1922 and 1925 saw official Mint tallies of 10 million coins or more, making any of them prime candidates for us as well.
Spanish Colonial 8 Reales
Okay, this might seem like an odd addition to a list of big silver, since we often tend to gravitate to United States coins. But we can make the case that this is indeed a United States coin and did its job in a growing United States from the moment of our declared independence all the way up to 1857. Think about it for a moment. If these big silver pieces from down South weren’t the coin of the land (meaning our land), why did Congress actually have to pass a law in 1857 claiming that they were no longer legal tender? Indeed, the Spanish colonial 8 reales, then Mexican 8 reales and pesos, were the big silver of a young nation for over 60 years.
So, if this is to be a silver piece we are going to add to our list, just what do we look for? Well, an easy start might be to look at each monarch and the dates he reigned and see if there are any dates that have a special place in our hearts, as it were, like 1792, the year Congress authorized a United States Mint. What are called the portrait dollars – meaning those with the king’s face on the obverse and the royal coat of arms on the reverse – can be quite affordable, even in uncirculated grades. Those with a bit of wear on them can often be found for $50 or less.
U.S. Trade Dollar
The United States trade dollar is fairly well known among collectors as an effort to move some of the excess silver that was found and mined in the expanding western territories in the late 1800s. The coins are the design work of William Barber and are rather attractive. But when it came to being a useful way to dispose of extra silver – mainly by shipping these coins to the coastal cities of the Chinese Empire – well, there it was pretty much a bust. In large part, the Spanish colonial 8 reales, as well as the silver pesos that followed them after Mexican independence, were already the main player in that arena and had been for centuries. In part, our mints in the West simply were not making enough trade dollars to make that big of a difference.
When it comes to adding a U.S. trade dollar to our growing collection of big silver, it’s worth shopping around a bit. The reason is that even those with hefty official Mint totals might be rather tough to find. That’s because plenty of these big silver disks were actually turned in to the Mint and re-melted. We won’t find one for $50 or so, as with the Morgan and Peace dollars, but $200 to $250 will still land a handsome specimen in a higher circulated grade.
British Trade Dollar
The British trade dollar was first issued in 1895, after the United States trade dollar had come and gone, yet it is a handsome piece that saw circulation in a wide swath of the world. Indeed, the fact that it has on it writing in English, Chinese, and Malay indicates it was made precisely for circulation in far-flung parts of the British Empire. Because it was made in large quantities for several years, up until about World War I, there are ample dates to choose from. And much like the 8 reales pieces we have just mentioned, the prices are still very attractive, since there are fewer U.S.-based collectors for these foreign dollars.
French Trade Piastre
Where Britain and her empire went, France and her empire were sure to follow, although the French would probably point out with Gallic pride that this was the reverse of how things really were. Without settling that centuries-old feud, we’ll simply say that adding a French trade piastre to a collection of big silver pieces is another way to add a gorgeous piece to a growing set.
The French trade piastre has been called the “Seated Statue of Liberty dollar” more than once, simply because the obverse does indeed look very much like our Lady in New York. This coin and the minors that go with it comprise a series that was designed for use in the colonies that at the time made up French Indo-China. They saw use as the 19th century turned into the 20th and remain a popular foreign crown-sized coin among collectors today.
U.S. Silver Eagle
We’ve been focused on coins of the past, so it might be proper to balance it and add a couple of modern pieces to our growing list. The United States one-ounce silver Eagles now have over 30 years of history and thus can be considered a true and proper series. These can be wonderfully easy to collect, as even those considered regular issues don’t really circulate and gain much wear. Regular issues remain pegged to the price of silver, and so are never all that expensive. Proofs, reverse proofs, and other special issues will perhaps obviously cost more. But simply getting our hands on one of these Eagles is, well, simple.
Canadian Silver Maple Leaf
If we’ve opened the door to what are called bullion coins – which can often be the one-ounce pieces of one country or another – let’s go a bit farther, and take a glance at the one-ounce pieces of our northern neighbor. The Canadian Maple Leaf goes back farther than our Eagles and thus make for a slightly longer date run and collection. When it comes to just one, however, which one? Well, there are again plenty from which to choose. Like the Eagles, these have been produced for collectors right from the beginning, and so there are a lot of proofs we might pick. Likewise, the sheer output of the regular issues is such that most of them are very inexpensive.
Each one of the eight beauties we have listed here can be put together into a small but wonderful octet of a collection, or each could be the starting point of something bigger. Additionally, it’s easy to expand outward from these to some of the other big silver coins we have omitted, whether the Maria Theresa taler, the modern Euro commemoratives, or some of the United States $1 commemoratives. Whatever route you take, have some fun building a collection of big silver. It’s a blast!
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.
If you like what you've read here, we invite you to visit our online bookstore to learn more about 2019 North American Coins & Prices.
NumismaticNews.net is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated websites.