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Single year offers numerous rarities

The year 1921 is a great one for collectors. Beautiful coins abound, including one million-dollar coin. Classic designs and favorite coins were minted this year, including a popular first-year coin.

The year 1921 is a great one for collectors. Beautiful coins abound, including one million-dollar coin. Classic designs and favorite coins were minted this year, including a popular first-year coin. Although no proofs were made except for a few silver dollars, many of the coins are scarce and in high demand.


Eight different circulation coins and three commemorative half dollars were struck in 1921, leading off with the Lincoln cent. The Lincoln cent had been in production for 12 years by then. Not many were saved and no one really cared much about the lowly penny. Cents were struck at Philadelphia and San Francisco. Mintage figures were healthy, and cents in Mint State are not difficult to find. Fans of 1921 coinage can look for cents free from spots and discoloration and shouldn’t have too much trouble finding nice specimens.

Buffalo nickels were also minted at Philadelphia and San Francisco. The “P” Mint coin is rather common, but the “S” mint coin had a much lower mintage. Prices reflect this. Any Buffalo nickel collector knows it pays to be fussy. Look for nickels that show detail on the Indian’s braid and the buffalo’s head, horn, shoulder and tail. These coins circulated and show wear, often having their dates worn off.

As the denominations get higher, the coins get scarcer. The Mercury dimes dated 1921 are among the key dates in the series. Dimes were struck at Philadelphia and Denver to the tune of only a million or so pieces. The “D” mint coin’s mintage was a bit lower than the “P” mint coin. The Mercury dime is one of the most popular series of United States’ coins, so this coin is in demand by collectors building sets. If a collector desires dimes with full strikes, including full bands on the reverse, he may have to do some searching, and be prepared to open up the checkbook.

U.S. Coins Close Up

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Less than two million Standing Liberty quarters were made in 1921, all at Philadelphia. Many of these coins had their dates worn off quickly, so quarters in any condition are hard to find. Even a well-worn very good coin with a readable date can cost a few hundred dollars.

The three 1921 Walking Liberty half dollars are the keys to the set. Mintages were below one million for each mint: Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco, with the Denver issue having the lowest figure. The half dollars are quite expensive in the higher grades, if choice specimens can be found. In the case of the “S” mint coin, there are dramatic price jumps between fine and very fine, very fine and extremely fine. Many of these half dollars circulated and show excessive wear. Yes, I have seen a few older Walking Liberty halves with their dates worn off.

Things get a bit easier with the silver dollars. Two distinct types were made this year: the old familiar Morgan dollar, and the first-year Peace dollar.

Morgan dollars were struck for the first time since 1904. The coins show a more shallow detail than the previous Morgans, a difference that is obvious upon comparing a 1921-dated dollar to one of 1881 or any other year. New master hubs had to be created, as mintage of dollar coins stopped in 1904 and no one anticipated a return of the Morgan dollar. 1921 Morgan dollars were struck at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco, bearing tiny mintmarks under the eagle on the reverse. All three coins are common, with the 1921-P issue the most common Morgan dollar by far. The total mintage came to 44,690,000. The Denver and San Francisco issues had mintages of 20,345,000 and 21,695,000, respectively. The previous high mark had been the 1889-P dollar, with 21,726,000 struck.
A small number of proofs are known, Chapman proofs and Zerbe proofs, with the Chapman coins a bit nicer.

A second type of silver dollar was minted late in the year. Just over one million Peace dollars were struck in December. This new coin, commemorating the peace after World War I, was placed into circulation the following year. The 1921 Peace dollar showed a high relief and is really a one-year type coin; coins in lower relief were minted starting in 1922. All 1921 Peace dollars were struck at Philadelphia.

Again, a small number of proof 1921 Peace dollars are known in matte proof.

Three different commemorative half dollars were issued in 1921. The Pilgrim half dollar shows the date 1921 in the obverse field; the 1920 coins do not show the date. The Mayflower appears on the reverse, making this coin a favorite with topical collectors who enjoy ships on coins. The 1921 halves are much scarcer than the 1920; just over 20,000 were minted.

Half dollars commemorating the Centennial of the state of Alabama appeared in 1921, and are remarkable for the obverse. Conjoined busts of Alabama’s first governor, W.W. Bibb and then-Governor T.E. Kilby are on the heads side of this coin, the first time a living person appeared on a United States coin. The reverse shows the state seal. The coin is attractive in its own way and not difficult to find in Mint State. Only 35,000 were struck, with another 30,000 showing a small “2x2” on the obverse, referring to Alabama being the twenty-second state.

The Centennial of the State of Missouri was commemorated in 1921 with a half dollar bearing a portrait of a frontiersman on the obverse, perhaps Daniel Boone, and a frontiersman with a Native American on the reverse. This half dollar also comes in two varieties: some bear a “2-star-4” on the obverse, as Missouri was the 24th state. This coin is scarcer than the Alabama half and is hard to find in choice condition.

One gold coin was struck in 1921, a rare and valuable $20 gold piece. This coin had a seemingly healthy mintage of 528,500, but only 200 or so survive due to widespread melting of this date. The 1921 double eagle has cracked the million-dollar level a number of times in the past decade.

The year 1921 saw the mintage of many beautiful, interesting and scarce coins that are in demand by collectors, making this year a very special one for numismatics.

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