Bright, blazing coins, brimming with mint luster get all the publicity. Whether it’s a common coin in uncommonly high condition, or a classic numismatic coin that is especially well-preserved, coins in the MS-65 range and higher never fail to captivate their audience.
High-grade coins are beautiful. But there is something to be said for worn coins, coins that went out into commerce and did the job they were created to do.
Take a 1793 Chain cent. The first one-cent coins may not bear the most attractive design, but this piece is historical. It’s in great demand from large cent specialists and type collectors. Any type collector would be thrilled to own one in any condition. Variety collectors have two Chain cents to seek, the “Ameri” and “America” coins. Many of these coins come well-worn. They are copper coins nearly 225 years old, so the odds are against mint state coins surviving all these years.
Large cent specialists know that some varieties are only known in worn condition. The best known specimen of the rare Strawberry Leaf cents is in VG. Copper lovers can name more examples. Some varieties do not come up for sale for years. When one appears at auction, a scarce variety large cent will attract spirited bidding, even if the coin is worn. And the unsuccessful bidders will wait until next time, hoping to own one someday.
Another scarce and desirable coin is the 1802 half dime. This coin had a low mintage and was recognized as a rare coin in the 1860s. Many of these coins are in VG condition, even down to fair condition. The 1802 half dime was not manufactured as a collector’s item. They weren’t saved. They went out in the world and were real circulating coins used as money. Half dimes are tiny and saw more than their share of wear, nicks, bends and other abuse. An early half dime that survived is a beautiful thing.
Some coins did not wear well, such as Standing Liberty quarters and Buffalo nickels. Collectors of a certain age probably got these in change with their dates worn off. It’s an accomplishment to find early Standing Liberty quarters with recognizable dates. To add to the frustration, many have mintmarks or may show good detail, on Liberty’s figure, the wall and shield, and on the reverse flying eagle.
When you handle such coins, you have to wonder where these coins have been. Who spent these coins? What products did they buy? What could you buy with a quarter in the early 1920s? And how many times did they change hands?
Barber coins of the 1890s and early 1900s did wear well and keep their basic design. The Liberty head shows boldly, even though “Liberty” on the headband and details may be smooth. The eagle on the reverse stands out. A collector enamored of these coins can assemble a date and mintmark set in good-very good condition, accumulating most dates with no problem and without a big cash outlay. A few of the Barber quarters are scarce, such as the 1901-S, but what collector wouldn’t be happy with a 1901-S, even a well worn one, in their set?
A few 1901-S quarters turned up in the famous New York Subway Hoard. They were found in change over the years. It would be a thrill to find one in change, even if it’s nowhere near mint state!
A number of worn coins have found their way into auctions recently. They attracted some bidding and found good homes with collectors who were happy to have the coins. Perhaps the coins were needed to complete a set, or the collectors who bid on these coins just wanted something different.
Years ago, I recall a gold type set sold by a major dealership. Each coin in the set was worn, even to VG condition. This set must have been a challenge to put together, as so many gold coins were saved. The set even included a $3 gold piece, which was probably the most difficult coin to locate. But there were quite a few gold coins, especially from the San Francisco and Carson City Mints, that did see excessive wear.
Carson City Mint coins are popular because of their scarcity and their Old West background. Many CC mintmarked coins show wear. They went out and did the job they were made to do. Certain Morgan dollars are usually seen in Mint State, but smaller silver coins and Seated Liberty dollars are often seen worn.
And there are a few coins that are virtually unknown in worn condition, any amount of wear. Perhaps the most famous example is the 1950-D nickel. This coin had a low mintage, low by 1950 standards, and were hoarded practically from the beginning. But some must have gone out to circulate, as I received one in change many years ago.
The 1885-CC silver dollar usually comes in Mint State. They are pretty coins, well struck with bright luster. Quite a few CC Morgan dollars were held in Treasury vaults for decades until they were released in the early 1970s. The 1882-CC, 1883-CC, and 1884-CC dollars are almost always seen in Mint State.
Mint State coins are beautiful, popular, and always attract admiration and attention. But there is something to be said about a well-worn coin, that has changed hands for years. Worn coins have their own history and their own beauty.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2018 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.
• Keep up to date on prices for Canada, United States and Mexico coinage with the 2017 North American Coins & Prices guide.