When it comes to collecting U.S. coins, there are some series which are always in the limelight, which are always of interest to collectors. A person could certainly make this case for several different gold coins, but many folks find collecting gold to be too expensive a proposition. That then shifts the focus for us to a precious metal that is much more affordable – silver. Here then, for our consideration, are four series of classic United States silver coins that have kept their place in the sun for decades. Let’s look and see what we might find among the following big silver.
Morgan dollars always seem to be collector favorites, and if possible, the idea of them being the center of attention is perhaps even more obvious as 2021 ends. The year 2021 saw a revival of the design and the issuing of several different, very new, Morgan dollars. Some folks jumped for them right at the starting gun and tried to get all of the new Morgan dollars, meaning every mint mark or “privy mark.” Others among us are still waiting, hoping that there might be excellent prices sometime in the future, on the secondary market. Time will indeed tell if this will come to pass.
If there is buzz among the Morgan dollar lovers because of the new dollars, this means plenty of us are most likely also looking at the classic series. It’s fair to say that there is no series that has been graded and encapsulated by the third-party grading services more than the Morgan dollars. That can work to a person’s advantage, as it is easy to compare prices between one grade and another. The disadvantage is that there are so many different dates and mint marks – some of them rather scarce – that assembling a full collection can be tough and might get costly.
Let’s concentrate on the common date Morgan dollars for a moment, though. We’ll define common as having more than a million, except for anything bearing the ‘CC’ mint mark – that Carson City mint mark always seems to carry a premium. Yet there is definitely some good news among the common date Morgans, and that news is: several dates were made to the tune of ten million or more, and these common dates are very affordable even in grades of MS-63 or MS-64. As a general rule, the MS-65 grade is something of a jumping off point to higher prices. But plenty of the Morgan dollars look very attractive in the middle mint state grades. A person new to the series will find that $100 goes a long way to landing some excellent looking coins. Yes, these common date favorites can be easy to collect.
Where the Morgan dollars go, the Peace dollars tend to follow. These have also been collector favorites for decades now. Of the two series, the Peace dollars are the easier to assemble into a collection, since the series is far shorter, and has fewer dates and mint marks in its line-up. The series only has two key coins, the low mintage 1928 and the scarce 1921. Both tend to be expensive in just about any grade. But when it comes to common dates, well, the Peace dollars take common up to a new level.
The year 1922 was the first in which the Peace dollar was coined for an entire year – this because the 1921 came out only late in that year. The fine folks in Philadelphia certainly got to the business of making these big, silver pieces, as the total was just over 51.7 million of them. The branch facility in Denver anted up another 15 million that year. On top of all that, the San Francisco branch added a further 17.4 million, making the 1922’s a remarkably common silver dollar. Incidentally, that Philly number would not be eclipsed until the unveiling of the Eisenhower dollars, nearly fifty years later. Mintages this large mean that even today the 1922 Peace dollar is very affordably priced, whatever its mint mark, and should be available to any collector who wants one.
The production of Peace dollars dropped over the course of time, but for four years, from 1922 to 1925, the totals at the Main Mint remained high enough that once again $100 will go quite a ways and land some coins with major league eye appeal. Even at the tail end of things – the two-year long final hurrah in 1934 and 1935 – attractive Peace dollars are not all that expensive.
For any of us who want to get our mitts on the crème de la crème of Peace dollars, and land something like an MS-69 grade, well, there is the 2021 version, the counterpart to the 2021 Morgan dollar. Prices for this new version of the classic Peace dollar vary widely, but that’s because they are still appearing on eBay and other online venues. As we mentioned for the most modern of Morgan dollars, some of us have jumped for the new Peace dollars right as they came out of the gate. Others among us are hanging back waiting to see what might happen to the prices on the various markets as a bit of time passes.
Walking Liberty half dollars
Silver dollars aren’t the only big silver that can be considered a long-time collector favorite. There are two half dollar series that often grab some of the share of that white hot spotlight. The Walking Liberty half dollars have been the center of attention for quite some time, and yet curiously, many of them honestly remain undervalued.
To explain this comment a bit, let’s note that the Walking Liberty halves are the first of our favorites that saw some high production during what history calls the Great Depression. Since fifty cents was a significant amount of cash at the time, it’s probably not a big surprise that quite few of these halves were saved and didn’t circulate all that much. What that means for us today is that many of these Walkers can be purchased for $50 - $75 in grades like MS-63 and even MS-64.
Taking the good news of decent prices even further, the Walking Liberty half dollars are the first of any of the big silver we’ve looked at that have proof examples in what is generally called the modern proof era. From 1936 to 1942 there were proofs produced at the Philadelphia Mint – tiny totals by today’s standard, but still, proofs. Rather amazingly, several of them can be found in a grade like PF-64 for a bit over $400. We’ll admit that’s not a price tag that most of us would call spare change. But to use the 1942 as an example, only 21,120 of these halves were made as proofs, when there were over 47 million made for circulation that year. Yet a coin this rare costs less than $500? That’s an amazing buy, if we can find one!
Franklin half dollars
A bit like the relationship between the Morgan and the Peace dollars, that between the Walking Liberty halves and the Franklin halves is one of the most popular siblings taking the lion’s share of the excitement, leaving the other a tad off to the side. This works for those of us who wish to collect Franklins, though, as it means almost all of the dates and the mint marks are very affordable. Seriously looking through price lists, such as those in our Coins magazine, or in Numismatic News, makes it plain that Franklin half dollars are so common in high grades that the lower ones don’t even get listed or tabulated. Plenty of these can be found in grades as high as MS-65 for less than $50, another amazing set of bargains.
We mentioned the proof Walking Liberty halves as real plums. The Franklin half dollar series has proofs for every year starting in 1950 and going right up to the end. By 1957, collecting proof sets had become such a widespread part of the hobby that the Mint pounded out and sold over a million. By 1961 that number had jumped up to more than 3 million. All this means that today it costs very little to land some truly excellent, high end proof Franklin halves. Even grades such as PF-67 will run less than $100. No wonder this series remains a collector favorite.
The four different favorites we’ve looked at have a lot to offer to any collector, whether he or she has been enjoying the hobby for years or has just started recently. The two-dollar types we saw have a huge, rich, classical history, as well as a modern reprise in 2021. The two half dollar types offer some high-grade pieces, and plenty of proof coins, all at very good prices. It’s really no wonder that this foursome of big silver remains a big collector favorite.