By Daryl Conley
I may be an atypical collector; I may even suffer a bit from ADD when it comes to collecting. Some collectors focus on a certain type or series of coin, or even certain metal content such as gold or silver. Some focus on completing an entire set, putting together a registry set, or completing a BU or MS type set.
Not me. My collecting habits wander back and forth. I will get “hooked” on a certain type of coin and pursue that avenue for months or even years. But then, my mind wanders and I start looking at other types of coins. Sometimes my wanderings occur quite by accident – from articles I see in this magazine or its sister publication, some coins that someone asks me to examine for them, or a random post from eBay or other coin auction markets posted to my email. This meandering style of collecting has allowed me to amass a wide variety and quantity of coins, although most sets remain incomplete.
Like most collectors, I began at a young age and acquired my first coins from general circulation. It is a habit that I continue to do, such as searching for America the Beautiful quarters and especially the 2019-W and 2020-W quarters with the privy mark. Every so often, I still turn up an unusual find but the days of finding pre-1940s cents, silver war nickels, or anything silver have just about vanished.
As my sets began filling up with all the common dates and I started expanding into earlier issues of the 19th and 20th century, I had to turn my attention to other sources such as coin shops and auctions. I have bought many of my coins through eBay over the last 20 years, filling some of those holes in my collection that had remained unfilled for many years. I have managed to purchase many key and semi-key dates to fill out some of my sets.
My most recent obsession that has lasted the past few years is large copper cents. It all began about six years ago when I bought a lot of old coppers on eBay. Included in the purchase were three 1787 colonial Connecticut coppers and some turn of the century 1800s cents. Also, there was a 1794 Liberty Cap cent. These were obviously “dug” coins, but they intrigued me so I made my bid and won the auction. Identifying the well-worn coins became quite a challenge and in the process I began to learn about identifying them by Sheldon variety. This led to the purchase of the Guide to Half Cents and Large Cents by Q. David Bowers and a microscope that plugs into my laptop. The 1794 was the hardest to identify, as the date was completely gone, but it did have a lettered edge, which narrowed it down to 1795 or earlier. I eventually identified it as a 1794, Variety S-22, using the number and shape of the curls on the portrait. It was exciting trying to identify these early but well-worn coins.
The other cents in this lot were from 1801-1803, plus one 1798. At the time, my oldest coin was an 1806 half cent. I had no 18th century coins, so I was quite excited to get these. Since that time, I have acquired over 130 large cents from 1794-1856 – no 1793 or 1857s, however.
Then once again, my collection took a turn, or at least a side road. It was getting harder and harder to find the missing dates and varieties of large cents that I needed at a price I could afford. I started looking at my other incomplete sets. My Liberty nickel set was missing only the 1885; I had acquired a rather rough example of an 1886 a few years ago. It had a porous surface but clear date and G-4 details. After months of searching, I finally found a certified AG-3 example of an 1885 on eBay that I liked and at a price that I could live with.
I already had a complete set of Mercury dimes, Buffalo nickels and Washington quarters that I had purchased from a private individual back in the early 1990s. So the question was, what should I focus on next? Most coin series have those elusive key dates that bring hundreds or even thousands of dollars even in grades of Good. Those do not fit into my coin collecting budget, so I started paging through my “Red Book” looking for a new series of coins I could collect without selling my car or mortgaging my house.
To my surprise, silver half dollars from Barbers through Franklins have very few key dates and even the ones that were key or semi-key could be had in Good-4 for a couple hundred bucks (with the exception of the 1982-O micro O variety Barber half). I had never considered putting together complete sets of silver halves; one would reason that such a large silver coin would be expensive, with relatively low mintages, but this turned out to not be the case.
Looking at my hodgepodge collection of halves, I found that I had already managed to acquire well over half the dates and mintmarks for the Barber and Walking Liberty halves and about half of the Franklins. I honestly did not remember getting most of these. A look at my Excel spreadsheet where I catalog my collection revealed many random eBay purchases over the years, plus several more examples I received from a monthly coin program that I subscribe to, some Walkers that I bought at a coin shop, and some more that I got from my grandmother after she passed away. I also had a few BU Franklins that I received from my coin subscription program.
During the past few weeks, I have been searching eBay for the missing dates and was able to purchase some semi-key Barbers and Walkers as part of lots, mixed in with some more common dates, some of which I needed also. My winning bids or Buy it Now price were reasonable enough that the ones I wanted were nearly equal in value to the asking price of the entire lot. The duplicates I can sell later and use toward the purchase of other dates. Two of the Barber lots contained a 1904-S, a semi-key date that I should be able to sell quite easily, as I already have one in my set.
Buying lots is fun, if you can justify purchasing a number of coins to get the one or two you need. I like the fact that, if the price is right, you can re-sell the ones you don’t need, thereby getting the coin or coins you do need at well below list price. Oftentimes you can find these lots listed as Buy it Now or even Make Offer.
Buying lots may not be an option for people who collect higher-grade coins. You don’t often see groups of MS or even AU coins. Most lots that I have seen are comprised of coins in Good to Fine, most likely because as single coins they aren’t worth much and it makes more sense to get a larger bid on a group and make it worth the seller’s time to post, ship, etc. I have even sold some of my unwanted or not needed low-grade coins in lots. Lots are also a good way for beginning or intermediate collectors to fill their collections faster; it has helped me do this many times. Also, it is more fun to examine several coins at a time, compare them for grade, etc. When you buy one coin, you look at it for 10 to 15 minutes, put it away and the thrill is over.
While buying one of my latest half dollar lots, I visited the seller’s store and found a pair of commemorative halves being sold as one lot, which I also purchased. One was a 1946-S Booker T. Washington, and the other was a 1953-S Washington/Carver, both of which I graded as MS-64 by comparing them to other certified examples listed on eBay. I also have in my collection an 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition and a 1923-S Monroe Doctrine half. Maybe I should work on collecting early commemorative halves. Hold on … focus, focus.
This “Viewpoint” was written by Daryl Conley, a collector from Truth or Consequences, N.M.
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