The last time we looked at coins less than $10, this time we are raising the budget to $25 and we have a much larger group to consider. Initially, just like the last time, we will start with cents and work our way up in the denominations.
In 1857, the United States decided that the large cents produced since the start of the US mint's creation were no longer popular or economically feasible. So, the Flying Eagle cent was created. This two-year design, three if counting the 1856, which are really a pattern coin, is extremely popular and available. The 1857 and two varieties of 1858 (large and small letters) are all available for $20 in good condition, and no collection can be complete without at least one example. They are probably the most beautiful coin design that the country has ever produced, and a must have for collectors. Then, in 1859, the Indian Head type cent was introduced because of striking problems with the Flying Eagle design. The 1858 maintained (for one year) the Flying Eagle reverse and are, therefore, a one-year type. In fine condition, it is available for only $21 (and much less in lower grades). As a one-year type design, I think that it is a true bargain at this time.
The two-cent piece, introduced in 1864 (until 1873) is generally available for less than $25 for most of its life span. The 1864 to 1866 are only $14.50 in good, with the 1867 and 1868 listing at $17.50, and the 1869 for only a dollar more. There are small jumps for the 1870 ($23.50) and we can sneak in the 1871 for only $27.50. So, you can have a nice run of eight dates for an average price of less than $25. This would make an interesting and historical collection. Of course, in order to complete the collection, the 1864 small motto is currently at $275 in fine, the 1872 in fine are $450 and the 1873 (proof only) are $1500. Therefore, we'll ignore them for now. However, I do like the 1864 small motto and the 1872 if you decide to increase your budget considerably.
Introduced in 1865, the nickel three-cent piece is available in fine condition from 1865 through 1876 (a nice run of 12 years) for only $18 to $22 in fine condition, and generally only a few dollars more in very fine condition. Once again, you have a wonderful and historic collection for very little investment.
Moving on up to the five cent piece, I feel that the 1883 (without cents) nickel is a great buy. In almost un-circulated condition you can grab a nice specimen for only about $14. This is the famous piece that did not mention that it was a five-cent coin, and only showed the Roman numeral V for five on the reverse. It did not take long before some unscrupulous individuals gold plated the piece and passed it as a five dollar gold coin. Because of the change in design many of these were saved at the time so it is very available for a very small amount of money. You cannot do without one of these. Then we just a design to the Bison or Indian Head nickel (also commonly called the Buffalo nickel).
There are many years that are available in nice condition for very little money, so I'll concentrate on two of my favorites. In the first year of issue there was a design change on the reverse (to improve striking and wear). The 1913 Denver, type one is a classic piece that is only $12.50 in good, $15 in very good, $19 in fine and $25 in very fine. Try to find a pleasing example and put it away. It seems to be far too cheap for this heavily worn coin. My next favorite date is the 1931 S. With a small mintage of 1,200,000 the current prices of $15 in good, $18 in very good, $20in fine and $22 in very fine seem to be a steal. The series is very popular and, even though these prices have risen in recent years, they seem to still be too cheap. At any small coin show you may find one or two pieces, but the coin is certainly not common, especially without problems (that is cleaned, scratched or damaged).
Skipping ahead to dimes, we are entering one of my favorite collections, Barber dimes. Designed by Charles Barber and issued form 1892 to 1916, the dime is still an ignored collection, although it has seen some price movement is the past two years, there are still a lot of bargains available. My favorite date has to be the 1913 S, with a mintage of only 510,000 it is currently priced at only $15.50 in good condition. Sure, just two years ago this was priced at $5 and it has more than tripled, it is still a steal at current prices. Be sure to select a piece that shows full rims on both the obverse and the reverse sides, and you'll surely have purchased a keeper for the future. This piece has been promoted by several numismatic publications, but it still has a long way to go. Attend a medium size coin show (with 25 or more dealers) and you may find one or two pieces that meet your grading criteria. Go for it, and while you are there, consider the 1915 S, with a mintage of only 960,000. This date is currently priced at $6 in good, and $11 in very good. Can you imagine any modern coin with a mintage less than one million pieces that would cost less than $15 in any grade? Not a chance, but this piece is currently being ignored because there are so many other lower mintage dates in the series, however, they are far more expensive. I buy every piece that I can, and that is not a lot, since they just don't seem to be around.
The Barber quarter design, also issued from 1892 to 1916, is another favorite collection. In recent years the entire set has received a great deal of attention from speculators and dealers, who have driven the prices of the three key dates (1896 S, 1901 S and 1913 S) to multiples of their previous selling prices. So, we will look for some sleepers that have not yet been priced through the stratosphere. There are a number of dates with low mintages that seem to be ignored at this time. To start with, consider the 1899 S, 708,000 total produced, yet priced at $16 in good condition. The 1897 S, with a total of 542? has been pushed up to $40 in the same grade, but the 1899 S is still being ignored. Also consider the 1908 S (784,000) at $18, the 1909 O (712,000) at $17 along with the 1911 D and S (933,600 and 988,000 respectively) and priced at $10 and $8 in good condition. Talk about not getting any respect.
I grab any that I see, and I haven't had to reach for my wallet very often. Each date is necessary for a complete set, and yet, there just aren't many out there that are properly graded. Remember to get full rims on both the obverse and the reverse, and try to avoid those that have been harshly cleaned. I have a collecting friend, Tom, who is buying very 1909 O that he can find or buy on E-bay or at any coin show. Watch for this date to balloon in price in the next year. For the next denomination, half dollars, there are two dates in particular that I think are great buys.
The 1905 P and O (for New Orleans) are lower mintage pieces, yet are priced at little more than common dates. The 1905 P (662,727) and the 1905 O (505.000) can't get any respect. The 1905 P is currently priced at $20 in good condition and the 1905 O is $25 (phew that just made it in our budget). It is just a few years ago that I was able to purchase the 1905 P's for $7 in good and $8.50 in very good, and the 1905 O's were $8 in good and $10 in very good. Those days are gone now, and I still can't find many of either date. You can't go wrong with either one, and with any big promotion by and of the major dealers or the TV promoters these dates should increase strongly in price.
Search for your own sleepers, those low mintage dates that you think are very undervalued and let us know what you find. Next time we will up the budget a bit to $50 and you will see some amazing possibilities that will present themselves. See you then.
1857 Flying Eagle Cent & 1869 Ttwo Cent Piece
1866 Three Nickel Three Cent Piece
1931 S Buffalo Nickel