When I started collecting in the late 1970’s, there were 3 key dates that I was looking to get: the 1950-D Jefferson Nickel, the 1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar and the 1973-S 40% Silver Proof Eisenhower Dollar. Granted, there are other key dates I should had gone for, but I was in my teens and getting a $2 a week allowance and sometimes paid in Kennedy Half Dollars. Some of you probably remember that Thursday in January, 1980 when the Hunt Brothers attempted to corner the silver market (think I’ll do my next post on them). The price of the 1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar went to $50 in MS-65 and the 1973-S Silver Proof Ike went to $100. Though the 1950-D didn’t have any silver, it was worth around $20 then. Sounds better in terms of Key Dates, but of course the price of silver plummeted shortly after and over time the value of these coins would go down too. Looking at the recent Numismedia Fair Market Value Guide at MS-65, the 1950-D Jefferson Nickel is worth $32.50, the 1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar is worth $48, and the 1973-S Silver Proof Eisenhower Dollar is worth $25. This goes to show that even though you have a key date, you never know if it will be profitable or not. With the 3 key dates I mentioned previously, one coin’s value more than doubled, one stayed the same, and one went down to 1/4 of its value.
What Can Make a Coin a Key Date?
The 3 coins I listed previously had low mintages as well, mainly because none of them were released in circulation. The 1950-D Nickel had 2.6 million, 1970-D Half Dollar had 2.15 million minted, and the 1973-S Silver Dollar had just over 1 million minted.
Obviously, a silver coin would be a better value than a clad coin during the same period. Silver is worth more than clad (copper and nickel). Another consideration is that many silver coins have been melted add to the value of the ones that still exist.
This one is not as well known as mintage and composition.
Let’s use the example of 2 Lincoln Cents. Say you had a 1914-D in one hand and a 1931-S in the other. At first glance, you would say the 1914-D is rarer because it’s older and a very early date in the collection. Though a good thought, this is not always the case. Next you look at the mintages. The 1914-D had just under 1.2 million minted, but the 1931-S had 866,000 minted. Now you’re thinking the 1931-S would have the higher value. So, you check out the fair market value of both cents at MS-60 or a low end uncirculated coin. The 1914-D is worth $2,100, but the 1931-S is only worth $150. Now you’re probably scratching your head wondering how one coin with a lower mintage could only be worth 7% of the higher mintage coin. Let’s take a look at the 2 years, 1914 was the beginning of World War 1, but the United States would not get involved until 1917. In 1931, the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. During the Depression, coins were hoarded and many of the 1931-S cents that were hoarded were in uncirculated condition. Coins were not hoarded in 1914 and not many uncirculated 1914-D cents were kept. Moral: A little history can help determine what is more valuable.
We’ll use another example with Peace Dollars. The 2 most valuable Peace Dollars are the 1928 and 1934-S. Looking at the mintages, the 1928 had 360,649 minted and the 1934-S had 1,011,000 minted. Looking at the mintages, you would think the 1928 is the more valuable, and you would only be partially right. For circulated coins, you would be correct. A 1928 Peace Dollar in XF-40 is worth around $300 and a 1934-S is worth around $175. However, uncirculated coins are a different story. The MS-60 1928 Peace Dollar is worth around $500, but a 1934-S is worth around $1,800. You say it’s the same reason as the previous example, and you’re right. Let’s also remember that a number of Peace Dollars were melted for their silver and that people weren’t using as many Silver Dollars during the depression.
Hope This Helps You More With Key Dates
Going by mintages alone should not always determine whether you have the more valuable coin. A little knowledge and a bit of history helps determine what to look for in the future.