When you’re a coin collector, you try to collect your favorite coin(s), but what if you don’t have a favorite coin. How about collecting a particular denomination? You can make it challenging by collecting every single coin of a given denomination and every mint mark, or make it simpler by collecting one coin each year (Philadelphia coins being the easiest) or even just the ones of the 20th century. I would like to go through the current common denominations below and let you decide:
When the first cents were minted in 1793, the diameter was around 27 mm. making it bigger than a quarter but smaller than a half dollar. As a result, most collectors today call them Large Cents. The Large Cents were made of 100% copper. There are six different designs: Flowing Hair (1793), Liberty Cap (1793-1796), Draped Bust (1796-1807), Classic Head (1808-1814), Matron Head (1816-1839) and Braided Hair (1839-1857). Don’t expect to acquire a Flowing Hair Large Cent unless you plan on spending thousands of dollars. Even the Liberty Cap, Draped Bust and Classic Head would be tough to get above Fine or Very Fine condition. You may be able to get some of the Matron Head and Braided Hair in low uncirculated conditions between MS-60 and MS-63.
In 1856, the price of copper was rising and a new pattern cent was being produced at the Mint. The size of the cent was reduced to 19 mm. and the composition was made of 88% copper and 12% nickel. 1857 saw the last year of the Large Cent and the new small cent known as the Flying Eagle Cent was released into circulation. The Flying Eagle Cent only lasted until 1858.
In 1859, the Indian Cent was first minted. It is actually supposed to be a depiction of Liberty wearing a headdress an not an actual Indian. In 1864, nickel was taken out of the cent and would be composed of 95% copper. 1877 is the key date of the set. Most Indian Cents between 1880 and 1909 are easy to get and can be obtained in uncirculated condition. 1908 would be the first year the cent was produced in more than one Mint Branch as San Francisco minted Indian Cents in 1908 and 1909. The 1909-S had the smallest mintage of the Indian Cents, but has a lower value than the 1877.
1909 was the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln and for the first time, an actual person would be represented on a US circulated coin. The Lincoln Cent was minted in both Philadelphia and San Francisco that year and had two variations, ones with the designers initials on the reverse (VDB), and ones without the initials. The ones with the VDB are more valuable than the ones without. From 1909-1958, there was the Lincoln Wheat Cent. Then from 1959-2008, there was the Lincoln Memorial Cent. In 2009, to celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, four different reverses were introduced to represent a moment in Abraham Lincoln’s life. From 2010 on, the cent would display a shield reverse. With copper being in demand in World War II, the Lincoln Cent would be composed of steel. The rise of copper in the 1970s made the Mint consider producing an Aluminum Cent. It was rejected and copper would stay on the cent until 1982 when the cent would be made of 99.2% zinc.
Obviously, doing a complete US Cents collection would be difficult, but doing one a year from 1816 on or just a small cent collection might be simpler.
Out of all the denominations in this post, the nickel was introduced last. Before the nickel, there was the silver Half Dime which was also worth five cents. During the Civil War, silver and gold was hoarded. As a result, the Mint started minting non-silver coins including a Two Cent Piece in 1864, a Three Cent Nickel in 1865 and a Shield Nickel in 1866. As time went on, the Half Dime was produced less and after 1873, the Shield Nickel would be the only 5 cent coin available.
The Shield Nickel was minted until 1883, when it would be replaced by the Liberty Nickel. The 1883 Liberty Nickel had 2 varieties, with and without the word “CENTS”. The ones without “CENTS” on the reverse were known as the Racketeer Nickel because a few had painted it in gold to make it pass for a five dollar gold piece. The Liberty Nickel lasted till 1912 which was the only year it was minted in all three mint branches, Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. There are supposedly 5 1913 Liberty Nickels out there. One of them was sold in January, 2014 for over $3,000,000.
1913 saw the beginning of the Indian Head Nickel, popularly known as the Buffalo Nickel. The 1913 Buffalo Nickels had 2 varieties, first with the buffalo on a mound, then on a straight line. The Buffalo Nickel only lasted until 1938 and was replaced by the Jefferson Nickel.
Out of all the denominations here, the Nickel would probably be the easiest to collect, not only because they were not made of silver, except the Jefferson Wartime Nickels between 1943 and 1945, and have only been minted since 1866.
Early Dimes, Quarters and Half Dollars
Before 1916, Dimes, Quarters and Half Dollars had similar designs on the obverse. The exception were the Flowing Hair Half Dollars from 1794 – 1795. The designs on these three denominations were the Draped Bust (1796-1807), Capped Bust (1807-1837), Seated Liberty (1838-1891) and Barber (1892-1916). If you’re interested in similar looking denominations, then this could be what you want to go for.
The Winged Liberty or Mercury Dime was introduced in 1916. Its first year would bring the collection’s key date, the 1916-D. Other keys include the 1921, 1921-D and 1926-S. All other dates are easy to get. The Mercury Dime lasted until 1945. When Franklin Roosevelt passed away, he would replace the Mercury Dime in 1946. The Roosevelt Dime was silver until 1964 and has been clad since in circulation. If you considered collecting dimes, you could do Barber, Mercury and Roosevelt Dimes. Don’t expect to get an 1894-S Barber Dime though, as only 24 were known to exist.
As the Mercury Dime started minting, so did the Standing Liberty Quarter. Just like the 1916-D Mercury Dime, the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter would be the key date with only 52,000 minted. In 1916 and part of 1917, Liberty had an exposed breast which you can imagine how people back then were offended by it. The remaining quarters in 1917 would have the breast covered and would remain that way till the end of the set in 1930. The reverse of the coin also changed in 1917 with the eagle moved up and three stars appearing below it. With the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth in 1932, a commemorative coin was considered, but later it was decided to put him on the quarter. The Washington Quarter started off as silver until 1964, then clad. In 1999, the mint replaced the eagle on the reverse with a design from each state in order of them joining the Union, starting with Delaware and ending with Hawaii in 2008. In 2009, the reverse would be designed by the District of Columbia and five US Territories, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands. Since 2010, the America the Beautiful or National Park Quarters were minted and will continue until at least 2021.
Quarters are plentiful and could be considered a good choice to collect. You could collect from the Standing Liberty Quarters or from the beginning of the Washington Quarters. There are a lot of Statehood Quarters to collect as well as the National Park Quarters.
This is my favorite denomination. You have the Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916-1947), Franklin Half Dollar (1948-1963) and Kennedy Half Dollar (1964 – present). Franklin and Kennedy Half Dollars are easy to collect. Early Walking Liberty Half Dollars can be challenging. So some collectors go for the short set which is 20 coins from 1941 to 1947.
Some other varieties you can go for include the Full Bell Lines on the reverse of the Franklin Half Dollar or the Cameo and Deep Cameo Proofs which are beautiful.
US Dollars are the most diverse denomination. The Flowing Hair Dollar (1794-1795) is definitely out of range. One specimen from 1794 sold at auction for $10,016,875 in 2013. The Draped Bust Dollars (1795-1804) would be difficult too and includes one of the most popular rare coins, the 1804 Dollar. Ironically, 1804 Dollars weren’t minted until 1834, but that’s another story. Following this was the Gobrecht Dollar (1836-1839). Not many of these were minted and would cost over $10,000 for a worn one.
Next is the Seated Liberty Dollar (1840-1873). Collecting this complete set would take some time, but would be good to include in a type set. When the US decided to stop minting dollars with the Panic of 1873, they produced Trade Dollar (1873-1885) to circulate through Asia. If you do get a Trade Dollar or even a Seated Liberty Dollar, have it checked by an expert as there are many counterfeits out there.
If you considered collecting dollars, you can start with Morgan Dollar (1878-1921). Morgans are popular with collectors and investors. If you go to a coin show, I guarantee there will be many Morgan Dollars there. If you were to consider a complete set of Morgans, expect a few keys including Carson City Dollars, 1893-S and the 1895 Proof. An easier complete set would be the Peace Dollar (1921-1935). With only 24 different Peace Dollars, a circulated set is obtainable. However, if you’re looking into an uncirculated set, expect to pay at least $500 for a 1928 and $2000 for a 1934-S.
It would be another 35 years for another to appear in circulation. These modern dollars include the Eisenhower Dollar (1971-1978), Susan B. Anthony Dollar (1979-1981, 1999), Sacagawea Dollar (2000 – present) and Presidential Dollar (2007 – 2016).
Which Denomination Would You Collect?
As I stated earlier, Half Dollars are my favorite denomination. Nickels and Dimes may be simpler than Cents and Quarters. In the end, the choice is yours.