In an earlier column, I said that “acres of diamonds” await
sharp-eyed observers who seek out well-struck dates and Mint marks of
Indian Head 5-cent coins, Barber and Seated Liberty silver coins, and
many other coins.
In the few series where sharpness is evaluated — full steps on
certain Jefferson 5-cent coins, full bands on Winged Liberty Head
dimes, full heads on Standing Liberty quarter dollars, and full bell
lines on Franklin half dollars — sharp coins can be worth much more
than typical strikes.
Beyond sharpness of strike, other unexplored or unobserved details
can add rarity and value to an item, though sometimes temporarily.
For example, during the Civil War, hundreds of different varieties
of paper scrip notes of 1-, 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-cent values were
privately printed in an era during which coins were widely hoarded.
Most have never been cataloged.
Take the states of New York and Massachusetts. Today the scrip
notes of these states are apt to be very inexpensive. That will change
dramatically if in the future certain notes are found to be rarities.
Rarities do not always stay rare. A case in point is the 1938-D/S
5-cent coin. This variety was completely unknown until 1962 when two
Jamestown, N.Y., dealers, C.G. Langworthy and Robert Kerr, discovered
it, a coin with the Mint mark D sharply punched over a previous Mint
mark S, and contacted Coin World about it. Editor Margo
Russell called upon me to authenticate this startling issue, a coin
that actually appeared to have two distinct and different Mint marks,
both a D and an S! Excitement prevailed, collections and rolls were
searched, and within a few years it was determined that at least
several thousand Mint State coins exist.
In my Feb. 2, 1966, Coin World column, I published
information and a picture of a marvelous new discovery found by Warren
Olson — an 1858 Seated Liberty half dime with the date first punched
in the die upside down, then corrected. Owners of 1858 half dimes
checked the dates, and within the year several dozen had been found.
Jess Patrick, then in Detroit, wrote to say he had discovered the
variety in July 1963, but had not reported it. Probably more than 100
are known, mostly in worn grades, but likely a dozen or so exist in
On the other hand, some new rarities remain rare. The 1870-S
Seated Liberty half dime publicized by Ed Milas in the late 1970s and
later consigned to Bowers and Merena Galleries’ September 1985 auction
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.