US Coins

Buy trophy coins on a budget

Although dateless and grading just Fair 2, this 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollar brought $1,380 in a July Heritage auction.

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Some coins are iconic to collectors because of their rarity. While the weekly market analysis often focuses on the high end or the “ceiling” of the market, the market also has a “floor” where the least expensive examples of legendary, yet relatively accessible key coins reside.

But, collectors who are looking for the cheapest examples of rare issues must compromise on quality, balancing wear, damage and the remaining visual appeal.

The 1856 Flying Eagle cent is a trophy in any coin collection. It is technically a pattern, though the production was wide enough that a substantial number went into circulation, and the issue has historically been collected alongside regular issue 1857 and 1858 Flying Eagle cents.

Around 1,500 to 2,000 1856 Flying Eagle cents are estimated to remain available for purchase today, and collectors who want to buy one will need to spend at least $5,000.

Yet, even that lofty price will only allow a collector to buy a damaged, circulated piece, like the example housed in a Professional Coin Grading Service Genuine holder that sold for $5,175 at a September Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction. Very Fine details were marred by tooling in the fields, although the coin was not unattractive considering the shortcomings.

Perhaps a more visually impressive coin even in an impaired state is a 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief gold $20 double eagle. It too was produced in limited quantities, but of the 11,250 examples struck, most were saved because of their novelty.

Many were placed in jewelry, scrubbed, dropped and otherwise mishandled. On eBay, several ex-jewelry examples have sold for less than $4,000 in the past year, although in major auctions, $5,000 seems to be the floor for heavily polished survivors.

The value of a dateless 90 percent silver Standing Liberty quarter dollar is generally $5.50 now.

Thankfully, the rare first-year-of-issue 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollars may be identified by several traits that are unique to the issue — such as a hair curl at the back of Liberty’s head — and are visible even in very low grade coins that are lacking a date.

In a July 2011 auction, Heritage sold a dateless Fair 2 example certified by ANACS for $1,380. The date on this issue can be weak on even mid-grade examples, and coins that have a readable (though not full) date start at just under the $3,000 level. ¦

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