US Coins

Collectors who challenge themselves find passion will not wane

A 1923-S Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar, shown, of which 274,077 were distributed, is rarer in MS-65 with good strike and eye appeal than is a 1936 York County Tercentenary half dollar, not shown, distribution 81,826, a nice example of a secret. Why?

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A remarkable aspect of coin collecting is that once a buyer becomes a true numismatist (learning about the history of coins, tokens, medals, and paper money, about minting and printing, about tradition, and more), he or she stays with the hobby for life. There are very few exceptions.

A few columns ago, I mentioned that many newcomers discover the world’s greatest hobby, drain their bank account as they buy Morgan silver dollars, $20 double eagles, expensive State quarter dollars in Mint State 70 grade, and the like, then burn out and leave. They experienced no challenge, no excitement, no thrill of the chase. How sad.

One of the secrets to numismatic longevity is to collect one or more specialties that involve a lot of study and work!

Picking a series that offers a challenge, building a collection, then as new acquisitions become difficult, starting a new challenge — this is the way to go. The challenge can be finding common certified coins that are really rare if high eye appeal is desired. A good example is the 1923-S Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar. Probably not one in 10 Mint State 65 coins is truly beautiful. 

In contrast, nearly all 1936 York County, Maine, Tercentenary half dollars are gorgeous. The only way to know why is to build a useful library. Many mysteries will be solved.

A few years ago I decided to build a collection of the 24 Peace silver dollars minted from 1921 to 1935, in certified MS-64 grade. I enlisted Melissa Karstedt as my helper. She could have gone online and finished it in a few days. 

However, I wanted her to pick out “high-end” examples that in some instances would be nicer (combination of strike, luster, and eye appeal) than some certified as MS-65. At the time, A Guide Book of United States Coins listed an MS-64 1927-S Peace dollar at $1,000 and an MS-65 example at $5,000 — what an opportunity! It took more than two years to accomplish — a great example of a seemingly easy task turning into a very challenging one once high quality was added.

Similarly, Robert J. Galiette spent over 20 years building a remarkable collection of Coronet double eagles, circulation strikes from 1850 to 1907, adding up to more than 100 different pieces. He sought “high-end” pieces and sometimes waited a decade or more before finding a “common” coin that had great eye appeal.

Challenge yourself! Take the less-traveled road. Do this and you’ll still love the hobby a decade from now.

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