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19th Century Type Coins Worth Owning
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
June 20, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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When the expense makes it impossible to collect whole series, one way to collect is by design types. For example, only the most well-heeled collectors can hope to own a nearly complete collection of Saint-Gaudens gold $20s. I say nearly complete because of the 1933 Saint: Even if you could afford it, you wouldn’t be allowed to buy it.

At any rate, few of us can aspire to collect Saints by date and mintmark. Instead, we have to make do with one of each major design type for Saints and many other pricy, usually early, U.S. coins.

In this article, I’m going to assemble a baker’s dozen 19th-century type coins that most any collector can afford. Not only are they affordable at $100 or less apiece, they’re also attractive and interesting. You can’t ask for much more than that.

1. Draped Bust half cent. Designed by Robert Scot, the Draped Bust half cent was minted between 1800 and 1808. There are a variety of design types of this issue, with some commanding steep prices even in low grades. Fortunately for the type collector, there are enough “common” dates that a decent specimen is remarkably inexpensive.

Using values from Numismatic News “Coin Market,” there are varieties dated 1804, 1805, and 1806 with list prices of either $90 or $100 in Fine-12. A coin in this grade should have enough detail to well illustrate the design type.

I checked on eBay to see if decent examples had sold recently for anywhere near $100. Amazingly, there were well over 1,000 sold listings. Of these, many had problems of one sort or another, often being damaged or porous or both.

Only one coin was actually certified as F-12, an 1804 graded by ANACS, which brought $94.99. Another certified 1804, graded Very Fine-20 by ICG, went for $108.83. Some other decent-looking examples of the type included an 1804 that the seller graded VF+, which sold for $102.50, and an ungraded 1808 with good detail that sold for $99.99. In other words, you should be able to find a nice example at or near the $100 figure.

2. Classic Head half cent. This John Reich design first appeared on half cents in 1809, and coins with this design continued being minted through 1836. Although some examples of the type are remarkably rare and pricy, there are several varieties that should be available for $100 or less in Extremely Fine-40. Look for coins dated 1828 and 1832-1835. In addition, 1826 lists for $90 in VF-20 and 1829 for $100 in the same grade.

On eBay, I found nearly 2,000 sold listings of this type, and a few were certified. For example, an ANACS-graded VF-20 1832 brought $76.01. An NGC EF-40 specimen of the same date sold for $121.27. Two EF-40 1828s, one certified by PCGS and the other by ICG, sold for $106.04 and $75, respectively. An 1834, graded EF-40 by PCGS, brought $99. Again, you should be able to find a nice example of the type for $100 or less.

3. Braided Hair cent. Christian Gobrecht designed this popularly collected coin, introduced in 1839. With nearly a 20-year run, the design type ended with the low-mintage 1857 (333,456). Because most of the dates had substantial mintages, finding a decent example for less than $100 should not be a problem. In fact, you can have your pick of dates in EF-40 for substantially less than $100.

Of the more than 6,000 completed listings of Braided Hair large cents on eBay, 15 were of coins grading EF-45. Prices ranged from $48 for an NGC-graded 1856 with an unsightly spot near Liberty’s mouth to $250 for an 1840 graded by PCGS. With just three exceptions, counting the $250 coin, the 15 sold for considerably less than $100, so this is another nice type to add to your collection.

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4. Flying Eagle cent. No 19th-century type collection would be complete without a Flying Eagle cent. After all, this was the first small cent, and its design was different from anything on cents before and after. Designed by James B. Longacre, the Flying Eagle cent had only a limited, two-year run from 1857-1858.

Both the 1857 and 1858 cents were made in large enough quantities that you can obtain one for type in a decent grade of at least VF-20. The list price for either the 1857 or the 1858 with small letters variety is $47 in VF-20 (the large letters 1858 lists for $56). Unfortunately, in EF-40 the value jumps to $140 ($160 for the 1858 large letters cent).

So what’s the Flying Eagle situation on eBay? In the sold category, I found nearly 6,600 Flying Eagle cent auctions. If anyone calls these coins rare, he’s lying.

In terms of certified coins, I noted eight VF-20 coins, six dated 1857 and one each of the 1858 varieties (large letters or small letters). The range of prices the coins brought was from $34.05 for an NGC-certified 1858 large letters to $59.99 for an NGC-certified 1857. The average price was $46.63, which is remarkably close to the “Coin Market” value of $47. I also looked at other VF coins (VF-25, -30, -35) and found that several of each had been sold, typically for values well under $100.

In EF-40, I found only one Flying Eagle cent that sold for less than $100, a PCGS-graded 1858 small letters with an unnoted obverse stain. The coin was Buy It Now (BIN) priced at $99.99. Bottom line: The Flying Eagle cent is another good type coin to add to your 19th-century set in nice, circulated condition. Look for well-struck VF coins with no spots or other problems.

5. 1859 cent. This is not only the first Indian Head cent, it’s also a one-year type coin, as the reverse was changed the next year. Like the Flying Eagle cent, this coin was designed by James B. Longacre.

With a huge mintage of 36.4 million, the 1859 cent is another coin that you should be able to purchase in a decent grade for less than $100. “Coin Market” gives it a value of $48 in VF-20 and $100 in EF-40. On eBay, VF examples brought from $20 (an NGC VF-35) to $54.99 (an ANACS VF-30). In EF-40, the range of prices was between $57 to $140 (PCGS in BIN format) for an average selling price of $93.66.

Finding a decent EF 1859 Indian Head cent for less than $100 should not be a problem.

6. Two-cent piece. Designed by James B. Longacre, this odd denomination coin was minted between 1864 and 1873 and was the first U.S. coin to feature the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Although values are all above $100 in Mint State-63, several dates in the series list for less than $100 in MS-60 (i.e., 1864 large motto, 1865, 1866).

A search of completed sales on the grade MS-60 resulted in just one hit: a coin with a problem that was graded MS-60 details by ICG. As for MS-61 pieces, there were three hits, all of coins bringing between $110 and $116.50. All MS-62 coins sold for well above $100.

Nearly half of the sold listings of About Uncirculated-58 two-cent pieces sold for amounts close to the $100 mark. The range was from $71 for a PCGS-graded 1864 large motto to $112 for an NGC-graded 1865. It’s worth noting that an AU-58 coin is often superior to one graded MS-60, as the higher grade is typically given to coins without wear but with fairly detracting problems. This is another 19th-century type to add to your set in a decent grade.

7. Nickel three-cent piece. Designed by James B. Longacre, the nickel three-cent piece is an odd-looking coin. In fact, it is so odd looking that I’ve found examples in bags of foreign coins when appraising coin accumulations of people who weren’t knowledgeable collectors. This type was minted between 1865 and 1889, with most of the production occurring in the first decade of the series.

According to “Coin Market,” the pricing situation is similar to what we found with the two-cent piece. That is, several dates list for well below $100 in AU-50 (1865-1876, 1881), and there are even a few $100 coins in MS-60 (1865-1868, 1881). In MS-63, all dates, including the most common, list for well over $100.

On eBay, I found more than 5,000 sold listings of nickel three-cent pieces. In the lower mint-state grades, I found zero sales of coins grading MS-60, one of a coin in MS-61, and nine sales of MS-62 pieces. Two of the nine MS-62s went for slightly less than $100. With luck and perseverance, you might be able to get an MS-61 or MS-62 nickel three-cent piece for less than $100.

Dropping back to AU-58, I found 15 sold listings. Most of these brought amounts ranging from a high of $152.49 to $62.77, with nine of the coins selling for $100 or less. Finding a nice AU-58 nickel three-cent piece that fits a budget of $100 or less will not be a problem.

8. Silver three-cent piece. Once again, we find a coin series designed by James B. Longacre. Minted between 1851 and 1873, there are really three distinctly different designs in this series. On Type I coins (1851-1853), there is no frame around the obverse star; Type II (1854-1858) has three outlines in the star, and Type III (1859-1873) has two outlines in the star.

Pricewise, it appears that the best we’re going to be able to do is to look for a Type I or Type III example in EF-40 or -45. AUs are too pricy in every case.

On eBay, I found nearly 2,400 sold listings of silver three-cent pieces. Of the certified coins, I found six in EF-40. Of these, four were Type IIs and two were Type Is. Prices for the Type IIs ranged from $97.04 to $137.50, with an 1857 graded by NGC going for the lowest figure and a PCGS-certified 1858 bringing $105.53. Both Type Is were certified by PCGS, with an 1852 selling for $99.99 and an 1853 bringing $67.

In EF-45, the certified coins all sold for somewhat more than $100; the closest to that figure was an 1860 (Type III) certified by PCGS that sold for $103.64. In AU-50, one ANACS-graded 1854 (Type II) brought $96; all the rest either had problems or were well above $100.

Obviously, you should be able to find a silver three-cent piece in either EF-40 or -45 for less than $100. With luck, you may be able to buy one graded AU-50 for $100 or less.

9. Shield nickel without rays. Once again, we have James B. Longacre to praise (or to blame) for this design type. The Shield nickel was the first example of this long-running denomination. Without rays versions of the design were minted between 1867 and 1883. Except for the 1882 and 1883 nickels, all the common dates in the series came in the first decade of the design.

Pricewise, our best bets are likely to be coins in EF-40, as any no-problem AUs will probably be priced well above $100. Common dates (1867-1869, 1882-1883) are valued at either $64 or $67 in EF-40 on “Coin Market.”

Of the nearly 4,000 sold listings of Shield nickels on eBay, almost 3,600 involved raw coins. Of the certified pieces, I found coins that sold for less than $100 graded EF-40, -45, and AU-50, with even some pieces graded AU-55, -58, MS-60, and -61 priced at or near $100. Finding a decent Shield nickel for your type collection will not be a challenge. Hold out for a well-struck, no-problem piece.

10. Liberty nickel without cents. Much has been written about the first of the Liberty Head nickels, mainly because of the omission of the word “CENTS.” After all, who would have thought there would be people who would gold plate the new coin and try to pass it as a gold $5 piece? Of course, that’s exactly what happened. Even though the mintage of the coin was less than that of all but four other Liberty Head nickels, the 1883 “no cents” nickel remains to this day an inexpensive testament to a simple design flaw.

For this type, you should be able to get a coin in a decent uncirculated grade, as it lists for just $46.50 in MS-63. Of the 1,281 sold listings on eBay, 20 were of coins certified as MS-63, and all of these went for less than $100, usually much less. Several of them looked like coins I would be pleased to own.

Most of the more than 30 MS-64 nickels went for less than $100 as well, so don’t confine yourself to MS-63 pieces. This grade seems to be the limit, however, as only one of the 18 MS-65 1883 “no cents” nickels sold for $100 or less. This was a piece perhaps optimistically graded MS-65 by ANACS, which brought $100.99, with $7 postage.

11. Seated Liberty dime. With a design by Christian Gobrecht, Seated Liberty dimes come in several major types. There are dimes with no stars on the obverse (1837-1838), dimes with stars on the obverse (1838-1860), and dimes with the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the obverse (1860-1891). As you would expect, many of the dates in this lengthy series are both rare and pricy.

For our inexpensive 19th-century type set, I’m going to focus on coins minted from 1875-1891. From “Coin Market,” it appears that dimes from this group should be available in at least AU-50 for $100 or less.

Actually, I found on eBay that Seated dimes from 1875-1891 have sold recently for less than $100 in any AU grade. In the AU-50 category, for example, I found seven possibilities, with prices ranging from $38.95 for an ANACS-graded 1883 to $94.99 for an ANACS-graded 1875-CC, with mintmark above the bow. In AU-58, there was a PCGS-certified 1889 for $89.99 and an NGC-graded 1887-S for $83.50. Chalk up another nice 19th-century type coin in a decent grade for less than $100.

12. Liberty Cap quarter. With a reduction in size, this William Kneass-designed Liberty Cap quarter was minted from 1831-1836. This is one of my favorite early type coins, and I currently own three pieces that fit my under-$100 limit: 1831 ANACS-graded Very Good-10, bought for $79.85 in 2009; 1835 PCGS F-12, bought for $82 in 2010; and 1837 ICG F-12, which cost me $74.75 in 2008. “Coin Market” prices these from $68-$90 in Good-4, with all VGs above $100. Note that all of my coins are graded above G-4, so I suspect the “Coin Market” prices are too high.

Of the 883 Liberty Cap quarters sold on eBay, many were of the earlier variety minted between 1815 and 1828 and thus too expensive for our set. However, I did find one PCGS G-6 1831, which sold for $67.66; two PCGS VG-10 1836 25 cents, which brought $81.05 and $99.99; and a PCGS F-12 1837 that sold for $91.

This is another great early type coin for your set.

13. Seated Liberty half dollar. Christian Gobrecht-designed Seated Liberty half dollars were minted in one variety or another between 1839 and 1891. As you would expect in such a lengthy series, prices vary all over the place, from common dates that you can afford in grades through about VF to super rarities that are unaffordable in any grade.

In EF-45, I found a PCGS-certified 1876 that sold on eBay for $103.50. In EF-40, the following pieces brought $100 or less: ANACS-certified 1842 ($82.01, NGC 1856-O ($97.11), and NGC 1875 ($100). In all VF grades, virtually all common dates sold for less than $100 apiece.

There you have it: a baker’s dozen of 19th-century type coins in decent grades for $100 or less apiece. Look for coins with natural color and no problems and have fun creating your own early type set.

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