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Unique Coins Scattered in U.S. Series
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
October 01, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Certain United States coins are unique - one known to exist - or only two specimens are known. Whether only one coin was struck, or almost the entire mintage was melted, these remarkable coins cause excitement whenever one is exhibited or auctioned.

But how can an average collector appreciate these coins? Even the most well-heeled collector can never hope to own some of these coins, as they are permanently impounded in museums. Often it is worth the trip to a museum or a major convention to see certain collections, or famous rarities. Sometimes, unique or nearly unique coins are part of a display sponsored by a museum. Brochures or handouts are available at the exhibit, detailing the history of these special coins. Studying these coins, viewinwg them and reading their stories and what makes them special, can enable a collector to learn more about his or her own collection, and gain a new appreciation of American coinage. A student of American numismatics can also learn that certain coins have interesting histories, and there is more to collecting than just the basics.

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The 1849 double eagle, the first $20 gold coin, rests in the Smithsonian Institution. The relief on this coin is slightly higher than that of coins dated 1850 and later. Only one is known to exist, but rumors of a second coin have been around for over a hundred years. Perhaps a restrike, in gold plated brass, once existed but is unknown today. Collectors who enjoy double eagles, the story of the Gold Rush, or pattern specialists can all appreciate this beautiful coin. This special coin made an appearance at the 2011 World’s Fair of Money, as part of a display of double eagles.

Another famous gold coin is the 1870-S $3 coin. The only known specimen was sold as part of the Louis Eliasberg gold collection in 1982 for $687,500. This coin is now on display at the American Numismatic Association Museum, as part of the Harry Bass Collection. It is not in super condition; it is scratched and shows signs of being used as jewelry. The 1870-S $3 gold coin is a choice rarity among rarities, in one of the most challenging series in American numismatics. Historians can appreciate this coin, as it is a relic of the San Francisco Mint. A companion piece may or may not be in the cornerstone of the Old San Francisco Mint.

A famous companion to this coin is the 1870-S half dime, a coin unknown to the numismatic community until 1978. This coin has been sold a number of times since then, selling in 2009 for over one million dollars. This tiny half dime, one of the most valuable objects in the world in relation to its size and weight, can appeal even to those who admire large, flashy collectibles. Carson City fans know of the one coin that stops them from assembling a complete set of CC coins.

The 1873-CC dime with no arrows at the date has only one known survivor out of a mintage of 12,400. This coin is a piece of history if there ever was one. A direct link to the Old West and the Comstock Lode, the dime is a favorite with Carson City collectors and specialists in Seated Liberty coinage. The famous dime was displayed at the 2012 World’s Fair of Money as part of the only complete collection of Carson City coins, and was sold for over $1.8 million.

It is interesting to note that the 1873-CC no arrows dime was the last piece acquired by Louis Eliasberg to complete his full collection of United States coinage. He purchased it in 1950 for $4,000.

Three silver coins that were stolen in 1967, and recovered over 30 years later, now are on exhibit at the American Numismatic Association Museum. The 1866 quarter, half dollar and dollar lacking the motto “In God We Trust” were long considered to be patterns, and are still listed in pattern guidebooks.

Walter Breen believed these pieces to be fantasy strikes, while Q. David Bowers call them “post-dated rarities” – made after their official dates, particularly for numismatists. All three pieces are listed in the Red Book alongside the regular issues. The quarter and half dollar are unique, while two specimens of the dollar are known. The second specimen of the dollar was sold in 2005 for over one million dollars. Collectors who appreciate a good mystery and a coin with a story can enjoy these rarities. The “no motto” coins also appeal to students of Seated Liberty coinage and fans of patterns and fantasy strikes.

Even a short modern series contains one unique variety. The sole 1976 Bicentennial dollar struck in silver clad without a mintmark was found in a cash register at a Washington, D.C. department store in 1977. How did this unique coin end up this way? Did a congressman receive one, and figured it was just another dollar coin? Was this coin lost, or misplaced? The one and only specimen known is in a private collection.

Many collectors have never seen the 1825/4 overdate half eagle, as only two are known, and this coin has received little publicity over the years. One coin, part of the Eliasberg collection, sold for $220,000 in 1982. Another sold in 1999 for over $241,000.

The Capped Bust half eagle is a series filled with rarities, as many of these coins were melted for their intrinsic value. A listing of these coins shows mintage figures that are low by modern standards, along with notes that certain dates have slim survival rates. Less than a dozen are known of a few dates; the famous 1822 has only three specimens known. Any numismatist can appreciate these half eagles, truly rare coins and not highly touted common coins in uncommon condition. Historians and researchers can be pleased that a number of these coins survived the melting pot, that the entire run was not destroyed for metallic value.

Another modern coin is in the realm of the nearly unique. The 1975 proof dime without the S mintmark surfaced in 1977. Proof coins lacking a mintmark had appeared since 1968; proof dimes of that year and 1970 had been found by collectors, along with 1971-S proof nickels with no mintmark. Less than two dozen are known of the 1968 S-less proof dime, while approximately 2,200 sets including the 1970 S-less dime and 1,655 of the 1971 S-less nickel were released.

Collectors have checked and double-checked their proof sets, hoping to find coins lacking the S mintmark, but only two of the 1975 proof dimes remain. Both are in private collections. One of the 1975 sets with the special dime sold for nearly $350,000 in 2011. Fans of modern coins, the overlooked Roosevelt dime, and proof set collectors pay more attention to their sets. Yes, a few more dimes missing their mintmarks have turned up: 1982 circulation dimes without the P, and 1983-S proofs without the S, but these are not as scarce.

Modern proof sets, classic series and relatively unpopular coin sets contain unique or nearly unique issues. Viewing these coins, learning their varied histories and backgrounds, and paying close attention when one of these treasures comes up for auction gives a collector a deeper knowledge and appreciation of American coinage in general.

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