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Three Great Coin Pairings
By Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine
January 06, 2014

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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The urge to quickly buy a large number of inexpensive coins, and to start assembling a set in one series or another, is almost always present within collectors. After all, there is some quick gratification in seeing a series begin to take form in front of you, and to see that happen right after visiting a large show or a well-stocked dealer’s shop has an almost seductive lure to it.

But when that is over, when the rush fades, what you have is a series of coins that have a certain appeal but may not be primed to go anywhere. That’s the let down.

What happens, though, if we rein in the urge to make the quick collection and focus on a few coin that are the best we can get? What happens when we take the time to acquire the nucleus of what can be a fantastic collection? Well, the instant gratification may not be there, but the long term enjoyment should grow for years. Here are three “dynamic duos” that can serve as the starting point for amazing collections.

Liberty and Saint-Gaudens
Instant gratification might come from the quick assembly of a collection of mid-grade or lower end coins, but it also jumps out at you when you purchase a single gold $20 piece. Admittedly, most of us will never go on to try to assemble a complete set of dates and mintmarks for these coins, but simply having one gives you a jewel in the crown, as it were, for your entire collection.

Issued for circulation from 1850-1907, the Liberty Head gold $20 came out of five different mints, including the short-lived Carson City, Nev. branch.

The highs and lows in this series are quite dramatic, with 6.2 million minted in Philadelphia in 1904, for example, and a mere 751 produced there in 1885 (I’m ignoring the unique piece produced in 1849, as it’s in the Smithsonian and non-collectible).

Since each one of these coins contains 0.96750 ounces of gold, there is no such thing as a cheap example. There are, however, common dates within the series, which I could conveniently define as those with a mintage of 1 million or more pieces. As this is being written, the price of gold has been straddling $1,300 per ounce, which means a Liberty Head gold $20 has $1,260 in gold in it. The current price for common date pieces in Mint State-60 is $2,000, and for the same coin in Extremely-40, $1,850. Yes, both grades are expensive, but it’s possible for a collector to save up the needed amount in less than a year.

Many of us have heard that the design change from the Liberty Head to that known as the Saint-Gaudens design was the result of President Theodore Roosevelt’s desire to make U.S. coins as attractive and eye-catching as those of the ancient Greek city states, and of his friendship with the accomplished artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

There are plenty of rarities within the Saint-Gaudens series, from the extremely rare wire rim versions of 1907 to the 1933 pieces. Fortunately, there are also quite a few common pieces sandwiched in the middle of those two dates, all of which costs a bit less than the Liberty Head gold $20s.

By any count, the 1928 reigns supreme as the most common Saint-Gaudens $20, with 8.8 million produced. The 1924 will also always be considered common, with 4.3 million. But there are several other dates as well—dates that qualify as common, despite having somewhat lower mintages—that have prices in grades such as MS-60 that are really no higher than these two.

Morgan and Peace
If the cost of a pair of gold $20s has put you off, let’s step down the price ladder a bit to a duo of tremendous silver dollars that will probably always be in the collector eye. The Morgan silver dollar, issued from 1878-1904, and again in 1921; and the Peace dollar, issued from 1921-1928, then again in 1934 and 1935, are so central to collectors of U.S. coinage that it’s hard to imagine a time when some other denomination was at the top of the heap. Putting together a pair of these dollars is less a matter of how can do this and more a matter of which great coins should you chose.

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When it comes to the high end of Morgan and Peace dollar collecting, a person could be forgiven for thinking that they are still dealing with gold pieces. These two series are among the very few for which grades such as MS-66, -67, and even -68 have been assigned. And those high grades come with high price tags. So we can be prudent and shoot lower.

On the other hand, worn Morgan and Peace dollars cost very little more than the price of the silver in them. But we want coins with eye appeal, so let’s find some happy medium between circulated pieces and the high end gems.

The good news is that there are several MS-65 Morgan dollars that currently cost between $150 and $200. Yes, they are all common dates, and all have mintages in the millions or tens of millions. But any way you slice it, a Morgan dollar in MS-65 is going to be an attractive coin.

When it comes to the Peace dollar series, there is even more good news: The most common dates, in MS-65, only cost about $125. The four years 1922-1925 saw Peace dollar production at the Philadelphia Mint decline from 51.7 million in 1922 to 10.1 million in 1925. So any date in this quartet will remain common for as long as any of us might guess. But that also means these excellent coins will not cost the proverbial arm and a leg.

One word of caution when it comes to putting this dynamic duo in your collection: I suggest buying third-party graded coins. The reason is that while most of us are passionate about our coins, we all want some security in a purchase, some guarantee that a coin sold to us as MS-65 really is that grade.

Walking Liberty and Franklin
For those who cried out that gold costs far too much right now, we stepped down to two classic silver dollar series. But for those of us who claim the Morgan and Peace dollars are too pricey, I have one more option: two of the best half dollars a person can buy.

If the Saint-Gaudens gold $20 is heralded as one of the most beautiful of American coins, the Walking Liberty half, minted from 1916-1947, is another close contender. The work of Adolph A. Weinman, the Walking Liberty half is one of those series with a few key dates in it, all of which are expensive, and plenty of common coins that are quite affordable.

Perhaps the king of the common Walking Liberty halves is the 1943, with 53.1 million produced at Philadelphia. Finding one in a grade such as MS-65 isn’t all that hard, and the price isn’t all that hard on the wallet either. The $150 I mentioned for the common silver dollars works here as well. But the idea is not simply to land an example of the most common of the Walkers. It’s worth a person’s time to go down any list to see what dates have the smallest mintages, but prices that are still at or close to that $150. There may very well be some pleasant surprises on the list.

If even a $150 price tag makes you feel that you have chomped on a fresh lemon, the next half dollar on my list of pairs will perk you up. The Franklin half dollars are a fun series to collect, but are also a series that remain in the shadows behind the Walking Liberty halves and several other series. But the Franklin halves have a lot to offer.

Consider this one fact about the Franklin half dollars: In 1957, for the first year ever, there were more than 1 million proof halves made. Yes they were part of the annual proof sets that were sold that year, but this basically means that there is a common-date proof that is now 56 years old. And by the end of the series, in 1963, the Mint had put out more than 3 million proofs for three years. In short, that’s a lot of proofs.

These high numbers translate into wonderfully low prices today. Grades such as Proof-67 can be found for less than $100 for the 1961, 1962, and 1963 Franklin halves. As you step back in time, the prices do rise, but even the 1956 proof goes for only about $125 in Proof-67.

If you were to add one of each of these six coins to any growing assembly, you could boast of a wonderful set of six pieces that are now the flagships of your collection. But the purpose of pairing up these gold $20s, these dollars, and these halves, is to help a person think about where one can go from here. While this could represent an end, it can also represent a beginning.

It might take years to produce a date run of any of these in the grades we have examined, but what a thrill. There’s something to be said about stepping back from instant gratification and going for coins that truly have the potential to grow in value, to be admired, and to serve as the nucleus of something wonderful.

Good luck finding your own dynamic duos.

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