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Building type set can take a lifetime
By Ginger Rapsus
October 16, 2017

Collectors are always told to specialize in a favorite series. But I’m a big fan of type collecting. There have been so many designs issued since 1793. Some are lovely, some are plain. Each has its own story and is a piece of history. The types can include familiar motifs such as shields or wreaths, and of course, there are many different depictions of Liberty. And maybe searching for a certain type coin will alert you to a new series to collect, one that you didn’t realize was so interesting.

What makes up a type collection? It could be up to the collector. You could include as many or as few design variations as you wish. Subtle differences in design, a change in metallic content, designer’s initials or drapery on Miss Liberty’s arm … there is not complete agreement on what makes up a type collection. Some collectors like to spice up their type sets by including the first year of issue coin, or a scarce date or variety.

When I began a type set, the first obstacle was finding the proper album, or albums, as a deluxe type set goes back to 1793 and covers many years. My favorite coin shop located an album with clear slots for each coin, visible on both sides. There were labels for each major type and blank labels for future additions.

So it was decided. The album was located. I already had many coins from a 20th century type set that would form the basis of the expanded set. A few coins, such as the Lincoln Memorial cent, were found in change. A few of the more common silver coins were already there. Coins purchased for a few dollars, such as the 1909 VDB cent and a beautiful Mint State war nickel, were in my 20th century set.

I had attempted a type set in my younger days, but I figured it would be an impossible task, with the small eagle coins, and all those Seated Liberty issues. But I was bound and determined this time. Besides, a type set can very well be a lifelong pursuit. Upgrading, new coin designs, and including the more subtle type changes can keep going for years. I aimed for the best grades I could afford, with Mint State for the more recent and common issues, and honest wear for the older coins. After all, a type collection shows one of each design type, why not show the coins in most detail?

Assembling the Lincoln cents was not difficult. All were lovely, especially a 1943-S that a dealer had given away as a premium. This was not a worn, processed coin. All details showed, with real mint luster, not that unnatural shine seen on processed steel cents. As for Indian cents, I had a brown uncirculated 1902 that caught my eye in a coin shop that had high-grade Indian cents for sale – in a box.

Some years ago, a family friend mentioned he had a few old coins. He didn’t know what they were, and said I could have them. These were not everyday coins. One was an Extremely Fine 1858 Flying Eagle cent, the other, an 1865 three-cent nickel with mint luster. Even after I told him what they were, he said they were mine to keep, as I was “the only one who appreciated them.” They found a good home within the type set.

Nickels, too, were not hard to find. Two Shield nickels, two Liberty nickels, and two gorgeous Buffalo nickels. The 1913 Type I had been saved in quantity, and the other was a near-perfect 1938-D, one of the first coins I ever bought. The “no cents” Liberty nickel had also been saved in great numbers, so it was no problem to find a nice one. The “cents” Liberty nickel was found in a local coin shop that had many coins in old-fashioned 2x2 holders. A thorough look at the nickels album yielded a beautiful, near Mint State coin for a good price.

The biggest challenge in the 20th century type set had been the three Barber coins. Most I’d seen showed wear, Good condition or a little better. The coins, while plain, looked much better with more detail on the head and the reverse eagle. A dealer gave me a printout of all Barber half dollars in stock, and I picked a common date in AU-50. The dime and quarter were not hard to find in similar condition. These coins were upgrades from the 20th century type set.

Among the other coins that did not need upgrading were the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter – both Type I and Type II – and the modern half dollars, along with the Morgan and Peace dollars. Morgan collectors know that the 1881-S makes an ideal type coin: many are available, and they are well-struck with blazing luster. The Peace dollar was a common 1923 that was uncommonly beautiful.

Expanding a type set to include 19th century coins means becoming familiar with Seated Liberty coinage. All silver coins of the years 1837-1891 bore this design, from the tiny half dime to the large silver dollar. These coins bore different levels of wear, from About Good to Mint State, and even a few proofs. I did not include proofs in my set.

Studying the Seated Liberty coins gave me a new appreciation for them, their history, and the tales of the mints that struck them. I also learned more about Christian Gobrecht the designer, and engraving.

The 1837 “no stars” half dimes and dimes looked like cameos, and had to be included in a type set. I found two lovely examples at a coin shop in downtown Chicago . There were coins with and without arrows, and I learned what that meant. There were arrows and rays, and even a 20-cent coin. The 1875-S, by far the most common, was included.

I was surprised that the 1873 quarter with arrows was hard to find in nice condition. The coins I saw were either worn practically smooth, or blazing Mint State. It took a while to find an Extremely Fine coin.

Seated Liberty silver dollars were a favorite series for many years. I purchased a nice 1870 with a tax refund. The “no motto” variety was an Extremely Fine 1846 that I found at a convention. After admiring these big, beautiful coins, I wanted more, but it wasn’t in the collecting budget.

A trip to another coin shop yielded three pretty little three-cent silver coins. All three had been housed in an old-fashioned cardboard album and showed iridescent blue toning. The owner described them as “sweet little coins.” They looked sweet in the type set, which continued to grow.

Slow but sure. That’s the way to build a deluxe type set. Be a little fussy. Don’t settle for the first coin you see. On the other hand, don’t let a good coin get away.

A lovely small eagle dime was offered at that coin shop downtown, complete with ANACS papers. Nice, honest wear. All devices clear. A great example of Very Good. I didn’t get it. I never saw that coin again. I hope it found a good home in another type set, or maybe in an advanced collection of early dimes.

Large cents in nice circulated grades, with good color, belonged in the type set. An unspotted, attractive Draped Bust cent was harder to find than the Liberty Cap. The Fillet Head type, minted in a lesser grade of copper, was not that tough, but prices jumped with each higher grade. Type collecting taught me this.

A dealer friend had some nice early coppers over the years, large cents and half cents. He located a Wreath cent that was the last coin I added to this set. It showed its age, but was attractive for the grade, with no abuse or marks, just wear. The 1793 half cent was also a good-looking coin for its age. Not perfect, not super high grade, but showed much circulation from doing the job it was created to do. This dealer friend knew I was serious about my type set, and found a Draped Bust dime and quarter, heraldic eagle, that fit into this set.

I was especially proud of the half cents in this set. Never number one on the collecting hit parade, half cents were not difficult to find, especially the Coronet Head. My favorite shop downtown had a lovely 1794 with wear that did not subtract from the quaint beauty of the design. The wreath on the reverse showed much detail. This was a choice coin with a nice chocolate brown color. Specialists know that the half cent of 1794 showed a larger Liberty head than the 1795-1797 issues. This distinct type is not given space in any type set albums I’ve seen, including the album I used.

The half dimes were also a pretty little group. Leading off this type was a 1795 Flowing Hair that I found at a convention that was well worn and showed its age, but was attractive. When putting together his book Photograde, James Ruddy said that the hardest types to find were the small eagle half dollar and half dime. I located a small eagle half dime at a downtown coin shop that was just right.

When searching for early silver type coins, I didn’t want any with adjustment marks. Undamaged, unstained coins that showed the basic design fit perfectly into the set.

I learned that Capped Bust coinage was attractive and vastly underrated. The small size quarter, in particular, was a nice specimen that was not that expensive. There were many early coins that were available in decent grades for decent prices. The half dollar, famous for its many varieties, was an 1820/19. I included an overdate to make the set a bit more interesting. The reeded edge half dollar was a beauty, found at the same coin shop that held the no stars Liberty Seated coins. It had that antique look common to Capped Bust half dollars, and I was proud to add it to the set.

1796 is a magic date for numismatists. Probably the easiest to find coin of this date is the silver dollar. Large and impressive, the 1796 small eagle dollar looked good in the set, as the type set neared completion.

It was unfortunate that the album did not show the edges of the coins, as edge devices can make a type set in itself. Early coins bore the denomination on their edges, and this was plain to see on each addition to the set.

In the end, the type set was only four coins short of completion: small eagle dime, quarter and half dollar, and the Chain cent. I had passed on that small eagle dime. At one time, the Chain cent seemed possible, but as time went on and prices rose higher, it became out of reach. Perhaps a Poor, corroded, barely visible detail coin could have been located, but I did not wish to just plug a hole in the album. I wanted a decent representation of each type.

Throughout decades in type collecting, I’d never seen a type set sold in its entirety. Type sets featuring “finest known” coins and high-grade small eagle coins were broken up and the rarities sold separately, but I’ve never seen a type set sold as a whole.

I believe this was true with my own set. This set was sold intact some years ago, but I’m sure the set was taken apart and the early silver and more desirable coins were sold separately.

Collecting a type set was a great educational experience. I recommend type collecting to any numismatist who enjoys United States coins and want to learn more about coinage history, metals, the minting process, or who just appreciates the many different designs.

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