Jim Bisognani: Rare, Popular and Affordable US Coins

Posted on 10/20/2022

In honor of 300 Weekly Market Reports, here are some examples of popular and high-graded “sleeper” coins for collectors looking for a more affordable way into numismatics.

Time appears to be accelerating at a much faster rate. I know that is technically impossible; nonetheless, I think I have found evidence that time is actually speeding up.

What was my proof, my epiphany? Well, my fellow coindexters, this is my 300th NGC Weekly Market Report! Considering I perform this loving task every other week, that adds up to 11.5 years since my first Weekly Market Report went to press.

Truthfully, it doesn’t seem that long. I have truly enjoyed participating in and authoring this column. I hope over the years that my faithful readership has enjoyed my insight and reflection on this hobby, which has been an integral part of my life for well over half a century.

So, as I reflect on past nostalgia, I thought that I would devote some breath to “sleeper” coins, which are presently trading in the affordable $300 range. In light of the many mega-rarities churning out high six figures and multi-million-dollar prices at auction, there is truly something for everyone to claim for their collection or a place for those inspired to start their numismatic journey on a budget.

The first series to jump out is the Classic US Silver Commemorative (1892-1954) contingent. While many have written this series off, I never have. There is no other US coin or series which will enable the collector to locate coins — which, in many instances harbor original mintages of well under 10,000 — for under $300. In fact, there are numerous opportunities to acquire coins with less than half of that mintage. Yes, it is true! In most instances, the coins I have selected are all Very Choice Uncirculated and better.

My first pick is the Arkansas Centennial Half Dollar (1935-1939), one of the longer-running series within the Classic US Commemorative series. The continued production and waning demand by the collecting public is reflected in the extremely small production for this and other series subsets produced in the late 1930s. The Arkansas coins can readily boast attractive design elements on both obverse and reverse. Yet, while popular, this edition has not had the following of some other sub-series within the Classic Commemorative series.

The Facts:

15 coins make up the complete Arkansas series. Of that number, 11 of them have mintages of 5,506 or less! The 1938 (P-D-S) report in with mintages of 3,156, 3,155 and 3,156 respectively. The 1939 (P-D-S) report in at 2,104, 2,104 and 2105 respectively.

It certainly amazes me that, in the present coin market, US coins with a mintage of just over 2,100, as is the example with any of the 1939 issues, can be obtained for $300 or less in MS 64 or better. See for yourself…

This lovely 1939 Arkansas Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64 realized $260 in May 2022!

1939 Arkansas Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64. Realized: $260
Click images to enlarge.

This luminescent and well struck 1939-D Arkansas Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64 brought $300 in August 2022!

1939-D Arkansas Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64. Realized: $300
Click images to enlarge.

This frosty and satiny white 1939-S Arkansas Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64 was a great buy at only $312 in November 2021.

1939-S Arkansas Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64. Realized: $312
Click images to enlarge.

Great values still exist, as each of this trio brought below current market values. So, my fellow coindexters, keep your eyes open when coins like these appear in online auction sales.

Within the 144 coins that make up the Classic US Silver Commemorative series, there are other commemoratives such as the Oregon Trail, Daniel Boone Bicentennial and the Texas Independence Centennial, which all warrant consideration and attention. Each of these popular sub-sets offers dynamic and historic designs while also harboring some very low mintages. Although prices might trend a little bit higher than $300 in MS 64 or better for the lower mintages, they can still be found at very reasonable prices in comparison to their popularity and miniscule production.

Consider a dynamic and exciting coin such as the Oregon Trail Commemorative. I have always been partial to the Oregon Trail, as it is truly my favorite US Classic Commemorative. For me, this is the most effective and exciting composition of any US commemorative created by the most talented husband-and-wife duo of James Earle Fraser and his wife Laura Gardin Fraser. 

This satiny and lustrous 1938-S Oregon Half Dollar graded NGC MS 66 with a meager mintage of 6,006 was a veritable steal at $312 a few months ago!

1938-S Oregon Half Dollar graded NGC MS 66. Realized: $312
Click images to enlarge.

The Proof:

Another great option, in my opinion, are Proof Indian Head Cents. As public demand for Proof Sets waned during the 1890s, mintages also declined. In many instances, some of the mintage figures for later dates represent less than half of the production of many coins produced from 1879 (3,200) through 1889 (3,336). In fact, some of the lowest Proof mintages for the entire Indian Head series were produced in the final decade of production.

As an example, the 1907 Indian Head Cent has a reported Proof mintage of 1,475. That is the lowest mintage for any Proof Indian Head Cent since the 1874-1877 era! 

I specifically like Brown coins, those with dashes of color. You know the ones: when you rotate them under a light source your view is dominated with an intriguing “oil slick” kaleidoscope of color. That same intrigue and visual delight is reflected in many designated Red and Brown Proof Cents as well. Don’t get me wrong, full Red-colored coins are great too. But I think a captivating Brown or Red-and-Brown coin with dazzling highlights makes for a great hunt and trophy!

Take this example: a 1907 Indian Head Cent graded NGC PF 64 RB, which recently sold for $312! This lovely coin certainly possesses ample pumpkin red to enjoy.

1907 Indian Head Cent graded NGC PF 64 RB. Realized: $312
Click images to enlarge.

This 1906 Indian Head Cent with a Proof mintage of only 1,725 is no slouch either. A robust, deep orange-red with glowing highlights defines the NGC PF 64 RB grading. This was a great coup as well, realizing $348.

1906 Indian Head Cent graded NGC PF 64 RB. Realized: $348
Click images to enlarge.

The Mint Mark:

While some may say “buy the coin, not the holder,” in this instance it’s “buy the mintmark regardless of the coin.” I am referring to the historic and always-popular Carson City coins. Collecting Morgan Dollars is the best and most affordable way to collect Carson City coins in Mint State. Although there are large populations of 1882-CC, 1883-CC and 1884-CC of Morgan Dollars in Mint State, these coins and the series as a whole have a wildly popular and universal following.

You can’t go wrong here. One of the most popular and affordable coins to collect within the series is the “CC.”

The following NGC GSA “wrapped” coins are among my favorites to display.

This flashy, frosty-white 1884-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 64 realized $336 just last month.

1884-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 64. Realized: $336
Click images to enlarge.

Meanwhile, this 1883-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63 appeared at the same sale and sold for $312!

1883-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63. Realized: $312
Click images to enlarge.

Finally, this attractive frosty white and golden-rimmed 1882-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63 captured $300 just last month.

1882-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63. Realized: $300
Click images to enlarge.

The coins I have selected here each represent a great value, in my opinion. Each coin is from an extremely popular series in a high grade. Notwithstanding the Carson City Morgan Dollars, each harbors an extremely low mintage. As the prices realized validate, great values can still be had even in this powerful coin market. As always, take time to research and plan your purchases accordingly.

If none of my selected coins piques your curiosity, or if you are looking for something different to collect, my advice is to make use of the expansive NGC website. Research the US and World Price Guides and pay close attention to Auction Central. Pick a series that is affordable for you and your coin budget now. It doesn’t have to be mainstream. In fact, off-the-radar coins and series are often fortuitous opportunities.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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