USA Coin Album: The Fading Wish List - Part 1

Posted on 2/17/2015

I’ve been collecting coins for a very long time; 2015 marks 50 years since I assumed custody of my older brother’s partial sets of Lincoln cents and Buffalo nickels.

At first I didn’t have sufficient funds to take on the dimes, quarters and halves circulating at that time, all of which were still silver, but I got to these a year or two later. By then they were already being supplanted by an ever growing number of pesky clads. In the years since that humble start I’ve collected everything from A to Z at one time or another, though my heart remains with the United States federal issues. They’ve provided me countless hours of study, entertainment, friendships and, not the least, a career.

My coin buying activity has reached its nadir over the past few years, and I’m not certain when and if it will reassert itself, though I’m still having a blast collecting and cataloging old coin albums and boards. This seems like an ideal time to look back on the many coins I’ve desired to own and never have acquired. Surprisingly, this list does not include the obvious choices, such as an 1804 silver dollar or an 1894-S dime. For the most part I’ve had realistic goals throughout my years of coin collecting, and I’ve always set my sights within the realm of possibility. All of the coins I’ve aspired to own were affordable to me at the time, and most remain so today, but the likelihood that I’ll ever get around to acquiring them is starting to fade.

First on this bucket list is a Massachusetts Pine Tree shilling. The many varieties of this issue actually comprise a large enough surviving population that a collectable example is within reach of most budgets, yet I’ve never stepped up to the plate. I would want a decent looking piece grading Very Fine or so, but there always seemed to be something of more immediate need in whatever area I was collecting at the time. These coins, among the first silver issues produced in what is now the USA, are just dripping with history. This is really the most compelling reason to pursue numismatics as a hobby, yet acquiring a Pine Tree piece remains on my list of things to do.

I have nice examples each of the Vermont Landscape, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts coppers that were purchased about 30 years ago, and the next item on my list at that time was a Fugio cent. This was the first coin produced under authority of the federal government, though its actual production predated adoption of our current constitution. The U. S. Mint was just a dream at that time, so these coppers were struck commercially under contract to the government. Still, their intriguing design is a doorway into the mindset of the Founding Fathers of our nation. Like most contract coinages, the Fugio issue was riddled with failures and scandals, but it paved the way for the future.

Another favorite of mine is the Liberty Cap cent bearing the Head of 1794. This seems like sheer perfection in large cent design, and there are dozens of varieties known with that date and portrait. Until selling my first type collection in the mid-1990s I owned nice examples of all other large cent types, including the rare Chain and Wreath cents of 1793. I had a pleasing VF-25 specimen of Sheldon-78 dated 1795, but that bore the Head of 1795, with its disappointing low relief. Even the most common variety of the Head of 1794 cents are now worth multiples of their value when I was assembling my type set. They’re still within reach, that is when a decent piece can be found. Most survivors have been cleaned or damaged, and they’re often on porous or corroded planchets.

Also on my bucket list is an 1873-S half dime, produced during this denomination’s final year and at my favorite mint. These coins are only moderately scarce, and they don’t cost much even in Mint State, but I’ve never found one that was both fully struck and from fresh dies. Anyone who’s taken my ANA Summer Seminar class on collecting United States type coins knows that this is essential to having a satisfying specimen. I still look casually from time to time, but I haven’t found one yet. Keeping with the Seated Liberty theme, another favorite coin that has nearly failed to enter my collection is the 1837 dime having no stars on its obverse. This is the only collectable date of its short-lived subtype, as the sole 1838 issue is the very scarce New Orleans product. The 1837 dimes come with either Large Date or Small Date, struck in that order, and neither is rare. The Large Date in particular was widely saved by a curious public, and choice pieces come through NGC with some regularity. Many of these have gorgeous, original toning. They’re fairly expensive, solely as a consequence of their demand from type collectors, but one grading AU-58 would look great and is in reach for most collectors. I have a superficially pleasing “whizzed” specimen that I bring to the seminar for instructional purposes, but I’d love to finally own a problem-free example.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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