Liberty On A Budget

Posted on 7/6/2017

Seated, standing, walking, draped or capped — assemble a type set featuring Ms. Liberty.

The Fourth of July — our great republic has just celebrated the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and for 225 years we have been striking coins. (Gulp! — I have been around for over a quarter of that time! I am getting old.)

For me, ever since I was a little tyke, coins (as a hobby) have been a part of my life. Mom saved her tip money from her waitressing job and deposited all of her change in a large glass figural decanter depicting Abe Lincoln. I recall the top of the bottle originally had only a screw top, but Dad skillfully cut out a slit to serve as a coin slot to better accommodate the single coin or two. Conversely, if there were handfuls to be deposited courtesy of Mom or Dad, you could still unscrew the very top of Abe’s stovepipe hat and drop in larger quantities of coins.

I had mentioned before in this column that it was around this time, in 1966, that my brothers and I were searching through piles of coppers on our staircase, hunting for the elusive 1955 Doubled Die that my mom was certain she had obtained in some of her tip money years before. She was right! After nearly a full day of pawing through piles of coppers on the hot, humid afternoon, I found the 1955 Doubled Die!

I didn’t know the value of the coin then, but I did enjoy searching through all those coins — a “coindexter” was born! Mom was vigorously urged by Dad to sell the 1955, as that cent back then was worth over $50. She didn’t though. Luckily for me — since my brothers were not inclined to collect coins, but rather to spend them — she set it aside for me.

I still have that iconic 20th century error in my collection. It is a beauty, totally original; as it has been in my custody for 50 years, I would grade it AU 55 BN.

Waxing nostalgia about coins and country, it may have been the Lincoln cent that I first started to collect and assemble, yet I was first inspired by the Flowing Hair rendering of Ms. Liberty donning the half dime, half dollar and dollar. I did have the great pleasure of owning a lovely VF 1795 Flowing Hair Dollar of the three leaves variety. I had bought this coin from a dealer friend just prior to the advent of third-party certification. It was my single-largest purchase at that time, a princely $1,700.

Classic Head Half Cent – 1828
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Seated Liberty Half Dime, 1837
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Standing Liberty Quarter, 1917
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Walking Liberty Half Dollar, 1916
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Liberty Head $20, 1891
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Saint-Gaudens $20, 1907
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I loved the look of that coin. Soft powder grey, light silver centers with just a tinge of rose and lavender hugging the obverse peripheries. I purchased a custom-made Capital Plastic Holder to house my treasure. Unfortunately, about 20 years ago, I had to sell the coin to raise funds for a family emergency. To this day, when a certified VF 25 to VF 35 1795 Flowing Hair Dollar appears at auction, I quickly take a careful look to see if it is “my coin.”

Truly a treasure trove of history can be gained by collecting our country’s coinage. If you are an advanced numismatist, share your passion with an aspiring young collector — or with any member of the younger generation, for that matter. After all, coins have been minted in our country since the infancy of the republic!

Try assembling a type set featuring Ms. Liberty: copper half cent and large cents — why, even the “Indian” cent, on which Ms. Liberty dons a feathered headdress! But for this project, I would suggest Draped and Classic Head copper — these should be affordable to nearly everyone in VG-F.

Keeping it on a modest budget for silver, my favorites are: Capped Bust half dime or half dollar. These popular coins can each be had for under $100 in a nice VF-XF range.

Seated Liberty coinage offers very affordable options in the half dime through half dollar denominations — real bargains exist. A host of dates and mint-marked coins can be found in VF-AU for well under $100, with many coins in the $25-$50 range. Take a look at the NGC Price Guide. Of course, Seated Liberty dollars are also an exceptional option for those that can stretch the budget to $350-$500 or more for a single nice circ example.

Yet for me personally, the ultimate minor silver circulating issues were produced at the onset of World War I. The standouts include Hermon MacNeil’s artistic, modestly art deco Standing Liberty quarter, specifically the Type I of 1916-17. This is the rather provocative yet inspiring bare-breasted Ms. Liberty defending the republic with her shield. The 1917 Type I is best secured near or at mint state. A quick check of the NGC Price Guide confirms that an MS 60 FH is priced at a mere $260.

Also introduced in 1916, A.W. Weinman’s Walking Lady Liberty half dollar, by any definition, is a truly glorious coin. A splendiferous Ms. Liberty is striding proudly carrying the unfurled Old Glory. You can take your pick of several dates from the short set (1941-47) for $70 or less in MS 64.

Although early representative gold issues will not be affordable to the average collector, the more bullion-related (i.e., mammoth) $20 gold coins can be purchased for marginal premiums over their respective melt values. Certainly, two distinct versions of the grand old lady.

The $20 Liberty (1849-1907) portrays a rather matronly looking matriarch, whereas the $20 Saint-Gaudens (1907-1933) Ms. Liberty is a classically inspired guardian — a testament to the designer and his interpretation of the ideal Ms. Liberty.

There have been numerous modifications to the allegorical Ms. Liberty through the centuries. In 2017, she has an incarnation as the African-American Ms. Liberty, appearing on a $100 gold coin commemorating the 225th anniversary of the US Mint.

There are so many great opportunities for collecting. I am just so thrilled to impart my numismatic ramblings to you in this forum — I am truly very lucky. As Mark Twain said: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Hey, that reminds me: There are a couple of real nice commemoratives of Mark Twain from 2016: the silver $1 and $5 gold. OK, that will be for another installment.

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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