One Way to Pay for an Indian Cent Set

Posted on 2/1/2018

A middle-class path to completing a series in a few years.

February is at hand, and no matter what the prodigious rodent in Pennsylvania prognosticates, here in New England, February equates to having another Super Bowl to watch with great interest, and that we will have at least 2 ½ more months of winter.

In the numismatic world, if January was a reliable indication, it portends for a powerfully good showing in 2018. FUN was an exciting, well-attended venue, and great coins found new homes via auction. Dealers manning their Sunshine State bourse tables advised me that sales were brisk for quality coins at most price points.

The “Big Apple” was also host to another exceptional NYINC – yet another defining statement that world coins are gaining more of the numismatic market share, appearing at major auctions and highly visible in more and more of mainstream US dealers’ coin cases on the bourse.

The metals have continued to respond with positive momentum, pushing both gold and silver to higher levels, too. Interestingly, collectors on limited budgets and those fortunate to have unlimited resources I have spoken to recently have similar goals – namely, completing a series with the best graded coins they can afford. I applaud them. Completing any series is a challenge in resources and in time, ferreting out suitable coins for each respective collection.

Building a collection in Boston

My friend, Jack from Boston, considers himself on a limited budget. In this instance, his numismatic allotment is about $300 per month.

“I finished paying off my car just about three years ago, so I just set aside my previous car payment for my coins! Really my disposable income has been about the same over the last few years, I wish I had more. I have put what I can into high grade Indian Cents. With a little luck I will put the finishing touches on the set this year.”

1862 Indian Head Cent, graded NGC MS 63.
Realized: $204 in December 2017.
Click images to enlarge. (Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

Jack is understandably quite proud of his numismatic achievement.

“It has taken me nearly 3 years; it has been fun, eyeballing local hobby shops, a few shows, and a lot of internet shopping on eBay and the like.”

My neighboring Bay State native’s set ranges in grade XF to MS 63 and is missing just one coin. (Any guesses?)

“As soon as I get my tax refund, I will be hunting for an AU 50-55ish 1877 in the $2,500 range to complete, well, what I consider Phase One.”

My friend should be in great shape to snare a nice NGC AU 55 in that price range! As for his reference to Phase One ...

“Since my car is in good shape, only has 35K miles on it, after I locate my 1877, I will then tend to upgrading many of the semi-key dates from the late 1860s, mid-1870s. I have methodically hunted down eye-appealing coins that met my standards. It is definitely time-consuming, but the learning experience and the excitement of the hunt has been so rewarding to me and my family, too. My two sons have finally begun to appreciate and kind of like what Dad has been doing!

“Eventually, someday, my goal is to a compile a complete Mint State set. For me, this is a great way to collect. This set gives me so much enjoyment, and I know that every year that I am able to improve on the overall condition, I will have also made myself a great investment for the future when I finally sell. But that won’t be for about 20 years or more, I hope.”

I consider this the Triple E in numismatics: an Economic, Educational and Emotional success! I mean, I know that we collectors can be very persnickety and passionate. Yet Jack’s goal, or at least Phase One, is at hand, and the culmination of his efforts is truly exciting and worth boasting about.

Pick your price point

Yet this need not be the same routine for other budding collectors or veterans. If you possess unlimited resources, your target will or can be set much higher, and you can perhaps wage a battle for Registry Set bragging rights.

Still, for many, just putting together a complete Indian Head Cent set in any grade would be an envy for many hobbyists. I can remember for me, just locating a group of Indians exhibiting a full “Liberty” on the headdress was an exciting proposition. (Oh my god, that was 50 years ago!)

Employing Jack’s car payment strategy, along with a quick check of the NGC US Coin Price Guide, I came up with a quick plan to fund an XF 40 set, and another for a MS 63 RB set.

According to my calculations, as of February 1, 2018, a complete Indian Head Cent set (1859-1909) graded NGC XF will run about $8,700, or equal to an approximate outlay of about $242 per month over three years! Allowing for market fluctuations, the collector intrigued by this might include an extra payment or two for buffer, to adjust for advances, etc.

For the more affluent collector, a complete Indian Head Cent set 1859-1864 CN MS 63 and MS 63 RB for the 1864-1909 bronze is currently valued at $27,485 in the NGC US Coin Price Guide. You all can figure the math, but a five-year plan here would amount to around $458 per month.

A 1909 Indian Head Cent, graded NGC MS 63 RB, from the Newman collection.
Click images to enlarge.

Now for me, a solid VF set rekindles the fun and passion of tracking down all even-colored coins. You know, all milk-chocolate or mid-tan examples would be a great goal – certainly a challenge – but what a joy to assemble a moderately traveled set!

All the coins bearing a full “Liberty” on the headdress bring back memories of my youth when coins from the 1880s-1909 could be found for under a dollar. Now, today, this complete 1859-1909 Indian Cent set in VF will total about $5,700, or around $158 for 36 months! Just think, folks, in three years or under, you can drive away with one of these beauties!

Regardless of your finances, collecting should be fun, and defined goals are great to have. Enjoy the hobby, my friends, and may you all share economic, educational and emotional success! 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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