Collector's Edge

Posted on 6/9/2020

Key dates leaving you with an empty feeling?

Q: I really like Barber silver coins of 1892-1916, and I've completed circulated sets of the dimes and half dollars grading at least F-12. I started to work on Barber quarters, but I doubt I'll ever be able to finish them, since the 1901-S quarter costs so much even in the lowest grades. Now I'm wondering whether it's worth putting money into a set that may never be complete. Any suggestions?

A: That's a problem many collectors face, as the Red Book lists this date/mint starting at $3,750 in G-4, and it climbs rapidly in each successive grade. You didn't say whether you're collecting "raw" coins within albums or certified pieces in individual sealed holders, but the possible solutions are a bit different for each. Graded coins in slabs typically are arranged one behind the other in rigid, plastic boxes made to hold them, and it's not obvious when one particular issue is lacking. While you'll know that you're short on that one key coin, the satisfaction of examining the others and showing them to friends and family doesn't have to be spoiled by pointing out the omission. The two other keys, 1896-S and 1913-S, are affordable in circulated grades, and those may be your highlight specimens.

Collecting coins in albums presents a more obvious problem, as every coin album made for Barber quarters includes an opening for the rare 1901-S. There's an easy fix, however, as most coin folders for Standing Liberty quarters include a removable plug labeled RARE for 1916, and you may borrow said plug for inclusion in your Barber quarter album.

For my own set, I've devised a solution that is similar in concept but draws less attention to the omitted coin. I use Whitman Bookshelf albums made in the 1960s, and the pages of these have the same color and texture as the covers of Whitman's coin folders of those years. Both the albums and folders are easily found used today, so I peel off the cover paper from a folder and cut it into squares. These may be inserted between the album's plastic slides and its page paper, which results in a nearly perfect concealment of the opening.

Removable Plug
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Skinned Folder
Click image to enlarge.

Barber Quarter Collection
Click image to enlarge.

Q: I like the way my old coins look in albums, but I'm reluctant to buy coins that haven't been certified and graded. Is there a way to have the best of both worlds?

A: The short answer is "no," though there are sellers of binders and trays that accommodate various brand of certified coin holders. These mimic some aspects of the traditional coin album, but there's still the distraction of the individual holders that may not appeal to the album enthusiast. If you're determined to mount your coins within albums, you'll have to crack them out of the slabs. You can always retain the certified labels by either taping them to the inside back cover of the album, which I've seen done by many collectors, or simply inserting them into an envelope that is tipped into the album. Of course, this invalidates the guarantee that came with the certified coin, but at least you'll know in your own mind that the coins are genuine and correctly graded.

By the way, this practice is OK for circulated coins that have an existing patina, but you won't want to do it with Mint State coins. Cardboard albums can sometimes produce attractive toning, but the coins are just as susceptible to spotting, fingerprinting, etc.

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