1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent 1909-S VDB
Lincoln Wheat cent. Image: USA CoinBook
Is there any coin more famous than the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent? Sure, numismatists call the 1804 Draped Bust dollar the “King of American Coins,” but “the 1909 Lincoln penny” holds that title in the public imagination. A 1909-S VDB penny is the necessary key date for any Lincoln cent collection.
There were only 484,000 coins minted, with perhaps 50,000 survivors today across the grade spectrum. While both of those figures may seem rather high for a “rare” coin, millions of people want a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. So, demand far outstrips supply, and this has been the case for generations. Today, a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent has a value of at least $600, even in well-worn grades.
The 1908-S VDB Lincoln cent has a storied past. Production ended only weeks after its release, due public outcry over the prominent letters “VDB” on the reverse. These letters represent the initials of designer Victor David Brenner. The furor centered on the size and visibility of his initials. People accused Brenner of self-promotion on America's coins. Previous artists had included their initials on U.S. coin designs, but most were hidden or less conspicuous.
1943 Lincoln Steel Cent
1943 steel Lincoln Wheat cent. Image: USA CoinBook
One of the most unusual United States coins is the 1943 steel Lincoln cent. Struck for one year only, the steel penny was made to help save copper for World War II munitions. So, all 1943 steel cents serve as precious relics of this most trying period in American history.
The oddness of the 1943 steel cents often lead many new collectors and non-numismatists to believe that they must be rare and valuable. The truth is, more than 1 billion steel Lincoln pennies were made in 1943 between the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. They are still plenty common in coin shops and coin shows. It’s also still possible to find these silver-colored pennies, worth about 20 cents to $1 in worn condition, in circulation. 1864 Two Cents
1864 two cent piece (Large Motto variety). Image: USA CoinBook
Did you know America once had a coin with a face value of two cents? Not only that, the 1864 Two Cents was the first United States coin to carry the now-famous national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Many two cent pieces are scarce and valuable, but the historic 1864 issue were hoarded when they came out.
They can be bought today for less than $50 in moderately circulated condition. Not only do they make a terrific acquisition for any United States coin collection, but they’re just as wonderful a conversation piece, too. 1883 “No Cents” Liberty Nickel
1883 Liberty Head nickel. Image: USA CoinBook
Talk about conversation pieces... When the 1883 Liberty Head nickel was first released, some unscrupulous individuals began passing them off as $5 gold pieces!
The original design used a Roman numeral "V" for the five cent denomination, without the word "cents." It wasn't long before crooks realized that the nickel was about the same size as a $5 quarter eagle gold coin. Without the word "cents," they could gold plate the nickel and pass it off as a $5 coin. Some attempts were more successful than others.
One commonly told tale involves the story of Josh Tatum, a deaf mute, who used gold-plated V nickels to buy items that cost five cents. In doing so, he often received $4.95 in change. The law soon caught up with him, but Tatum couldn’t be convicted of any crime. Nobody could testify that he ever once claimed the coins to be $5 gold pieces, because he couldn't talk. Tatum may have ridden off to the sunset, but his legacy lives on with the phrase “I was just Joshing you.”
Today, one can buy an 1883 No Cents Liberty nickel in well-worn condition for less than $10.
1942-P Jefferson Silver Nickel
1942-P wartime Jefferson nickel. Image: USA CoinBook
Much like the 1943 Lincoln steel cent, the Jefferson nickel also underwent a wartime change in composition. To save nickel metal for the war effort, the nickel was changed from the standard 75% copper, 25% nickel composition, to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. This change was instituted late in 1942. Nickels struck earlier in the year were made from the standard composition. This meant that there were "regular" and silver nickels bearing a 1942 date. How do you tell them apart? The easiest way is by looking for a large “P,” “D,” or “S” mintmark above the dome of Monticello.
These large mintmarks are only seen on the silver-based wartime Jefferson nickels made from 1942 through 1945. In the case of the 1942-P war nickel, is was the first coin to carry the “P” mintmark signifying the Philadelphia Mint. War nickels are generally worth the value of their silver content. They can still occasionally turn up in circulation.
1916-D Mercury Dime
1916-D Mercury dime. Image: USA CoinBook
It’s time to turn our eyes to another important rarity, and this one ranks high on most collectors’ lists of all-time great United States coins. The 1916-D Mercury dime was minted during the first year of production for this beloved series designed by Adolph A. Weinman. It saw a mintage of only 264,000, and has an estimated survival of approximately 10,000 pieces across all grades. This makes the 1916-D Mercury dime even scarcer than the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. The 1916-D Mercury is the top key date for the series and runs about $1,000 and up in worn grades.
1796 Draped Bust Quarter
1796 Draped Bust quarter (Small Eagle variety). Image: USA CoinBook
The quarter-dollar is the workhorse of the American economy. This denomination has been in production since 1796. The first quarters ever produced for circulation were the 1796 Draped Bust quarter. Carrying the iconic Draped Bust design by Robert Scot, the first quarters were minted in small quantities of just 6,146 pieces. All early quarters are rarities, but the 1796 is especially sought-after as the first-year coin of the denomination. Any example of this important 18th-century United States coin qualifies as a national treasure. Even a Good-4 specimen will run about $10,000. 1876 Liberty Seated Half Dollar 1876 Seated Liberty half dollar. Image: USA CoinBook The Liberty Seated design was the “face” of American coinage for most of the 19th century. Also known as "Seated Liberty," it appeared on the obverses of most United States silver coins from the late 1830s through early 1890s. While several denominations feature this Christian Gobrecht design, many of these coins are scarce and quite valuable. This leaves anyone wanting to collect coins with limited options for buying an example of this important type. Still, numerous affordable options exist. One of them is the 1876 Liberty Seated half dollar. A moderately circulated example of the 1876 Liberty Seated half dollar can be bought for less than $100. Prices fall to less than $50 in grades of Good-4 or Very Good-8!
1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar
1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar. Image: USA CoinBook
Many consider the Walking Liberty half dollar the most beautiful silver coin ever produced by the United States. Like the acclaimed Mercury dime, it was designed by Adolph A. Weinman. The Walking Liberty half dollar ran from 1916 through 1947. Several scarce dates were struck throughout this long-running series. Many collectors will find the key dates to be financially out of reach. There is one rare issue in this series that can be obtained for less than $100 in circulated grades. The 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar, which saw a mintage of 491,600, is a sought-after key date. Those wishing to see the 1938-D Walking Liberty design in all its glory can purchase an uncirculated example for about $500.
1964 Kennedy Half Dollar