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Collecting U.S. Coins by Type
What is a Type Set?
It is neither affordable, nor even possible on an unlimited budget to acquire one of every United States Mint coin ever issued. Since many collectors have a hard time settling on just one series to collect, many collectors decide to build a “type set” of US coins. Type set coin collecting means collecting by design type rather than by date and mint mark.
This approach has existed for a long time but became especially popular around 1960. During this time, coin stores were seen in many areas, several major hobby periodicals still issued today were first issued due to this increased interest in coins, and with more people collecting United States Mint coins, it became harder to build complete sets of any one series, which led many collectors to start building the aforementioned type sets.
There are many ways to collect United States Mint coins by type such as acquiring one of each major coin design type ever issued, which may also include sub-types. For example, one such approach could be to focus on collecting all the various Seated Liberty coins by acquiring those issued with and without mottoes, drapery and arrows. Most type set coin collectors look for the best quality of each type they can afford, which typically means looking for the most common dates that are found with nice strikes, although others follow a different approach such as focusing on first year of issue coins, or perhaps even key dates – an approach that quickly becomes expensive.
The main decisions about your type set of U.S. coins is whether you will focus on the entire period in which U.S. coins have been issued, i.e., from 1793 to the present; or whether you will limit the set to a certain time period such as the 20th century, which has long been a popular way to collect by type for those on a budget; whether or not you will include gold coins; and whether you will only focus on mint state coins or also include proofs.
In addition, the grade or condition of the coins in your set is another important consideration for type set collecting. Since uncirculated examples of 18th and 19th century coins are expensive, causing most collectors to aim for a lower grade, but also the best they can afford. Try to aim for a type set of coins that are in roughly the same condition or grade, such as solid, extra fine coins that have light wear and solid details, so that all the pieces in your set are good pairs. For 20th and 21st century coins you will likely want to acquire nice uncirculated examples since they are more affordable than the older coins in those grades.
You may wish to include commemoratives in which case you could include coins from the early period (especially a half dollar from 1892-1954 and other denominations if your budget allows) and one from the modern era (1982 to present), including one each of the half dollar, silver dollar and $5 gold coins.
Type set collecting also means deciding whether to focus on raw or ungraded examples, or to collect only graded coins of each type. Two advantages of a raw type set collection are that the coins are typically more affordable and that they can be organized into a United State Mint type set album, which are produced by several companies. On the other hand, if you can afford to collect high quality graded examples certified by NGC or PCGS, your set will be more valuable and is more likely to increase in value over time. It will also be more liquid should you decide to sell your US type set. Plus, it is easier to determine the current value of graded pieces and to track their values and how many coins of that type exist in the same grade as your coin.
In addition to being a fun way to collect Unites States Mint coins and a great way to build an attractive set, type set coin collecting is also an ideal way to learn more about the history of our coinage. The history of our country is reflected in our coins. As numismatic experts Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett note in United States Coinage: A Study by Type, the various designs that have appeared “illustrate the simple beginnings of the first Mint, the growth and maturing of the nation during the 1800s, the staid designs of the Industrial Era, the glory and excess of the early 1900s and the hero worship of recent years” [when portraits of American presidents began to appear on our coins starting with the Lincoln cent in 1909 – LG].
This way of collecting also places the emphasis squarely on the artwork of each coin such as the many ways Lady Liberty’s image has changed on our coins from the young women of earlier issues to the more mature depictions of the 19th century such as the Matron Head cents and half cents and today's modern versions of Liberty such as the 2019-W $100 American Liberty High Relief gold coin and silver medal.
On the financial side, type set collecting is a great way to tailor your US coin collecting to your budget and to your own personal collecting interests and preferences. Plus, building such a set over time helps you avoid some of cyclical changes in the coin market because not all segments of the market are impacted at the same time. A type set spreads your exposure to every type of United States Mint coin.
Keep in mind the solid quality 18th and 19th-century United States coins are becoming more and more scarce as time passes, which means you may wish to consider starting with some of the harder to find coins and leave the more recent and common pieces for later, as they are less likely to become more expensive while you pursue your type set.
However, if your budget is limited and you are relatively new to the hobby, it is a good idea to pick one denomination such as nickels and acquire one of each type of those coins and then more on to other denominations. Or you might start with only copper coins then move on to silver and perhaps gold as your economic situations allows. Also, over time you may wish to upgrade certain coins in your set with better-quality pieces than the ones you first purchased.
To help you get the most out of your pursuit of a type set collection and decide which coins you wish to include, it is important to have some good references. The Guide Book of United States Coins published by Whitman, known as the “Red Book” is a great starting place. More advanced collectors will want to consult the latest edition of Q. David Bowers’ A Guide Book of United States Type Coins (Whitman, 2008), or the book by Guth and Garrett mentioned above. Finally, for suggestions on which specific coins to include from each type of 20th century coin and the grade that might work best, this CoinWeek article is useful.
Q. David Bowers’ A Guide Book of United States Type Coins (Whitman, 2008)
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