Littleton Coin Company’s Collector’s Corner

Past-Century Favorites Remain Market Leaders


When it comes to predicting the popularity of coins for a new generation of collectors, many seem to want to write off traditional favorites. But that would be a terrible mistake, because they show every indication of remaining market leaders. The coins that captivated numismatists during the past century are becoming even more popular as we enter the new.

If you were to list the top five coins pursued by collectors during the last half of the twentieth century, the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent would be at or near the top. With its circulation of just 484,000, it was an immediate sensation among collectors of the day. And its reputation and fame have only grown with the passage of time.

The 1909-S VDB has been the major roadblock for generations of numismatists trying to complete their collections. Certainly there were others, but the story of how the Secretary of the Treasury first approved the design of the 1909-S VDB – then halted production and ordered the initials removed from its reverse – remains a fascinating chapter in the history of the Lincoln cent. Moreover, it seems the story will be retold over and over as the Lincoln cent approaches 100 years in production.

Historically, the cent has been the numismatic foundation on which collections are built. Most collectors start with cents – and that means the 1909-S VDB. Although some were saved back in 1909, the supply of these coins is never enough to meet demand. Even those who don’t collect Lincoln cents often want the 1909-S VDB, because it was the one coin they could not find during their youth. That added demand makes this elusive coin special. And with the century mark rapidly approaching for the Lincoln cent, a change in the demand is unlikely.

The second coin to appear on our list is another Lincoln, the 1955 Doubled Ddie Obverse. The "perfect error" of United States coinage if ever there was one, this Lincoln cent was the most heavily collected denomination at the time. The easily identified 1955 Doubled Die Obverse became a national sensation at a time when few really collected coins or even checked their change for errors. This coin changed the way errors were viewed and caused future generations to check their new coins for errors and varieties.

After more than fifty years, some might think the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse would have lost some of its appeal. But, if anything, it continues to grow. It has become the standard to which all other errors are compared, and while some might be tougher to find, none is more important. And when it comes to popularity, nothing even comes close – making the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse a favorite of the past that remains a market leader.

The third coin on our list of past-century favorites, the 1950-D Jefferson nickel, has recently begun to move significantly in price. That’s an important indicator. While the 1950-D Jefferson has always enjoyed a unique popularity, its price has remained fairly stable for decades. This heavily hoarded coin is certainly not the toughest Jefferson nickel to collect, but it is the lowest mintage and probably the most important when it comes to gauging interest in Jefferson nickels.

In recent years, the different designs for the nickel have drawn attention to the denomination, and may be behind the recent price increases for the 1950-D. But regardless of the reason, this national sensation of the 1950s and 1960s tends to be a very good indicator of interest in Jefferson nickels. When it comes to Jeffersons, the 1950-D leads and the other dates follow. Lately, it has been very active – and that’s good news for Jefferson nickels.

No list of collectors’ favorites from the past century would be complete without the 1916-D Mercury dime. When Littleton Coin Company announced it had purchased 241 examples of the 1916-D as part of the 1996 "New York Subway Hoard," many expected the coins to last for years. In fact, they were quickly gone. As with the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent, many collectors had, in their youth, dreamed of finding the 1916-D in circulation. Because of this, it is sought after not only by Mercury dime collectors, but also those who simply want the 1916-D.

Which is why it’s the fourth coin on our list. Whether an older collector remembering the coins sought after in youth, or a younger collector wanting to impress an older numismatist, it seems everyone wants the 1916-D. Over the years, this coin has never experienced a slow sales period. So if anyone knows of another group of 1916-Ds, Littleton would love to hear about it.

The fifth and final coin to appear on our list is the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter. As with the 1916-D Mercury dime, Littleton was able to buy a large number of 1916 Standing Liberty quarters in the New York Subway Hoard; however, in this case, that large number was only 19 coins. In all likelihood, Littleton could probably sell the entire mintage of 52,000.

This coin’s popularity has always been strong, and has only grown with the increased interest in quarters. The situation is unlikely to change because, like the other coins we’ve discussed, the 1916 is legendary and enjoys a demand in every grade that’s much larger than its supply. This makes it a great coin for dealers, as it is never in stock for long.

So there you have them – five collector favorites from the last half of the past century, and every one a leader in today’s coin market. Certainly there are other top dates, such as the 1914-D Lincoln cent, the 1901-S and 1913-S Barber quarters, and the 1921 and 1921-D Liberty Walking half dollars.  Like those we’ve discussed, their popularity spans generations of collectors.

So don’t underestimate the appeal of traditional favorites. When it comes to collector demand for famous coins, the only direction it seems to go is up. It’s simply a matter of numbers. There are more collectors seeking the famous coins of the past century, which means there is more pressure to buy them in all grades.

And collectors will buy them. Because when it comes to coins like the 1909-S VDB and 1955 Doubled Die Obverse Lincolns, the 1950-D Jefferson nickel, the 1916-D Mercury dime, and the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter, you can never have enough examples.