This is the next to the last of my columns about collecting key coins rather than striving to collect an entire coin series. A key coin is one that is the rarest and most difficult to obtain in any given series of coins.
I have focused on just 20th century coinage because they are coins that can be readily obtained and are relatively reasonably priced for an investment. Expanding back to the 19th century would take up pages, as there are many rare and valuable coins from that century. I have already written about cents through dimes.
The Washington quarter was first minted in 1932 and had not been changed in appearance until 1999 when the state quarter series began, an exception being the bicentennial dated quarter which featured a Revolutionary Era drummer boy on the reverse instead of the familiar eagle. The only year the Washington quarter was not minted was 1933 (there was no quarter dated 1931 either), because there was no need due to the Depression that was still affecting the country and hence limited need for new coinage. Also, because the bicentennial quarter was first struck in 1975, but with the 1776-1976 dates, no quarter was minted with the date 1975. (the same is true for the half-dollar and dollar coins).
The only key dates in the Washington quarter series are the 1932-D and 1932-S, from the Denver and San Francisco mints, respectively, both of which were minted in limited numbers, also because of the Depression. Although I recommend buying key coins in at least “fine” condition, both coins can be obtained in higher grades for just a little more money. Here I would recommend buying them in almost uncirculated condition where a 1932-D would cost around $350, and a 1932-S about $240.
The Standing Liberty quarter, which predates the Washington quarter, was minted from 1916 until 1930. There are numerous key and difficult date coins in this series for several reasons, the first being low mintage figures and the second being the coin was improperly designed with the date being high on the coin. The result was the dates wore off quickly, reducing the number of coins with dates available for collectors.
Any coin dated from 1917 through 1924 and from any mint, in fine condition, even though not all are considered key, are good investments. In 1925 the coin was redesigned and the date was lowered, so most coins collectors come across in this series are dated 1925-1930.
The true keys in the Standing Liberty quarter series are the 1916 and the 1918/17-S. The 1916 Standing Liberty quarter was struck in limited quantity because the Philadelphia mint had already been minting millions of Barber quarters, its predecessor. Put together the two factors, low mintage and dates that wore quickly and you have a coin that will set you back $5,500 in fine condition.
Next up is the 1918/17-S. The overdate is because there were no dies ready in 1918, (same as was the situation in 1942 with the Mercury dime) so the mint stamped an 8 over the 7 in the date 1917. Once again three was a low mintage because the overdate die was retired once a new 1918 die was available, and the dates wore off many coins, so this key will cost in the range of $3,500 in fine condition.
Half dollar keys next week.
Douglas Keefe is the president of Beachcomber Coins Inc. He and his wife, Linda, operate Beachcomber Coins and Collectibles, formerly in the Shore Mall and now at 6692 Black Horse Pike in the old Wawa building just beyond the former Cardiff Circle. They have satellite offices in Brigantine and Absecon. Between them they have more than 70 years of experience in the coin and precious metals business. They are members of the American Numismatic Association, the Industry Council of Tangible Assets, the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation, the Certified Coin Exchange and the Professional Coin Grading Service.