Collectors are realizing just how rare certain modern errors and varieties really are
By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek …..
The recent private transaction of the ultra-rare 1975 No-S Proof Roosevelt dime for $516,000 USD, coming just a few days after realizing $456,000 during a public sale by Heritage Auctions at the Long Beach Expo in California, puts into perspective the great importance of modern rare coins. While some collectors and dealers eschew modern clad coins, often going so far as to dub such coinage as mere “junk”, post-1950s coinage is clearly earning a place in the hearts and minds of more collectors.
And the proof is in the sales records, as the rarest examples of many modern coins are increasingly charting five- and even six-figure prices. In the decades since the early 1980s, when the only two known 1975 No-S dimes realized impressive five-figure sums of $18,200 and $38,550 during an initial offering by Illinois coin dealer Fred Vollmer, they and other modern coins have made some impressive marketplace showings.
In some cases, a modern coin needn’t even contain an error or unusual variety to score a high price.
Consider the situation with business-strike copper-nickel clad Eisenhower dollars, many of which are legitimately rare in higher Mint State grades. Certainly, the advent of competitive registry set collecting in the early 2000s helped fuel the increase in market prices for high-end modern coinage.
So, too, has this area of the market grown with the increasing number of deep-pocketed collectors who grew up in the last decades of the 20th century and hold nostalgia for the coinage of the 1960s through the ’90s – coins these individuals grew up spending and, perhaps, with which they began their numismatic journeys.
With that said, let’s examine five of the most valuable modern coins, exploring why they are so important to collectors and how they perform in the marketplace.
1964 SMS Kennedy Half Dollar
The world of modern coins stopped for a moment on August 20, 2019, when an ultra-rare 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar graded SP68 by PCGS and struck on a 90% silver planchet crossed the Stack’s Bowers auction block for a world-record $156,000. This piece, exhibiting an exceptionally sharp strike and nicer, more satiny surfaces than ordinary business-strike 1964 Kennedy half dollars, is one of about a dozen or so known specimens. Other 1964 SMS coins, including cents, nickels, dimes, and quarters, have also drawn impressive prices since they first appeared in the public marketplace in the early ’90s following the death of former United States Mint Director Eva B. Adams, who owned several sets of these rare SMS coins.
Other examples of the 1964 SMS half, dubbed the “King of Kennedy half dollars” by Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Imhof, have made headlines in recent years, with an SP67 specimen taking $108,000 at an April 2019 Heritage Auctions sale, twice more than the $47,000 another example in that same grade took at a Heritage event in September 2016.
Hammer prices for the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar have increased by multiples over the past decade or so, with the 1964 SMS in SP68 selling for 15-fold more than it did 10 years ago, when one example in a 2009 Heritage sale took $10,350. Similar results are seen among the SP67s that have hit the auction circuit over the years, with an SP67 example going for $4,175 at a 2006 Bowers & Merena offering and another selling for “just” $6,038 at a 2008 Heritage sale.
Some of the growth in demand for this piece may be attributed to the rise of registry sets, which existed a decade ago but have only increased in popularity and scope since. However, in the past decade there have also been natural demographic shifts in the hobby that see a larger share of collectors with substantial disposable income who grew up collecting Kennedy half dollars and other coins of the modern era.
1969-S Doubled Die Cent
Lincoln cents are one of the most popular and widely collected of United States coins, spanning the generations. One need not even be a so-called “modern collector” to have an appreciation of Lincoln cents, which have been minted since the beginning of the 20th century and include such classic rarities as the 1909-S VDB, 1914-D, 1922 plain, 1931-S, 1943 bronze, and 1955 doubled die pennies. The 1960s also delivered at least one significantly valuable entry in the Lincoln cent series: the 1969-S doubled die.
The 1969-S doubled die Lincoln cent is one of the rarest Lincoln cent varieties, and certainly it’s the most expensive of the Lincoln Memorial penny era spanning 1959 through 2008. Since its discovery decades ago, only a few dozen examples have turned up–though numismatists believe fewer than 100 were made. Each 1969-S DDO is worth thousands of dollars in any grade, including circulated condition.
The 1969-S doubled-die is one of the more newsworthy modern coins, making mainstream headlines in 1995 when an unemployed woman found an example in circulation that later sold for $3,500. In 2007, coin collector Michael Tremonti was poring through an unsearched roll when he discovered an example that shortly thereafter was graded PCGS MS64RD and realized $126,500.
These days, most 1969-S doubled die cents reliably command between $25,000 and $100,000 depending on condition.
Many individuals unfamiliar with the diagnostics of a 1969-S doubled die cent assume (or at least hope) that they possess an example if they see any signs of doubling on the coin – a common mistake when differentiating a coin with common and essentially worthless “machine doubling” versus one with the rarer and much more valuable “doubled die” error. Doubled die 1969-S cents exhibit strong doubling on the obverse in the date and in the inscriptions LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. Doubling is not present, however, in the “S” mintmark, as the mintmark was punched into the working die separately, after the hubbing during which the doubling occurred.
1973-D Eisenhower Dollar
Eisenhower dollars struck from 1971 through 1978 comprise a modern series that has gained much numismatic appreciation in recent years, with more collectors building high-end sets of these copper-nickel clad coins – the last of the large-size dollars. Being large, heavy coins, business-strike Eisenhower dollars are not known for high-quality surfaces; the heavier and larger the coin, the bigger and more numerous the dings and bruises they can acquire.
The 1973-D Eisenhower dollar is an ordinary coin by many accounts. While it and its Philadelphia-minted counterpart were issued only in 1973 United States Mint Uncirculated sets, the 1973-D Ike dollar didn’t necessarily receive special handling by mint officials. The Eisenhower dollar features a swath of open field on the obverse, and there are also many broad areas on Eisenhower’s bust that are prone to nicks and scratches.
Examples of the 1973-D grading MS67 are quite rare. As of September 2019, PCGS had graded just 13 in MS67 and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) had certified just four at the same grade. And in June 2013 one of the nicest of the then just 11 PCGS-certified 1973-D Ikes in MS67 took $12,925.
Other examples of the 1973-D dollar sold more recently have realized lower prices, including a specimen that sold at a 2017 Stack’s Bowers sale for $2,160. Pops are even low for this issue in MS66, where PCGS lists 347 (and just 18 in MS66+), while NGC has slabbed only 95 in a grade of MS66 – a coin that generally trades around $200. And these are not grossly atypical figures for really any of the cupro-nickel clad circulation-strike Ikes, which in MS66 or 67 are scarce and valuable coins often worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Whether a registry collector is aiming to build a top set of Eisenhower dollars or simply looking for above-average examples for a more conventional album-based set of modern dollars, there’s a lot to like about an Ike with clean surfaces, a strong strike, and overall excellent eye appeal. Even if pops for high-end Ike dollars were to increase markedly in the years ahead, Gems, Choice Gems, and Superb Gems will doubtlessly remain scarce.
1982-D Small-Date Bronze Cent
A more recent modern coin discovery of numismatic note is the 1982-D small date bronze cent. It’s a coin that was theorized for decades to exist but was first discovered only in 2016. The 1982-D small date bronze cent transitional error was struck during a year when seven regular-issue business-strike versions of the 1982 cent were produced. These include not just small- and large-date variations of the Philadelphia and Denver Mint cents, but also metallic format changes with the traditional bronze composition giving way to a copper-plated zinc version later in the year.
The discovery specimen, graded AU58BN by NGC, was found by collector Paul Malone, a collector who began keeping bronze cents in 2011 when he deemed them “not good enough to keep but too good to spend.” So, he began buying $50 bags (containing 5,000 pieces) of one-cent coins from nearby banks and sorting the pre-1983 bronze cents from the copper-plated zinc cents of more recent vintage. To distinguish the bronze 1982 cents from the zinc-based pennies, Malone utilized a simple see-saw balance scale he fashioned using craft sticks and toothpicks. It was with this homemade scale that he found the 1982-D bronze small date.
The coin was consigned to Stack’s Bowers, which sold it in 2017 for $18,800. The coin’s discovery and subsequent five-figure sale inspired a flurry of roll and bag searching among collectors hoping to find a second specimen. In early 2019, news broke that a second example of this rare transitional error had indeed been located. This piece, also graded AU58BN by NGC, was sold by Heritage Auctions in April 2019 for $10,800.
With the discovery of a second specimen, more United States collectors carry high hopes of finding other examples of this valuable rare modern coin in circulation. Even if numerous examples are eventually found and prices decrease some for this exciting transitional error, it has nevertheless captured the imaginations of many and will surely continue doing so. And the confirmed existence of at least two 1982-D bronze small date pennies also begs the question: should the accepted number of 1982 business-strike Lincoln cent varieties officially be expanded from seven to eight?
2000 Sacagawea Dollar/Washington Quarter Mule
The concept of an authentic, regular-issue United States mule coin once was little more than fantasy, as the odds of such a fantastic error escaping from the U.S. Mint seemed too great to fathom. And, before the year 2000, all suspected U.S. mules involving regular-strike coinage had been proven to be altered or otherwise fake.
So it’s little surprise that the arena of U.S. error coin specialists was electrified when Arkansan Frank Wallis discovered a 2000-P Sacagawea dollar/Washington 50 State Quarter mule in 2000.
News of Wallis’ mule discovery flooded not just numismatic media but also mainstream news circuits. Collectors and non-collectors alike were mesmerized by the freakish error, a 2000-dated Sacagawea obverse paired with a 50 State Quarters obverse of unknown state origin. The mule was struck on a golden-colored (manganese-brass on pure copper core) planchet intended for striking an ordinary Sacagawea dollar.
The excitement behind this error was generated not just by the drastic nature of the mistake but also because it was the first mule to be authenticated among regular-strike U.S. coins. Over the next two decades, several other examples have surfaced. Out of a population of now 18 coins, 14 examples are owned by a single collector, Tommy Bolack. Prices for the 2000 Sacagawea dollar/Washington quarter mule are all over the board, but the claim for the record price goes to an NGC-certified MS67 example that sold for $192,000 at a 2018 Stack’s Bowers auction. Other examples have recently traded for between $50,000 and $100,000.
The fortuitous circumstances that brought the 2000-dated mule into existence only helped to fan the numismatic flames that had already been raging since the release of both the wildly popular 50 State Quarters program in 1999 and the widely marketed debut of the Sacagawea dollar in 2000. One could even say the discovery of the mule error was just as important for stimulating further interest in the hobby during the early 2000s as was the emergence of the legendary 1955 doubled die cent–arguably the most well-known die variety of all time–during the latter half of the 1950s when numismatics was then at its peak of popularity.
Meanwhile, some two decades after its release, the 2000 Sacagawea dollar/Washington quarter mule remains a popular modern coin rarity that draws enthusiastic five- and six-figure bids and has been rightfully crowned by many numismatists the “King of Error Coins”.