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HomeCollecting StrategiesTen 20th Century Key-Date Coins for Under $1,500

Ten 20th Century Key-Date Coins for Under $1,500

By Eric Brothers for CoinWeek …..
Many collectors love the idea of key-date coins. Key dates typically have low mintages and can be quite expensive to own in higher grades. Here at Coinweek, we have put together a guide for you with the most popular key-date coins of the 20th century–all at under $1,500 each.

1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent

1909-S Lincoln Cent. V.D.B. MS-63 RB (NGC). Price Realized: $1,610.
1909-S Lincoln Cent. V.D.B. MS-63 RB (NGC). Price Realized: $1,610.

The most popular key date of the 20th century is the 1909-S VDB (484,000 mintage) Lincoln cent. It was designed by Victor D. Brenner to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. It is the first American coin to have a figure from history, and not a rendering of Liberty, upon it.

The designer’s initials first appeared on the reverse at the bottom rim of the coin (only in 1909).

The Lincoln cent was the first one-cent piece to have the motto IN GOD WE TRUST upon it. And the story behind the 1909-S VDB–that production of these coins was halted in reaction to the initials–is famous. You can buy your very own example of this legendary coin certified by either CAC, NGC, or PCGS in a grade of MS 63 Red Brown for $1,300 to $1,500. There are many on the market in that grade and you may be able to get one with a CAC sticker for that price.

1955 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Cent

1955 1C Doubled Die Obverse. Price Realized: $1,560.
1955 Lincoln Cent. Doubled Die Obverse. Price Realized: $1,560.

Among the most popular key-date coins is another Lincoln cent: the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse, which is also a renowned Mint error coin. It is approximated that around 20,000 of them made it into circulation. They are expensive, but certified specimens are less costly if you purchase a “problem” coin with a “details” grade (for example, “improperly cleaned”). Recent PCGS/NGC pieces graded “AU details” have sold for between $660 and $1,057. Conversely, problem-free 1955 DDO coins recently sold in AU 53 Brown for $1,440 and AU 58 Brown for $1,260 and $1,320.

1916-D Mercury Dime

1916-D Winged Liberty Dime. PCGS VG-8 CAC. Price Realized: $1,292.50.
1916-D Winged Liberty Dime. VG-8 (PCGS CAC). Price Realized: $1,292.50.

Another popular key date is the 1916-D Mercury dime with its scant 264,000 mintage. The wings at the crown of her cap symbolize the liberty of thought, according to its designer. It is one of two beautiful coins crafted by sculptor Adolph Weinman, who also developed and created the Walking Liberty half dollar. Recent sales in grades Good 6 through Very Good 10 in PCGS-, NGC- and old ANACS-certified holders range in price from $900 to $1,320.

1932-D Washington Quarter

1932-D Washington Quarter PCGS MS64. Price Realized: $1,587.43.
1932-D Washington Quarter. MS64 (PCGS). Price Realized: $1,587.43.

The super-popular key date 1932-D Washington quarter (mintage of 426,800), designed by John Flanagan, and is available in mint state for under $1,500. The original intention of this coin was to be a commemorative piece to mark the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth in 1732.

Recent sales in MS 63 (both PCGS and NGC) fetched around $1,000 to $1,200. Certified examples (PCGS and NGC) in MS 64 are a little more expensive and will run you about $1,200 to over $1,400.

1932-S Washington Quarter

1932-S Washington quarter PCGS MS64 CAC. Price Realized:$763.75.
1932-S Washington Quarter. MS64 (PCGS CAC). Price Realized:$763.75.

The companion piece to the above coin, the 1932-S Washington quarter (mintage 408,000), is a more affordable option. That is because more of the S-Mint coins were saved back in the early 1930s. Recent sales have a wide spread in price, depending on the overall appearance of the coin. You can get a 1932-S Washington quarter in PCGS (sometimes in the ‘Secure’ holder) and NGC for about $630 up to $1,200.

1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollar

1921 Walking Liberty half dollar. PCGS EX40. Price Realized: $1,762.50.
1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollar. EX40 (PCGS). Price Realized: $1,762.50.

The stunning Walking Liberty half dollar is considered to be among the most beautiful coins in the world, and has a few key dates for collectors. It is the first coin to present the figure of Liberty in movement. The reverse features a striking visage of an eagle. Previous incarnations of Liberty presented only her bust in profile and the standing version is found on the 1916-1930 quarter designed by Hermon A. MacNeil. The 1921-P, with a mintage of 246,000, is easily available in circulated grades. Recent circulated examples (PGGS and NGC) have sold in grades Very Good 8 to Very Fine 20 ranging in price from $144 to $576.

1921-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

1921-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar. VF-30 (NGC). Price Realized: $1.265.
1921-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar. VF-30 (NGC). Price Realized: $1.265.

A companion piece to the above is the 1921-D Walking Liberty half dollar. With its 208,000 mintage, the lowest in the series, its circulated examples are more expensive than the 1921-P. Recent sales of certified specimens (PCGS and NGC) include Very Good 10 from $264 to $336; Fine 12 from about $400 to $550; and Fine 15 from around $600 to $700.

1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar. MS-66+ (NGC). Price Realized: $1,800.
1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar. MS-66+ (NGC). Price Realized: $1,800.

Another popular key date in the Walking Liberty half dollar series is the 1938-D with its mintage of 491,600. Recent sales of this coin in PCGS and NGC holders include one in AU 58 for $300; a single MS 63 at $528; one MS 64 for $900; and two MS 65 examples that sold for $900 and $1,020. The 1938-D half dollar is not always available, so if you want one you should scout upcoming coin auctions and visit major coin conventions to locate one for your collection.

1921 High Relief Peace Dollar

1921 Peace Silver Dollar. High Relief. MS-65 (PCGS). Price Realized: $1,645.
1921 Peace Silver Dollar. High Relief. MS-65 (PCGS). Price Realized: $1,645.

The 1921 High Relief Peace dollar, with a mintage of 1,006,474, has always been a popular first-year key-date coin. It is also a one-year type coin. The relief was lowered on this series beginning in 1922. It was a commemorative coin devoted to peace in response to the carnage of the First World War. It was actually developed and created under the Pittman Act without approval of Congress.

Designed by Anthony de Francisci, it is easily available in a grade of MS 63. Recent sales in PCGS and NGC holders include nine of them from $312 to $528. Four of the latest sales in MS 64 realized from $720 to $840. Two examples of the 1921 High Relief Peace dollar in MS 65 sold for $1,065 and $1,140.

1928 Peace Dollar


1928 Peace Silver Dollar. MS-64 (PCGS). Price Realized: $1,265.
1928 Peace Silver Dollar. MS-64 (PCGS). Price Realized: $1,265.

The primary key date for the Peace dollar series is the 1928 coin, which has a mintage of 360,649. Recent sales in PCGS- and NGC-certified holders graded MS 62 went for from $360 to $384, while specimens in MS 63 realized prices stretching from $432 up to $660.

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The bulk of the prices presented in this article are from Heritage Auctions. They sell many certified key-date coins at their auctions at major coin shows and on their internet-only auctions.

Coinweek advises collectors to purchase key-date coins that are housed in third-party grading services holders only, such as PCGS and NGC. Many key-date coins are counterfeit; especially the 1909-S VDB and 1955 DDO Lincoln cents, and purchasing coins certified by these companies will ensure that you don’t lose your money. And, if a counterfeit or manipulated coin is found in one of those holders, you will get all of your money back. PCGS and NGC guarantee the authenticity of the coins in their holders. Collectors should visit local and national coin shows when searching for key date and other coins for their collections. Happy hunting from Coinweek!

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