Rare Currency: A Collector’s Guide

One of the first symbolic, political, and critical economic actions to announce the independence of the newly forming American Colonies was the coining of monies. One should embrace these historically significant symbols of a piece, the story they have to tell, when collecting rare coins. More than paper or a certificate, and more than just money to be handed down to the next of kin, these are items with meaning, virtue, history and passion.


This begs the important question, what does one need to know when collecting rare coins and currency?


1856 $1 Gold Piece salvaged from the S.S. Central America Shipwreck

1856 $1 Gold Piece salvaged from the S.S. Central America Shipwreck



Numismatic collectors should always focus on quality over quantity. Many collectors come to the rare arena thinking they need to acquire as much bulk as possible – that owning many lower-priced gold coins is better than placing the same amount of capital into a smaller number of truly rare and collectible coins. This is not the case, and the principle is true in any collector market. The rarest art, cars, watches and historical artifacts are always the ones that are most coveted. Translate this over into the rare coin arena, and investors should focus on the quality coins that will be sought after by the entire market. Always be on the lookout for coins with the lowest populations, the greatest allure and the biggest story to build a collection that brings enduring satisfaction and meaning.


Key Date Gold and Key Date Coins


“Key Date” refers to a rare date within a coin series, usually with the lowest mintage. These coins have smaller populations, strong collector sentiment, are important parts of set building strategies and usually have a great history behind them. Mintages for key dates vary from year to year depending upon certain political, economic or historical realities, but their demand rarely wanes. Coins become “key date” through time and circumstance, becoming rare and desirable by comparison to other more common coins.


Early Date Gold: Collectible Coins Minted Prior to 1838


Early date coins carry with them an almost mystic quality. They are full of the history of America’s founding, its patriarchs and the American ideal. As such, and because they are exceedingly rare – especially those dated prior to 1800 – these coins are sought after by all savvy collectors. Early date gold coins are also very tough to acquire, and when they do appear, they can trade in the moment regardless of the price. Early date silver is also very desirable and extraordinary. Many of these remarkable early silver coins, aesthetically speaking, capture the imagination and harken back to the early American period unlike any other coins.


1652 Pine Tree Shilling

1652 Pine Tree Shilling



Proof Gold


These coins were minted specifically for collectors and have mirror-like finishes that are absolutely breathtaking. Many seasoned collectors build entire portfolios of proof coinage. They are truly mesmerizing to view, and the populations are minuscule. In many cases, only handfuls were minted. Struck by highly polished dies with precise requirements in place, many were only given to dignitaries; the famous $4.00 Stella coin is one example. The large $20 proof gold pieces tend to attract a huge amount of attention as well. Key Dates within this category, of course, bring a feverish crowd.



1879 $4 Flowing Hair Stella Gold Coin

1879 $4 Flowing Hair Stella Gold Coin



Coins and the Civil War


Talk about history! Has there been another moment in American history that has captivated authors, storytellers and moviemakers more? Because of their history, low survivability and collector fervor, these coins are a very sought-after segment of the numismatics market. A rare and exceptional niche would be Civil War proof coinage, which is one of the more coveted sectors of all coinage.


1861 Confederate Copper Cent

1861 Confederate Copper Cent



Gold Rush Gold Collectible Coins


One could argue that the American West and the American economy really got their starts on the back of this epic Western saga. From the fields of the gold rush grew the uniquely American spirit of adventure, enterprise and entrepreneurship. Due to the relatively small number of coins, the history and the ability to build sets from this period, this is another very strong arena for collectors to explore. Territorial pieces from important sanctioned assay offices make up one of the more interesting sectors for many investors, and some collectors have focused exclusively on this segment.

1861 Confederate Copper Cent

This Justh & Hunter gold ingot, created from gold prospected during the California Gold Rush, was recovered from the S.S. Central America shipwreck. Circa 1857.



Branch Mint Gold Coins


The term “branch mint” refers to coins minted somewhere other than the Philadelphia and Denver mints. The coins to pursue in this category were minted in Dahlonega, GA., Charlotte, NC, San Francisco, CA, and New Orleans, LA. These mints generally produced fewer coins and operated for shorter periods of time. Consequently, the rarity factor really favors these specimens, and collectors cannot get enough of them. Typically, the scarcest of these coins are from Charlotte and Dahlonega, but again, it depends on the date, type and variety. In recent years the New Orleans mint has become a hot market as investors and collectors have gained greater knowledge of coins like the 1838-O half dollar and other rarities.


1854-O Liberty Head Quarter Eagle $2.50 Gold Coin from the New Orleans Mint

1854-O Liberty Head Quarter Eagle $2.50 Gold Coin from the New Orleans Mint



Pedigree Coins: Collecting Stories


These are coins with a historically important lineage or story. A coin once owned by a King or a famous collector, for example, will have more appeal than the same coin without that pedigree. Some of the pedigrees to look for are King Farouk, King of Siam, Eliasberg, Trompeter, Norweb, Garrett, Elrod, Reed, Pittman, Bass and Pogue, among others. Further, pedigrees can help establish the authenticity of big-dollar coins.


Marquis Coins: The Greatest Reason to Collect


These are the coins that get most of the press. These are the Picasso coins, the Rembrandts. In the rare coin market, marquis coins are where the big thrills exist. James F. Byrnes, President Truman’s Secretary of State and Supreme Court Justice, wrote, “Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death.” To really “live” in the rare coin market, this is the sector to pursue. In fact, many of these coins were owned by the infamous King of Egypt, King Farouk (1933 St. Gaudens Gold Double Eagle, 1913 Liberty Nickel and the 1804 Silver Dollar), and others by the King of Siam.


The marquis coins are rare, highly sought after and trade quickly. Moreover, in an environment in which the market is doing well, and values are climbing, the fever is even greater. With coins of great rarity, it’s a matter of availability. If the coin you need comes available, have the confidence in the knowledge you’ve gained to make the move.


To discover M.S. Rau’s selection of rare coins and currency, click here.


About the Author

Author-Bruce  Bruce has been involved with rare world-class objects for more than 25 years. A specialist in Numismatics, he has negotiated some of the most noted specie in the history of the market, including many of the Top 100 coins. Having a broad knowledge across many categories, he has placed important art, sculpture, memorabilia, watches and books, among other world-class rarities. Aside from his degrees in theology, he has a wide interest in studies ranging from English literature to politics, finance and leadership. A published author, he has hosted radio, podcast and speaking forums and has appeared on various national news platforms for his work. A father of eight, when not placing rare objects, he is typically on a motorcycle or a tennis court. His passion for rare things is evident and flows from his awareness that collections are about the fundamental appreciation of the human story.


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