Coins and currency are among the most eye-catching, educational and enjoyable items of interest for collectors, and one of the greatest pleasures of collecting currency is learning the history and journey of the piece. The rare coins below all possess an incredible historical significance and intricate beauty, making them irresistible to novice and expert collectors alike. Read on to learn the stories of a few of the most interesting and valuable coins on the numismatics market.
SS Central America Shipwreck Pedigree
We begin with not just one coin, but a ship full of them. The most captivating story in numismatics lore over the last half-century is that of the side-wheel steamer SS Central America. The coins from this shipwreck, coined as America’s lost treasure, are the stuff of dreams. From the mid-19th-century California Gold Rush fields, this ship’s treasure in the form of ingots and gold coins was lost in a hurricane off the Carolina coast in 1857 during its journey to New York. At the time of her wreck, Central America was carrying 10 short tons of gold — all of it was lost in the storm. When the shipwreck was uncovered in 1988, over 7,000 gold coins were recovered, and they had remained remarkably preserved beneath on the bottom of the ocean over 7000 feet deep, where it sat for over a century. The treasure included some exceptionally rare specie, and each of these coins is full of history, beauty and allure.
1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel
One of the most sought-after and recognizable coins in the numismatic market, the 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel, is a very scarce over-date strike. The term “overdate” refers to a die error seen in the raised 1918 date mark. Within the “8”, a “7” is clearly visible underneath, created due to a hubbing error in which a working die was first impressed with a hub dated 1917 and subsequently pressed with another hub dated 1918. The coin itself, designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser, is beautiful and completely unique, presenting one of the first accurate, naturalistic portraits of a Native American on U.S. coinage. Previous U.S. coins depicting Native Americans clearly utilized white men wearing traditional native dress as models, but Fraser instead created his obverse portrait from a composite of three Native American men that sat for him. The reverse displays an American buffalo and is inscribed, “United States of America / E Pluribus Unum,” all resulting in a distinctly American coin. The 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel is the most difficult coin to obtain in the entire Buffalo nickel series, and it is a piece for the finest cabinet.
1909-O $5 Indian
This giant of a coin was struck at the New Orleans Mint and is the rarest date in the entire Indian Head series, with an original mintage of just 34,200 pieces. The 1909 $5 Indian was the first New Orleans Mint Half Eagle was the last gold coin struck at the southern facility, which ceased operations the same year. It is also the only 20th-century gold issue of any denomination to bear the distinct "O" mintmark, and it is the only New Orleans Mint delivery in the Indian Half Eagle series, placing it among the rarest coins ever struck by the United States Mint.
The coin’s design is truly unique, compelling and unlike any other produced in the U.S. before or since. The images and inscriptions are incised, or sunken below the coin's surface, rather than raised. This innovative approach was a first for a modern coin and was championed by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt himself, who had taken a special interest in the country’s coinage and welcomed new ideas. This idea to recess the design came from a personal friend of the President, William Sturgis Bigelow, a Boston physician and art enthusiast. With Roosevelt’s blessing, he engaged the noted sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt to design the coinage in incuse relief. Pratt developed the now-historic design that pairs a realistic portrait of a Native American with an eagle in repose, resulting in one of the most desirable designs in American numismatics.
1864 Liberty Head $20 Deep Cameo
This Proof Strike coin represents a rarity of American numismatics history, and today, its market value far exceeds its $20 face value. Struck during the Civil War, these coins were treasured for their 90% gold content and legal-tender value. Beyond being a Proof Strike (struck in small numbers and with highly polished fields), this specie commands the Deep Cameo designation, telling of its remarkably deep, dark, mirror-like quality. Only 50 of these coins were minted, but it is believed that fewer than a dozen of these coins remain in existence today. Breathtaking in appearance and highly scarce, it would be hard to overestimate the demand for such an elite specie.
$4 Gold Stella
The $4 Stella gold coin stands as one of the most famous, rare and coveted U.S. pattern coins to ever be minted. The coin, nicknamed “Stella” from the Latin for “star” for the five-pointed star on the reverse, was minted for a short period from 1879 to 1880 but never circulated. It was created in two types with different obverse designs: Charles E. Barber's Flowing Hair type and George T. Morgan's Coiled Hair type. These rare beauties seldom make it to market for offering and reside in many famous collections.
The Stellas were produced in an attempt to create a gold coin able to compete with coins traded in European markets, but the concept was inherently flawed. The U.S. already had $2.50, $3 and $5 coin denominations, and the $4 denomination did not exactly match any of its European competitors. The plan for an international U.S. gold coin was ultimately struck down by Congress. The Stellas led to a small scandal in Washington and embarrassment for Congress, not only for its failure as a series, but also for some salacious rumors reported in newspapers of the day. Despite the fact that no coin collector was able to obtain a Stella from the Mint, they were seen fashioned into necklaces around the necks of women working at Washington’s most famous brothels, implying the Congressmen who had ordered their striking may have given them as gifts.
The First National Bank of Bozeman $5 Territory Bill
The First National Bank of Bozeman opened in 1872 and operated for only six years. In that time, it issued just $91,600 in notes under the National Banking System. By 1915, only $560 was left outstanding, the last accounting for this bank, with many years of redemption still to follow. This $5 note was recently discovered and is the only known existing note from the bank. Notes issued in Montana while it was a territory are exceedingly rare, with about 39 examples known from all of the banks combined. Within banknote circles, “Territorials” are among the most sought-after survivors. As the lone survivor from the territorial bank of Bozeman, and issued before statehood, this ranks among one of the best Territorials in Montana and from all territories combined.