1856 Flying Eagle Cent, Snow-9

An 1856 Mint Set

February 19, 2021

What Is an 1856 Mint Set? We recently did a little video on Instagram regarding this topic and thought it would make a good blog post, with a bit more expanded detail. We love writing and coins anyway, and these posts give us a chance to do two of our favorite things at once.

In the first place, the Mint certainly did not issue “mint sets,” the way collectors currently think of them (as one or two Uncirculated examples of every denomination and mint for a given year), until 1947.

But an 1856 Mint Set, for purposes of our blog and for the PCGS Set Registry, would be one example of each date, mintmark, and denomination produced during 1856. Hopefully Uncirculated.

The year 1856 was a banner year for coinage at the nation’s mints. The Arrows/Arrows and Rays motifs that had prevailed from 1853–1855 were removed, and not only Philadelphia but four branch mints—Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, and San Francisco—were striking coins. Gold only in the case of Charlotte and Dahlonega (which never struck silver coins), gold and silver in New Orleans and San Francisco, and a whole plethora of issues at the Mother Mint in Philadelphia.

The San Francisco Mint was a newly built facility in full stride in its third year of operation in 1856, coining abundant local supplies of gold. That was the first year that the facility struck silver Seated Liberty dimes and the unloved quarter eagle, and San Francisco even struck Type Two gold dollars in 1856, the only S-mint Type Twos. All five operating mints struck half eagles, a workhorse denomination, but the Western facility managed to produce a total larger than the other three branch mints combined. Here are the denominations struck with mintage figures and some key varieties:

Copper Coins:
Braided Hair Half Cent. 40,430 pieces struck.

Braided Hair Large Cent. 2.69 million pieces. Vars. Upright 5; Slanting 5.

Flying Eagle Cent. A pattern, struck to show Congress how the new coin would look. Other proof pieces were made for collectors. It is believed that from 1,500 to 2,000 pieces were struck. Collected today alongside the circulation Flying Eagle issues due to its early and widespread popularity.

Silver Coins:
Three Cent Silver. 1.46 million.

Liberty Seated Half Dime (Type Two Resumes, No Arrows, 1856–1859). 1856 4.88 million; 1856-O 1.10 million, rare MS.

Liberty Seated Dime (Type Two Resumes, No Arrows, 1856–1860). 1856 5.78 million, vars. Large Date (est. mintage 150,000) rare MS, Small Date; 1856-O 1.18 million, vars. Medium O, Large O, both v. rare MS, Medium O more so; 1856-S 70,000, rare XF, ext. rare MS, key to Type Two (Stars Obverse) dimes along with 1859-S.

Liberty Seated Quarter, No Arrows (1856–1872). 1856 7.26 million; 1856-O 968,000, rare AU; 1856-S 286,000, vars. Regular S, Large S Over Small S, ext. rare MS.

Liberty Seated Half Dollar. 1856 938,000; 1856-O 2.66 million; 1856-S 211,000.

Liberty Seated Silver Dollar. 63,500.

Gold Coins:
Indian Princess Gold Dollar, Type Two (Small Head). 1856-S, 24,600 pieces.

Indian Princess Gold Dollar, Type Three (Large Head). 1856 1.763 million plus 10–15 proofs (all of the Slanting 5 style), all kinds,  vars. Upright 5, Slanting 5; 1856-D 1,460.

Liberty Head Quarter Eagle. 1856 384,240; 1856-C 7,913; 1856-D 874[2], 1856-O 21,100; 1856-S 72,120.

Indian Princess Three Dollar. 1856 26,010; 1856-S 34,500, vars. Small S, scarce; Medium S.

Liberty Head Half Eagle. 1856 197,990; 1856-C 28,457; 1856-D 56,413; 1856-O 10,000; 1856-S 105,100.

Liberty Head Eagle. 1856 60,490; 1856-O 14,500; 1856-S 68,000.

Liberty Head Double Eagle. 1856 329,878; 1856-O 2,250; 1856-S 1.190 million.

So there you have it. This is a wonderful set, but one that I will never complete, and certainly not in Mint State! The 1856-O double eagle is the real stopper, but several of the branch mint gold pieces are also extremely elusive in Mint State. And the 1856 Flying Eagle cent is no slouch, either, although we have owned a few of those in our long career (the one above is no longer ours and not for sale by us). If you add all the varieties as well as all denominations and mints, you will be up well over three dozen coins. Get to work!

Staying In for Introverts

April 15, 2020

What Do Chess and Numismatics Have In Common? So far we have missed two coin shows due to the Covid-19 crisis, but Staying In is certainly the right approach. It is much, much too early to consider anything close to “back to normal,” despite the Bloviator in Chief’s massive recent windstorms.

But Staying In does have its advantages. It gives one time to reflect. Reflect on what one could do better, what one would like to achieve but have not yet done so, reflect on what and who are important—and the many things that are not.

For a while we were publishing daily comments on Covid-19—but we found ourselves continually angry, puzzled, and frustrated. It takes too much time and stirs up way too much negative energy. So we will let the news media take over once again. It’s not like there’s a shortage.

The good news is, coin collectors can stay at home and buy some wonderful coins online, here and elsewhere. Many coin collectors are introverts by nature. (You know who you are.) It turns out, unsurprisingly, that many chess players are, as well. In an effort to improve our meager chess skills via lichess.org, we have met some very simpatico friends from Iran, France, Sweden, Italy, Belarus, and chatted and commiserated as we played.

But it’s a small world: Imagine my surprise when I was looking for a chess opponent yesterday, and up popped a Username that looked like a fellow I know from the PCGS forum. Sure enough, same guy, doing the same thing I was, his very first chess game in years. We had a nice chat while I ran him around the board and took too long to force a checkmate, but at least I showed him some tools to help him improve. (I’m pretty bad. He was worse.)

If you are an extrovert, God Bless You, and we need you as well. (I am actually the world’s most extroverted introvert, since I had a long career in classical music and performance. The Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, though, tells me that I’m still introverted.) I recharge my batteries by getting alone, reading, computing, studying, listening to music … I have to remind myself that Mrs. VDB, an extrovert, needs to talk. To me, and to others. And fortunately, there are more tools than ever for that face to face. Just not … physically. Zoom, Skype, Snapchat, on and on.

But I do miss eating in a restaurant, and our real church services. Thanks for stopping by and staying with me this long. Work on your priorities some. Though it’s a fearful time for many, we still have much to give thanks for.

Q. What’s the Difference in a Coin Dealer and a Numismatist?

October 26, 2019

A. One of them makes a profit.

Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. We know some talented numismatists who are quite successful coin dealers as well. And we grudgingly admit that we like to turn a few bucks as well.

But we are in this as much for the knowledge as for the bucks–and certainly prefer knowledge over a fast buck! A perfect example of the difference is our British Monarchy seven-piece silver medals set produced—sometime between 1936 and 1952, we guess—by the longstanding medalists John Pinches Ltd of London. We could have sold that set months ago, but we wanted to take the time to research the medals, the maker and designers, examine and describe them in detail, and ascertain if any of them are listed in Christopher Eimer’s excellent British Commemorative Medals and Their Values reference. (They’re not, but some similar medals are, and man, is that a gorgeous book with all the full-color plates!)

Another example of the difference comes to mind. We made a fairly random purchase off of eBay about 18 months ago, of a gorgeously toned, late-19th-century Mint State Mexico 8 reales coin (basically a Mexican silver dollar). That led us to meet a nice dealer from whom we bought another two dozen splendid Mexico 8 reales, all Mint State (including one incredible MS66 coin). They were not cheap—but they gave us a reason and the opportunity to buy the marvelous Resplandores reference by Dunigan and Parker, the hard-to-find two-volume Whitman Encyclopedia of Mexican Money, and the even-more-elusive Guide Book of Mexican Coins 1822–Date by Buttrey and Hubbard. And to learn something of the history of the 14 mints and dozens of assayers who left their hallmarks on these coins. It was time very well spent, when you can handle and learn about coins like this.

Back to the British medals set: A coin dealer would have taken the first decent offer. But a numismatist is someone passionate about coins, medals, exonumia, Conder tokens, Hard Times gewgaws, 8 reales, gold sovereigns, or what have you—someone who invests the time to not only love, but to learn as much as possible about the material.

Moral: Learn to love your coins. And love your coins, to learn them.

The Joys of Type Collecting

Or, what the heck is a type, anyway?

Sept. 17, 2019

At VDBCoins.com we have always loved (and always will) Lincoln cents. This is due not only to our long history with coins, like so many collectors Of A Certain Age filling up the two little blue Whitman folders with pennies plucked from circulation—but also because of our immense respect and admiration for President Abraham Lincoln, arguably our nation’s greatest President.

Nonetheless, we have also loved “U.S. type collecting” for many years. It is an area that we specialize in—or perhaps “generalize” is a better term. After all, what is a “type” coin? In the narrow sense of U.S. coinage—and given that almost every collector is budget-constrained in one way or another—we would define a “U.S. type coin” as a “typically common but exemplary specimen of a given U.S. coin design or series.” So, a 1913 (Philadelphia) Type 1 Buffalo nickel would be considered a good candidate for type collecting, due to their wide availability in high grade. A 1913-S Type 2 or a 1918/7-D overdate Buffalo nickel would not normally be considered “type” coins.

But that’s kinda, like, boring, isn’t it? It doesn’t go far enough. What “types” of coins do you want to collect? After all, it’s a wide world out there. “North American” (= 23 countries) coins actually include (surprise!) Canadian and Mexican coins, as well as coins from Central America and the Caribbean, as well as U.S. coins. And they have some wonderful types as well! (Panamanian silver balboas, Victoria half dollars, Newfoundland dimes, Mexican 8 reales, anyone?)

And beyond that, collecting “types” is really only limited by your imagination. Here area some of the ideas (and customer inquiries we have had over the years) that suggest other type collections:

Type Collecting by Theme. Pick your favorite animal. Cats (Isle of Man has a great Cats series), horses, dragons, birds, composers, authors, historical figures/personages/battles (U.S. commemorative half dollars are great for that last) … The sky’s the limit.

Odd Denominations: Just among U.S. coins you can go for half cents, two cents, three cents (nickel and silver) and twenty cent pieces among minor coinage, and add three- and four-dollar gold pieces if you are feeling feisty. Most Americans are oblivious to even the existence of such odd coins. And believe me, coinage of the British Empire has denominations I have yet to successfully decipher (but man those Guineas and Gothic Florins are beautiful).

Type Collecting by Region or Country. There are currently somewhat less than 200 countries in the world, most of which make (or have made for them) coinage. You can collect coins of the Baltic countries, European crowns, Latin American coinage, or, what the heck, try to find the earliest non-Roman-numerals-dated coins from various countries you can like our friend Tibor does.

Type Collecting by Date. One guy we know collects prime number (numbers with no factors than themselves and 1) America-related coinage. Swear to God.

In Conclusion: Here’s a small selection, a few of our favorites from the vast possibilities for “type collecting.” We hope you enjoyed this small exegesis. And thus endeth our tale.

1914-D Cent Key Date, MS64+BN PCGS 'Blue Bomber'

RD, RB, or BN?

Sept. 1, 2019

A paean to toned copper

Fans of copper/bronze coins will recognize the familiar PCGS/NGC shorthand grade designations for Red, Red and Brown, and Brown, applied most frequently to Mint State and proof large (and half) cents, Indian cents, and Lincoln cents to date. But what do they really mean?

Surprisingly little, it turns out—unless you are working on a Registry Set, or watching your numismatic budget. A certified coin designated RD can range from the fieriest red to a mellow sunset-orange—and don’t forget those lovely canary- and saffron-yellows that sometimes appear on proof Indian cents. What is certain, though, is that certified Red copper is almost always going to cost far more than its date counterparts certified as Brown or Red and Brown.

Take the iconic Lincoln cent (our namesake coin), the 1909-S VDB. In Gem Mint State (MS65) Brown, Red and Brown, and Red, respectively, the current PCGS Price Guide shows retail prices of $2,850; $3,000; and $4,500. So a Red example of this key date will theoretically cost you nearly 60% more than a Brown example.

In MS66, the PCGS prices from Brown to Red double, from $4,500 to $9,000. And from MS67BN to MS67RD (if you can find them), the price more than triples, from $21,000 in MS67BN to $67,500 in MS67RD.

A single 1926-S cent graded MS65RD (population 2) goes for $115,000 according to PCGS.

Such prices effectively preclude all but the most affluent collectors from completing a high-ranking Registry Set of Wheat Reverse Lincolns, those struck from 1909 through 1958.

Or do they?

Take a gander at the Set Composition for the classic 1909–1958 PCGS Registry Set, the “Red Wheaties” set as I call it: The grade of each Red cent gets a RD Bonus of 2 to 5 added, which is then multiplied by a Weight number (the harder, the higher). So a Red 1909-S VDB in MS65 gets 65 +2 = 67 multiplied by a 7 Weight factor, or 469 total for that coin. (A Red and Brown coin gets a 1-point Bonus.) A 1926-S in MS65RD gets a 5-point Bonus and an 8-point Weight, so 65 + 5 = 70 times 8 gives 560 to add to your Grade Point total. Remember, this is a coin that cost you, at minimum, in the high five figures, likely at least $90,000.

But do not despair.

Now look at the “Toned Wheaties” Set Composition. So-called Brown cents get a uniform 3-point Bonus, Red and Brown coins get nothing, and Red coins get—a 3-point deduction! This puts completion of a high-grade Lincoln Wheat Reverse PCGS Registry Set back within the realm of collectors who are persistent but not filthy rich. And what does the “Brown” designation encompass?

Here the news gets even better. Glorious blueberry colors, deep purples, emerald- and jade-greens, hazel-gray and black cherry, as well as many others, fall within the ever-so-blah “Brown” appellation. Take a look at this cent, one of our favorites: a 1924-D Lincoln cent, MS65BN PCGS. This is a very tough cent to find with decent color and strike. Beyond the gorgeous luster and the sharp strike, stunning cobalt-blue and rose hues dominate both sides. We sold it to a longtime repeat customer whose sole focus, at present, is toned Wheaties. It sold for far more—twice—than the absurdly low PCGS price. Does that coin look Brown to you? Of course not.

Is a 1926-S cent in MS65RD worth 30 times as much as the 1924-D above? That’s for you to decide; it’s your money. But you might want to marvel at this beautiful set put together by another numismatist friend of ours (unfortunately now deceased, may his memory be a blessing), the Abe’s Coloring Book #1 Toned Wheat Cents Registry Set (now a Retired set as of October 2019).

As the saying goes, “Chacun á son goût”; to each his own taste. But if you want coins with a wider variety of colors than Red cents, at far more-affordable prices and the possibility to complete a set, perhaps a toned Registry Set of Indian or Lincoln cents—or, what the heck, large cents—should be your next numismatic adventure.