Building a Twentieth Century Type Set
The twentieth century was one of great change for the United States. In 1899 the US was a budding world power. By 1999, we were the world leader. The century saw many changes, and through these exciting times, rare coins evolved along with our great nation. To begin the century, President Theodore Roosevelt pushed a redesign of all the circulating coinage. At the time this was called his “pet crime” as much of the legislation was pushed through without Congressional approval. By the mid-century every denomination had changed and the result was a treasure trove of collectible designs. Today the changes made between the 19th and 20th century coins is one of American numismatics most popular type sets. The set offers a colorful glimpse into the dramatic evolution of our country. Many collectors from novice to the most advanced relish in the challenges and rewards of building some iteration of the 20th Century Type Set.
The complete catalog of circulating examples includes some 52 coins. A few of these, especially in the gold portion, prove out of reach for most collectors. Thus, many work on modified versions of the complete set. Depending on your budget, the set can be done in a range of grades. Some collectors look at building the set in XF condition using books to store raw coinage. Others find the finest they can afford or buy key dates within each series. There is no rule set in stone. We’ve broken the complete set down by denomination and composition including clad examples with silver. The blueprint for this collection can vary widely, so we’ll leave the final framework to your discretion.
ONE CENT COINS
The Indian Cent (1859 - 1909) actually comes in various types, but only the final type was issued in the 20th century. The early copper nickel examples were discontinued in 1864, with bronze being the composition of the final years. Most of the target era’s examples are common and readily available in all grades. Collectors can choose one of the San Francisco issues from the final years to add rarity.
The Lincoln Cent (1909 - 1999) is still issued today with five varieties making up the complete type set for the period. The Lincoln motif is the longest running continuous obverse design in American numismatics and has been one of the most collectible series since the 1950’s. The first design is the Wheat Reverse (1909 - 1958) which comprise one of numismatics’ most popular collectible series. There are actually two versions of this type with the designer initials removed after the first year of production. Regardless, the price and availability range widely across the half century of production and type collectors can choose from the uber rare 1922 no D, to common fifties dates.
The 1943 Steel Cents are a one year type. During WW II, metal shortages were compensated by a composition change and zinc coated steel was used to produce the war time issue. All three mints produced this version. While bronze examples are known, these are not official strikes and are technically considered errors.
Lincoln Memorial Cent
On the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth the reverse of the cent was modified to the design still in use today. The Lincoln Memorial Cent was struck in copper from 1959 until 1982 when the composition was changed to lower costs of production. These were highly circulated, and production numbers are extremely high, yet uncirculated examples are readily available with condition rarity hardly a factor unless one seeks the finest known with red designations. Regardless, the only true better dates are varietals including doubled mint marks, and date punch varieties and double dies. In 1982, a transitional year, the composition of the Memorial cent was changed. The new Copper-Plated Zinc Cent (1982 – present) is still in production today and can be readily found in all grades. The only better date examples are varieties with a couple double die dates, and some lettering variations that Lincoln enthusiasts value.
Liberty Head Nickel
The twentieth century nickel types include three basic types. The first being the Liberty Head Nickel (1883 – 1912) began production in the 19th century but continued until Roosevelt’s pet crime was in full swing. This nickel was designed by Charles Barber, the Mint’s chief engraver and he reluctantly oversaw most of the design changes of the early 20th century. The “Lib Nickel” as its’ called is a very collectible series in its own right with just a few better dates, and no true stopper. The bulk of the issues for this set are common with the final year’s drop in production producing the only better dates that comes in the target century.
In 1913 the nickel design was changed to the Buffalo Nickel (1913 - 1938). This date comes in two types. The Type 1, features a raised ground beneath the reverse buffalo bearing the denomination FIVE CENTS. This design element wore quickly and forced a quick change. The Type 2, placed this wording in a recess, removing the mound. Collectors can add either or both to the 20th century set as they feel necessary. Over the 25 year this design was created the coins were heavily circulated and the result has some of the lower mintage years quite scarce in uncirculated conditions. The Buffalo nickel is heavily collected which creates intense demand for the better dates.
The Jefferson Nickel - (1938 - present) was a move away from the artistic design concept of Roosevelt’s intent. The series is still in use today and has had no major design changes except the commemorative issues of the early 21st century. Examples of this series are both affordable and readily available for collectors.
During the metal shortages of WWII, like the cent, the nickel saw a composition change. The resulting War Nickel (1942 – 1945) was produced with 35% silver. The original design was modified slightly adding a large mint mark above the Monticello to denote the change. The silver content adds value to these, and the historical significance furthers the demand. These are available in most conditions up to premium gem and are common in circulated grades.
The century began with several of Charles Barber’s silver denomination. The Barber Dime (1892 - 1916) was his ten cent design and it featured his classic Liberty motif obverse. The whole series is available in all grades except the 1894-S. It has a wide number of common 20th century dates that prove a quick find in all grades up to premium gem.
The renaissance of American numismatics was in its’ final stretch by 1916. A competition was held and Adolf Weinman won for his design ideas for both the dime and half dollar. His Mercury Dime (1916-1945) remains one of the prized collectible series and is cherished for both its’ beauty and the challenges inherent to the set. Values range from common dates in the 1940’s to the pop culture icon 1916-D. Enthusiasts seek razor sharp strikes on the reverse design designated as FB for full split bands.
The popular Mercury design gave way to the Roosevelt Dime (1946 - present) the design change coming a year after the untimely death of the President that saw the nation through the end of the Great Depression and World War II. He was chosen to grace the denomination because of his philanthropic work combating polio and his direct relationship to the March of Dimes activism. The dime was produced in 90% silver until 1964.
Clad Roosevelt Dime
The Clad Roosevelt Dime is still in circulation today with the composition changing along with other denominations in 1965 with the removal of silver from most of our coinage. The clad series has yet to become a collector darling, and examples should not be difficult to find.
The Barber Quarter (1892 - 1916) was another of Charles Barber’s that fell victim to Roosevelt’s redesign project. As the chief engraver to his own design replacements was surely a test to his sanity. Regardless, his classic motif and turn of the century coinage remains popular today. One of the keys to the series is part of the 20th century set. It is the 1901-S with a mintage of just 72,664. The 1913-S is the series lowest mintage and it proves scarce also. But collectors have a number of other dates to choose from with 50 different issues from four different Mints dated 1900 – 1916.
Standing Liberty Quarter
Part of the contest held in the early part of the 20th century awarded the quarter design to sculptor Herman McNeil. His Standing Liberty Quarter (1916-1930) was both praised and shunned. The original design (Type 1, 1916-1917) displayed Liberty’s breasts exposed and those of a Victorian mind set were appalled. The design was quickly changed to what is called Type 2 (1917 – 1930) with chain mail covering the nudity. The stylish controversial quarter lasted until the depression era. The intricate design proved tricky for mint processes. To the delight of modern collectors, fully struck examples bring premiums as they seek examples with well-defined devices. These are designated Full Head (FH) and command premiums over the weaker counterparts.
Designed by New York sculptor John Flannigan, the Washington Quarter (1932 – present) was supposed to be a one year commemorative issue celebrating the 200th birthday of George Washington. Struck in silver until 1964, the obverse design is still in use today. The first year produced the types keys with the San Francisco and Denver issues of 1932 remaining the most desirable of the silver issues. The composition was changed in 1965 but the design remained true to Flannigan’s original concept. The new Clad Quarter was used until the reverse was redesigned in 1999.
The Bicentennial Quarter (1976) was the first change to the long lived Washington design. The coin was made during 1975 and 1976 but were dated 1776-1976. These circulated as the nation celebrated its bicentennial. The quarter was also produced by the San Francisco mint in 90% silver, but these were not intended for circulation. In 1999 the U.S. Mint began a ten year program that featured five different state designs a year. These were also produced in both silver and clad. The clad issues intended for circulation and were produced in the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. The San Francisco issues were silver or proofs and were issued for sets as collectibles. The Statehood Quarters of the 20th Century include Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut.
Barber Half Dollar
The Barber Half Dollars (1892 - 1915) were the third of Barber’s designs that met the chopping block. The Romanesque liberty was frowned upon by Roosevelt who felt the nation’s coinage should represent the grandeur of what he felt the United States had grown into. Like the dime and quarter, collectors have a variety of dates from which to choose, with most being common. The type is tougher in MS66 and scarce in superb gem.
Walking Liberty Half Dollar
The Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916 - 1947) epitomizes the early century renaissance of rare coinage. Adolf Weinman’s iconic design has been cherished by collectors since their inception. The obverse depiction of Liberty draped in the flag is so well loved that modern Mint officials used the design to grace the obverse of Silver Eagle bullion coinage produced today. The entire Walker series happened during the twentieth century so all dates and mint marks are fair game for this set. Collectors can choose from the scarce dates of the early twenties, or the more common post WWII issues.
Franklin Half Dollar
The Franklin Half Dollar (1948 - 1963) is somewhat of an oddity. The Mint director Nellie Tayloe Ross was a fan of Ben Franklin and desired to have him replace Weinman’s half. She enlisted John R. Sinnock to create designs. He relied on his previous works to produce models, but died before the completion. The coins were not popular, and faced various criticisms. Ross forged on and the coins were eventually struck but early years saw low mintages due to the lack of demand. Modern collectors didn’t warm to the series until the late 1990’s. This lack of demand combined with 90% silver content led millions of examples to the melting pots. With unknown amounts lost to attrition modern collectors rely on population reports to decipher rarity. The low mintage keys are the 1948, 1949-S, 1953 and 1955. But all dates are available with a little patience. Like the Mercury dime, collectors look for fully struck examples using the parallel lines across the bell as the key attribute. These coins are designated as Full Bell Lines (FBL) and command premiums.
Kennedy Half Dollar
In the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the nation’s memorialized the young President by placing his likeness on the half dollar. The Silver Kennedy Half Dollar was struck in 90% for one year 1964. It was replaced with 40% Kennedy Halves from 1965-1970. The Clad Kennedy replaced those and was struck from 1971 to present. A bicentennial reverse was struck in 1975 and 1976. These were dated 1776-1976 like the quarter and dollars of those years. Silver bicentennial coins were produced in San Francisco, but these were not meant for circulation.
The Morgan Dollar (1900 -1921) only saw a few years of the early 20th century. The production was halted in 1904, but saw a brief reprisal in 1921 as part fulfillment of the Pittman Act. The final years prior to the hiatus are all considered at least slightly better with no coin save one having a mintage over 10 million. In fact most coins struck between 1899 and 1904 have mintages well below 5,000,000. The coins struck in 1921 are a different story and were produced in large quantities with many uncirculated examples still available for collectors today.
The 1921 Peace Dollar was struck in high relief at the end of 1921. The design was changed after Mint officials complained about the amount of effort needed to strike one example. The following year, to speed production and preserve die life the relief was lowered. The new design was used for the duration of the series. The one year type this created is considered one of the great works of our mint. The lower relief Peace Dollar (1922 - 1935) is a favorite collectible and is purchased for its collectability and as a silver play. The Pittman Act ordered 100’s of millions of coins and bags remained in the Treasury and Bank vaults for decades. The result is a bounty of uncirculated examples available to the modern collector.
There was a hiatus of dollar production from 1935 until 1971 when a new “silver dollar” was introduced. The Eisenhower Dollar (1971-1978) was struck in clad, but silver issues were created for special Mint offerings and sets. The design was changed like the smaller silver denomination in 1975 and 1976 with a bicentennial reverse. These too were struck in 90% silver, but were not intended for circulation.
Susan B. Anthony Dollar
The Ike dollars were not popular and the size was reduced and new dollar design was introduced. The Susan B. Anthony Dollar (1979-1999) was created and faced steep opposition for its similar size and feel to the quarter. The SBA is the final dollar of this set, and never found much use in general circulation and has yet to yield much collector interest. Its’ use was relegated to novelty and in mint sets.
The United States ceased production for gold coins in 1933. Like its’ silver counterparts, the 19th century designs crossed over and many collectors choose to do just the gold coins of the 20th century. This portion of the set is a great stand-alone collection. It is treated as such in both the PCGS and NGC Registries and prove quite popular there.
The turn of the century quarter eagle design had survived much as Christian Gobrecht had originally designed it. The $2-1/2 Liberty (1839 - 1907) was only produced by the Philadelphia Mint with the 1907 the most common today.
In 1908, the quarter eagle was changed to the $2-1/2 Indian (1908 - 1929) with Bela Pratt’s incuse design meeting with some skepticism. Today this set is one of gold coins most popular sets with no true stopper and just a few better dates with the 1911-D as the key. This denomination and design was once very popular for jewelry so buy this type certified, as counterfeits abound.
Like the $2 ½ version, the $5 Liberty (1839 - 1908) was pretty much as originally designed, save the addition of the motto in 1866. Most common date for the set is the 1901-S. Among the coins relevant to the 20th century most of the dates are common with a few that rank slightly better. Just the San Francisco issues of 1904 – 1906 bring significant premiums.
The other Bella Pratt incuse design is the $5 Indian (1908-1929). While cherished today and conditionally rare in gem and better grades, this half eagle was not popular during its time in circulation. Many felt the recesses of the coins would harbor germs and this fear hindered wide spread acceptance. The series was produced in smallish number with just two of the mintages surpassing the million coin threshold. Examles present themselves with great eye appeal in grades as low as MS63. It becomes tough in MS65 and beyond. The key dates are 1909-O and 1929.
The $10 gold coin was the basis for all U.S. gold coinage and is called the eagle. Other denominations are referred to in fractions or multiples of that (ie. Double Eagle for the $20, or Quarter Eagle for the $2.5) In 1838 the original weights and design were changed and Gobrecht’s $10 Liberty (1838 - 1907) design was born. The basic design survived into the 20th century with one major design change the added motto above the eagle. For the target century a range of dates and rarities can be found with 21 dates across four Mints. The 1901-S is the most common and the only date to exceed the two million mintage figure in the 20th century.
When Theodore Roosevelt tapped sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens in his bid to revamp the coins of the United States, Saint Gaudens went to work on two denominations – the double eagle and the cent. Ultimately the work he did on the cent was used to replace the eagle coinage and his Liberty head draped in an native American headdress has become one of the most iconic designs in the whole catalog of U.S. numismatics. The $10 Indian (1907 – 1933) is perhaps one of the most recognizable gold coins in history. We use the reverse motif as part of our logo! The complete set of these $10 coins is a tough build with several of the early examples rarely on the market and quite expensive when they come around. The Wire Edge and Rolled Edge examples were the first to be minted and both (especially the rolled edge) remain quite elusive. The design was modified in 1908 to include IN GOD WE TRUST and this created the second type. Most 20th century type collectors look for one each of the MOTTO and NO MOTTO examples leaving the rolled edge and wire edge 1907’s for the more well heeled collectors.
While the $20 Liberty (1849 - 1907) has three different design types, only the Type 3 was produced in the twentieth century. Most type collectors will settle for a nice 1904 of this denomination as supply of this date is plentiful. However, the more challenging minded may choose from something a bit tougher and seek one of the slightly better branch mint examples. The better date collector can wait for a pleasing 1902, 1905, or 1906 all three with original mintages below 100,000.
High Relief $20 Saint
Augustus Saint Gaudens first creation was originally struck in high relief. 1907 High Relief $20 Saint has been called “America’s Most Beautiful Coin” and in hand it doesn’t disappoint. This one year issue was discontinued after complaints from both Mint workers and bankers. The coins were notoriously hard to produce requiring multiple strikes from the presses. But more of an issue, the coins didn’t stack, and bankers complained. Only 11,250 coins were struck and today these coins are coveted by collectors of all types. The relief was lowered immediately and 1907 coins were produced in low relief the same year. These No Motto $20 St. Gaudens (1907-1908) were produced until the following year when the Motto was added. The Motto $20 Saint (1908-1933) was produced until gold coin production was ceased by the U.S. in 1933. The entire run falls into the 20th century set and collectors can choose one of each three type, or a single type example. Regardless of choice this double eagle will likely be their favorite coin.
The 20th century is perhaps the greatest century in American history. We survived two world wars, Vietnam and conflicts in the middle east. We saw a flourish of technology that included the popularization of the automobile, the construction of our highway system, the birth of the computer age, commercial airline flights around the world and rockets to the moon. Along the way the story was punctuated with an amazing array of numismatic treasures. We hope that you chose to embark on a 20th century type set in whatever iteration suits your desires and pocket book. Once you’ve plotted a course, we know you’ll choose U.S. Coins and Jewelry for this and all things collectible. Stop by and talk with one of our trained staff and fine tune your own 20th century blue print. Regardless of what you decide, you can rely on our knowledge and expertise to help fulfill this exciting numismatic adventure.