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Spice It Up

By Victor Bozarth - August 30, 2023

No matter the size or value of your collection, there are many ways you can spice it up by enhancing the quality or scope of the coins within it, such as taking a set of well-circulated Buffalo Nickels and aiming for pieces with full dates or full horns. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

Tweaking your existing coin collection is the easiest way to stay in the game without maxing out your budget. Let’s look at just a few simple strategies I’ve used to improve my collections over the decades.

First, see where you stand. Having been on both sides of the case over the years as a dealer and a collector, I declare the only real measurement of the quality of the coins in your set is to have them graded by PCGS. With PCGS-graded coins, you will know exactly where you stand in terms of the quality of the pieces in your set. You will also know which coins you need to upgrade, trade, or sell for the funds necessary to purchase nicer PCGS-graded coins.

Second, while I’m always looking for a coin missing from a set, I also keep a keen eye on coins I can improve in my existing sets. More than likely, even with a coin to trade, you will still have to invest additional funds to reach your goal, but you will have improved both the look and value of your set. Don’t we all have a coin (or two) in our sets we would like to improve?

Third, expand your set by adding date varieties. Most of us start with a basic date set of what we like. Many series of U.S. coins have varieties that may be included. For specialists, die varieties are pursued for each given date issued in a series. Both of these options often provide collectors with countless opportunities to build or improve their sets.

Additionally, expanding into die varieties can be quite challenging. Many of the ideas I’ve incorporated over the years into my own collection have been borrowed from other collectors who’s collections I’ve admired. Indeed, some of the neatest and most thoughtful sets I’ve seen over the years exhibit both the extensive time and care that went into building these sets.

Because budget is so often a major consideration, we must rely on the reliable factor of time to build a meaningful set. For example, I’ve known dozens of Morgan Dollar collectors over the decades who have started their eventual complete date-and-mintmark sets of Morgan Dollars with either a simple year set or a set of all the Carson City Mint dates. Curiously, a majority of these partial set collectors became hooked, and with time they eventually decided to expand their sets.

How did they do this? Lots of different ways. Some of the most methodical approaches I’ve seen include concentration on a given year or two (at a time) and the pursuit of all the Morgan Dollars minted the given years. One of the most well-trodden approaches seen here is with the many collectors who pursue the myriad of 1878 Morgan Dollar varieties.

Another popular method is to upgrade your first-and-last year coins to Mint State and fill in the dates in between as you can afford to do so. You then might have the option of having a coin to trade or starting a second set.

Eye appeal is often subjective. Do you want brilliant coins, toned coins, fully struck coins, totally original coins, or a combination of several features? Do you pursue circulated coins, uncirculated coins, proof coins, prooflike or cameo coins? You get the picture…

Something I’ve incorporated over the decades is building multiple sets of a given coin. While I’ve upgraded many coins in sets over the decades, having the luxury of working on twin or even triplet sets is a lot of fun. And, it’s more common than you might think! Obviously, your budget often dictates how you collect, but having a low-end set and a high-end set is fun!

In my younger days, building a circulated Buffalo Nickel set was quite a challenge. Besides the cost involved, finding nice full-date examples was my goal. The inscribed date on Buffalo Nickels is often one of the first areas to receive wear once the coin is circulated. In later years, I graduated to Buffalo Nickels with a full horn on the reverse. Once again, the quality of the horn depended on how much wear that coin had received.

As an adult with a bigger budget, I still liked Buffalo Nickels, but I didn’t want to sell my original set. Frankly, it wasn’t worth much in terms of dollars, but the memories (to me) were countless. Although in later years I have further advanced to an additional high-quality Buffalo Nickel set, I still have no interest in selling my full-date or full-horn sets.

Part of the beauty of these sets, to me, is the memories they hold of the pursuit of the individual coins and the friends I’ve made along the way. In addition, to me they will never truly be complete. But they do have one thing in common: they were all built one coin at a time!

Article provided by PCGS at
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