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Roman silver coins place ancient history in your pocket

A circa-294 B.C. first mintage silver argenteus realized $1,900 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Treasures Trader and LiveAuctioneers

The Roman Empire is the longest-lasting in history, spanning the ancient world of 753 B.C. to the Middle Ages of 1453. It influenced the course of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa for more than 2,200 years. Kings, consuls and emperors reigned and ruled as dictators, despots and enlightened heroes, leaving a legacy of language, art, architecture, religion, science, technology and laws that still shape daily life around the world.

All its stories are easily told through its silver coinage which, once touched, leaves a lasting memory of all of Rome’s achievements, failures and influences.

The Seven Kings of Rome, 753 B.C. to 509 B.C.

During the early period of Rome, from its founding in 753 B.C. to about 281 B.C., currency initially took the form of sheep for barter. Heavy bronze weights were later issued in different sizes, first as unformed lumps and later as ingots classified as aes rude that weighed nearly 12 ounces. There was no coinage of any kind during this period.

The Roman Republic, 509 B.C. to 27 B.C.

As the kings of early Rome were replaced by the Senate and elected consuls in 509 B.C., coinage was still unknown. Because of the perpetual warfare waged to increase the reach of Rome, it became clear that a more suitable trading system than bartered sheep or lumps of bronze was needed to pay Roman troops and drive economic development. By 326 B.C., the first bronze coin was introduced, followed by a silver coin nearly 50 years later.

This Roman Republic silver didrachm, showing the two-faced head of Janus on the obverse and Jupiter riding a quadriga (a four-horses vehicle) on the reverse, achieved $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. 
Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Around 269 B.C. the didrachm became the first silver coin issued by Rome, strictly as a tool to pay its troops and allies in its fight to expand the Republic by gaining the port in Greek-held Taranto in southwest Italy (aka the heel of the boot-shape country), known by the Romans as Magna Graecia. The coin’s design closely followed that of the Greek drachma, but it had uniquely Roman features. It only circulated within the colony itself. 

The didrachm was phased out around 211 B.C., but not before it was issued as a lighter silver coin known as the quadrigatus (for its image of a four-horse drawn chariot) as the first uniquely Roman silver coin. It was issued around 226 B.C. Both coins were removed from circulation during the monetary reforms of 211 B.C. 

A clear example of an early Roman Republic silver sestertius sold for £60 (about $72) plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Elstob & Elstob and LiveAuctioneers

The silver sestertius (meaning “two and a half,” for its value against the Roman bronze as) was issued only sporadically as a small silver coin replacing the didrachm and quadrigatus. Initial sestertii featured the figure of Roma wearing a helmet on the obverse and Dioscuri on horseback on the reverse. The sestertius eventually became a much larger bronze coin as part of a coinage reform under Consul Augustus in 23 B.C. It was phased out completely by 275 A.D.

Also included in the previously mentioned monetary reform of 211 B.C. was the introduction of a silver denarius (equal to 10 asses, the standard circulating bronze coin) containing 4.5 grams of silver. It would become the standard silver coin circulating throughout the Roman Republic and in the beginning of the Roman Empire. Its impact is reflected in the many national currencies that imitate or reference its name: the Iraqi dinar, the (now-defunct) Spanish dinero, the North Macedonian denar and the ‘d’ for denarius, which was used to identify the UK penny before 1970. The silver content of the denarius would be debased gradually from 90% at its introduction down to only 5% by 300 A.D.

A Roman Empire silver didrachm featuring the profile of the Emperor Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) realized $225 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Worthington Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

At the same time the denarius was introduced, a smaller silver coin called the victoriatus was also minted. It boasted 3.4 grams of silver and its value was half of a quadrigatus or three-quarters of a denarius until it was phased out in 170 B.C. The coin featured the Roman God Jupiter on the obverse and, on the reverse, Victory awarding a wreath to a trophy above the word ROMA. It circulated mostly in the Roman province of Gaul (present day France) and southern Italy to replace the Greek drachma there.

By 101 B.C., the victoriatus was replaced by the quinarius, which was valued at five asses, or half of a denarius, and circulated mainly in Gaul for only a few years (although the victoriatus continued to circulate until about 170 B.C.).

This Roman silver argenteus marked with the image of Emperor Galerius (circa 305-311 A.D.) attained $300 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2018. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers.

Though silver coins circulated during the early Republic, they were issued sparingly as the silver supply was limited. By 157 B.C., Rome had acquired the silver mines of Macedonia, after which silver coins became much more prevalent and circulated regularly, but possessed varying degrees of silver content. During the reign of the dictator Sulla in 84 B.C., the minting of silver coins increased again, making examples from this period more accessible.

One of the most sought-after silver coins of the Republic period is a denarius featuring a profile of Brutus on the obverse (the only known image) with a pileus, a cap of Liberty, on the reverse between two daggers. This silver coin commemorates Brutus’ participation in the brutal assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March (aka March 15) in 44 B.C. It is considered the most important ancient coin by collectors and is scarce because Marc Antony ordered the coin removed from circulation and melted down. 

Western Roman Empire 27 B.C. to 395 A.D.

The Roman Empire period began with the Senate declaring Octavian as Caesar Augustus in early 27 B.C., ushering in Western Roman Emperors for the next 425 years and Eastern Roman Emperors for the next millennia.

A Roman Empire silver siliqua emblazoned with the profile of Emperor Gratian (367-383 A.D.) achieved $1,025 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Golden Gate Auctioneer and LiveAuctioneers

Throughout most of the early Roman Empire period, the silver denarius would remain the preeminent silver coin until about 214 A.D., a span of nearly 425 years. The antoninianus, a double denarius, was then issued by, and named for, Emperor Antonius Caracalla, whose profile shows him wearing a crown rather than the laurel wreath of the Roman Republic. The silver coin began with 40% silver content but was debased until it was only a thin covering before it ceased to be issued in 324 A.D.

After the year 250, fewer silver coins with significant silver content were issued until the introduction of the argenteus by Emperor Diocletian around 294 B.C., which had at least 3.4 grams of silver. The inflation of the period was extreme, and these silver coins were hoarded for their silver content and rarely circulated. A half-argenteus was minted by Emperor Constantine the Great in 308 A.D., but not in high numbers. They are usually found in mostly uncirculated condition at auction.

This example of a Western Roman Empire silver siliqua, featuring the profile of Magnus Maximus on the obverse and Roma seated on a throne on the reverse, sold for $250 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. 
Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

In 324 A.D., Emperor Constantine replaced the argenteus with the miliarense, which weighed between 3.9 and 5.7 grams of silver; and the siliqua, which weighed between 2.3 and 3.4 grams of silver (a half-siliqua was issued just before the collapse of the Western Empire and represents a rare find). Together, the miliarense and the siliqua were the last official Roman silver coins in circulation until the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D.

Eastern Roman-Byzantine Empire 395 A.D. to 1453 A.D.

When Emperor Constantine split the Roman Empire into a Western and Eastern Empire around 330 A.D., it was his intention to stabilize its far-flung territories against the constantly-invading Hunnic armies from the steppes of Central Europe. He named the capital of the Eastern Empire Constantinople, for himself, but his actions only delayed the fall of the Western Empire to 476 A.D.

Issued in Constantinople circa 976, this miliaresion silver coin sports the cross crosslet of the Eastern Roman Empire and busts of Basil II. It earned £130 (about $156) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Timeline Auctions, Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

The Eastern Empire survived for nearly a millennium after the Western Empire collapsed, producing only two silver coins of note: the hexagram, issued in 615 A.D. and lasting until the end of the century; and the miliarense, the successor to the hexagram, which was in use until the 11th century. Most transactions were handled with gold or bronze coins throughout the Byzantine period until the Ottoman Empire supplanted the Roman period in 1453 A.D.

With nearly 2,200 years of Roman history to explore, the images of Emperors, conquests, historical events and day-to-day life depicted on its silver coins provide a unique understanding of the trials and tribulations of running a large, disparate empire. The silver content of the many coins, both large and small, was constantly in flux from the near purity of the didrachm to the thin veneer of the later argentius. In and of itself, that fact provides a lesson in the economics of running a vast empire.

Gold dollar coins add beauty and history to your investment portfolio

An 1855 Type 2 gold dollar with an NGC grade of MS-64 achieved $8,200 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Pacific Global Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Of the many coins created and released by the mints of the United States, only three official gold dollar coins have been issued – the fewest of any denomination. These coins lure collectors with their gold content and the traditional artistry of 19th-century American coin design. But, as with most collectibles, some specimens have greater investment value than others. 

Christopher Bechtler’s privately-minted gold dollar coins gained acceptance because they were known to be of honest weight. A circa-1840s example minted by his son Augustus earned $3,250 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Gold Standard Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Before diving in, it’s worth mentioning that collectors are not strictly limited to U.S. government-minted examples. When Congress failed to authorize the creation of a gold dollar coin in the Coinage Act of 1792, at least one individual stepped up to meet the demand. Christopher Bechtler was a goldsmith and watchmaker originally from Baden, Germany who set up a private gold foundry in Rutherford County, North Carolina, about 75 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina. He serviced the first gold rush in the country following the discovery of gold there in 1799. 

Bechtler, later joined by his sons, minted private gold coins in denominations of $1, $2.50 and $5, based on different carat weights. His coins were not considered legal tender within the United States and circulated only within the region. The Bechtler family closed the foundry in the 1850s, but their gold coins, in any denomination, are valued at auction for both their historical connection to the first gold rush in America and the purity of their gold.

A Christopher Bechtler one dollar Carolina coin, dating to between 1827 and 1842 and with an NGC grade of MS-63, realized $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

By the late 1840s, gold was being discovered in sufficient quantities in North Carolina and California for Congress to reconsider allowing the creation of a gold dollar coin for general circulation. The coin would be a boon to small, rural communities where early banknotes had not yet integrated into the economy, but a potent objection remained: gold dollar coins are easily counterfeited.

Nonetheless, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1849, which at long last authorized the US Mint to produce a gold dollar coin. Each was a bit smaller in diameter than the dime then in circulation, with only 1.67 grams of gold (31.1 grams to the troy ounce). The dollars were minted at 90% gold and 10% copper and were struck at five different US Mints from 1849 through 1889.

A Type 2 gold dollar coin struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1855 sold for $130 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2011. Though it was in weakened condition, the auction sum beat the coin’s melt value of $76. Image courtesy of Manor Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The US Mint’s Chief Engraver, James B. Longacre, a copper plate engraver, was commissioned to design the new gold dollar coin in 1849. Ultimately, Longacre would design all three gold dollar coins, which would become known as the Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 versions. While each was similar in design, all have individual charms that captivate collectors.

Type 1

The obverse (the heads side) of the Type 1 features a female personification of Liberty in a left-facing profile, crowned by a small tiara and ringed by 13 six-pointed stars and a raised edge. The reverse (the tails side) features an olive wreath surrounding the numeral “1”, the word “dollar” and the date, with the Mint mark added just below the wreath. The legend “United States of America” surrounds three-quarters of the outer perimeter. Together, these details would comprise the basic design of all three types of gold dollar coin, except for some minor differences.

An 1853 Type 1 gold dollar coin picturing Liberty on the front bore no mint mark, meaning that it was struck at the Philadelphia Mint. It attained $250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2012, a sum well above the $85 melt value of the gold. Image courtesy of William J. Jenack Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

The Type 1 was minted in 1849 at the mints in Philadelphia and Dahlonega, Georgia, until 1854; at Charlotte, North Carolina and New Orleans until 1853; and at San Francisco only in 1854.

Collectors consider the most valuable Type 1 to be the 1849-C issue of the Charlotte Mint. It featured what is known as the “open wreath” on the reverse, because the wreath did not close around the central core as later issues would. Just 125 open wreath gold dollar coins were minted at the Charlotte Mint before a closed wreath design replaced it. Only five specimens are known to exist, one of which sold for $690,000 in 2004.

According to CoinWeek.com, “ … there are no overly difficult coins [of this type] to acquire although many of the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues are rare to very rare in Uncirculated [condition]. Most … collectors seek a single high-grade Type One issue from Philadelphia.”

Type 2

The Type 2 design features a profile portrait of an unidentified Native American Princess instead of Liberty. She sports a fanciful feathered headdress that was described by one critic as “ … an elegant version of folk art.” The only difference appears on the reverse, where an agricultural wreath replaces the Type 1 olive branch, featuring intertwined cotton, corn, tobacco and wheat stalks meant to represent both North and South.

An 1855 Type 11 gold dollar coin with a PCGS grade of MS-64 attained $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2016. Image courtesy of Richard Opfer Auctioneering, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

This design was minted at the Philadelphia Mint in 1854 and 1855, with the mints in Dahlonega, Charlotte and New Orleans producing them in 1855 and San Francisco contributing in 1856. With lower production numbers, CoinWeek.com recommends “ … the 1854 or 1855 Philadelphia issue [as] the best choice,” with all Type 2 coins in much higher grades difficult to find at auction.

Type 3

The only slight difference with the Type 3 gold dollar coin is the portrait of the Native American princess was larger than the one on the Type 2, taking up more of the obverse. Its reverse is identical.

The Type 3 is the longest-serving dollar gold coin design, minted from 1856 through 1889. The Philadelphia Mint produced coins through the entire period, while the Charlotte Mint issued only in the years 1857 and 1859; the Dahlonega Mint from 1856 through 1861; and the San Francisco Mint from 1857 through 1860 and also 1870.

Among the most sought-after gold dollar coins is the 1861-D minted at Dahlonega, Georgia in 1861. It was struck by the Confederate government with the gold bullion left behind when they seized the mint early in the Civil War. This example achieved $32,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2008. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Collectors clamor for 1861 D gold dollar coin as it was issued exclusively by the Confederacy during the first year of the Civil War, after its troops captured the Dahlonega Mint. The Confederacy minted the gold dollar coin for its own use until the mint’s gold supply ran out. Otherwise, CoinWeek.com recommends “ … a Philadelphia issue made during the 1880s [as] a prime choice.”

This Type 3 gold dollar coin, struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1887, realized $450 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Collectors who have heard about gold Sacagawea dollars and other commemorative gold dollars might wonder where they fit in to the larger picture. A total of 39 Sacagawea dollars issued from the West Point Mint in 1999, but were never intended to circulate. They were sent to the International Space Station and displayed at coin shows and are now stored at the Fort Knox Gold Depository. Gold dollar coins issued between 1903 and 1922 are merely commemorative and never circulated as legal tender; they don’t even feature the Longacre design. Beware of vendors or collectors who suggest these dollar coins are scarce prizes.

An 1882 Type 3 proof gold dollar coin, graded PR66, achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of BK Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The value of an individual gold dollar coin depends on many factors: its year of mintage, the mint of origin, the presence of production errors, the type of proof, its condition and the overall grade itself. A complete collection is satisfying and can earn a higher value at auction, but assembling it is the work of a lifetime.

Some money managers recommend antique gold dollar coins because they diversify a portfolio into gold while enhancing it with their historic value, giving them a higher value together than they might have separately. 

A Christopher Bechtler gold dollar coin, dating to 1831-1834 and PCGS certified, sold for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2018. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Whether you are an investor or a collector, always trade with a reputable dealer and educate yourself by consulting LiveAuctioneers, the American Numismatic Association and the American Numismatic Society to learn more about gold dollar coins. The best and rarest tell the story of a young nation that grew and transformed itself with the discovery of gold.

Gold coins symbolize the glory of ancient Rome

The profile of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, also known as Octavian, appears on this period gold coin that realized $3,400 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2016. Image courtesy of William J. Jenack Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Whenever Roman gold coins turn up in unlikely places, it’s headline news. In 2018, about 300 gold coins from ancient Rome were found buried in a soapstone jar beneath a closed-down movie theater north of Milan. Two years earlier, a Roman gold coin from the time of Nero was discovered in Jerusalem. Both of these finds attracted widespread interest.

Farmers and construction projects have unearthed hordes of Roman coins throughout the former Roman Empire. One Roman gold coin was even found in Okinawa, Japan. Often, such coins are sent to auction, where there is no shortage of collectors waiting to bid. For example, many news outlets covered the November 2020 sale of a gold coin issued by Marcus Junius Brutus, the assassin of Gaius Julius Caesar. It achieved $3.5 million and became the most expensive Roman gold coin ever sold at auction.

The coins of Rome are just as much a symbol of the defunct empire’s reach and influence as its stunning frescoes, statues and architectural ruins. Like artworks, they tell us what ancient Romans deemed important. Then, as now, these coins are worth much more than their melt value.

Securitas, the Roman goddess of security and stability, appears on the reverse of an aureus showing Emperor Probus (276AD-282AD). It achieved £6,000 (about $7,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2016. Image courtesy of Timeline Auctions Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Rome adopted the coinage system in the late 4th century BC, about 300 years after the Greeks did. The introduction of national coinage did at least two things for Rome: coins brought economic stability to a prevailing barter system and, more importantly, the little metal discs were excellent amplifiers of politics and popular culture. They highlighted the ruling elite, monuments, battles and victories of the far-flung empire. Every time a new coin iteration is unearthed, we learn more about Rome and its history.

At first, Roman coins were primarily of bronze, with some in silver and relatively few in gold. They were created with the precious metals acquired during the series of Punic Wars that occurred between 264 and 146BC.

Gaius Julius Caesar was in office from 49 BC to 44 BC and was assassinated on the Ides of March by a group of senators including Brutus, a longtime supporter and general. This gold coin showing Julius Caesar in profile sold for $4,200 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

The reign of Julius Caesar, which began in 46BC, brought big changes to the minting of Roman gold coins. The weight of a coin was standardized at slightly more than eight grams (a troy ounce of gold is 31.1 grams), and contrary to the empire’s former practice, gold coins were minted more frequently. Officially called nummus aureus (gold money), the aureus was the standard gold Roman coin until 301AD, a span that lasted nearly 350 years.

A somewhat worn aureus from the time of Emperor Nero (54-68 BC) showing a reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta on the reverse achieved $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

The aureus is the most sought-after Roman coin due to its scarcity, its association with the period of the emperors, and the fact that it was minted 24K pure gold throughout the time of its production. But constant warfare and state projects prompted inflationary pressures, which nudged state authorities to slowly reduce the weight of the aureus from the 8.1 grams of Julius Caesar’s era to 6.5 grams by the time of Emperor Caracalla in 211AD – a fact that matters at auction.

In 301AD, Emperor Diocletian phased out the aureus in favor of the solidus, which was minted at 5.5 grams of gold per coin. Because relatively few were circulated, collectors still refer to the Diocletian-era coin as an aureus. Emperor Constantine reintroduced the solidus in 312AD, and it became the official gold coin of the empire, with a weight of 4.5 grams. No matter how small the solidus became, the amount of gold per coin never dipped below 24 karats.

This very thin solidus featuring Emperor Honorius (395AD-423AD), one of the last co-emperors of Western and Eastern Rome, sold for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

By 260AD, Germanic tribes had gained enough control over the western territory to effectively cut the Roman Empire into two separate states. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 426AD, the Eastern Roman Empire, based at Byzantium in Constantinople (in modern day Turkey), persisted until 1453AD.

Gold coins issued by the Eastern Roman Empire are fairly similar to those issued by the Western Empire. They were also known as solidi and show the image of the emperor in full face on the front, or obverse (Western emperors were shown in profile); and usually have Christian symbols on the back, or reverse. By the 10th century, gold coins featured the image of Jesus in place of the emperor, along with the Latin phrase ‘”XRISTUS/bASILEU/bASILE” (Christ, Emperor of Emperors).

A small solidus from the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire from Constantine VII’s reign (913AD-959AD), featuring the image of Christ, sold for $450 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2015. Image courtesy of William J. Jenack Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

By the time the Eastern Roman Empire ended, during the Middle Ages, its gold coins were thin wafers. They don’t bring the same prices at auction as do the aureus of the Western Empire, especially those emblazoned with the images of historically prominent Western Roman Emperors such as Julius Caesar, Nero, Brutus, Marc Antony and Octavian.

Part of the fun of collecting gold Roman coins is learning to identify the images they bear. Each coin features the likeness of the sitting emperor on the obverse, which pinpoints the era. The reverse will correspond to a particular battle, honor or victory of that period. Interpreting the coin’s symbols and markings help to establish its age.

Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117AD to 138AD and was responsible for Hadrian’s Wall, appears in profile on an aureus that achieved $3,400 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

All Roman gold coins are minted with Latin script, and most feature the letters CS. The initials mean “Senatus Consulto,” or Roman Senate, which authenticates the coin as having been minted by the authority of the state.

The coins were minted by being pressed, one by one, through a plaster mold, so they were never expected to appear perfectly round. As noted above, the weight of the coin is key, and older coins tend to weigh more. Of course, condition matters, too. Gold tends not to tarnish and, in general, gold coins are better-preserved than silver and bronze ones, but the quality of the strike makes a difference at auction. The images should be clearly legible on both sides, and the crisper they are, the more desirable the coin is.

A solidus from the reign of Emperor Gratian (367AD-383AD), mounted on a gold choker and surrounded by sapphire beads and small cultured pearls, sold for €475 (about $520) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2018. Image courtesy of Balclis and LiveAuctioneers

While they are prized for their beauty and historical importance, some ancient Roman coins have investment value. According to a Classic Numismatic Group (CNG) market report in 2019, Roman-era gold was considered by some collectors to be a sort of haven. “This fervor seems to have cooled recently…but expect to see prices rebound over the next few years…,” says a report by Michael Gasvoda on coinsweekly.com. “With gold prices rising incrementally, analysts also see the value of the gold as another avenue for investment.

Yes, you could melt ancient Roman gold coins to recover their inherent value, but most collectors never would. The gold coins of Rome are ambassadors of the art, culture and language of a tumultuous but vanished time, coming to life when held in one’s hand. You can practically feel power and the glory of the empire as you do.

Morgan vs. Peace Dollar: Which has a silver lining?

Morgan and Peace silver dollars are the quintessential dollar coins issued from 1878 through 1935 considered the most aesthetically pleasing coins ever produced by the United States. This example sold for $7,500 (plus buyer’s premium) in 2006. Image courtesy: Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A silver dollar is impressive any way you look at it. It’s hefty, artistically beautiful, and symbolically as American as apple pie. It’s no wonder that the Morgan Dollar and Peace Dollar, both noted for their intricate designs, are the ones most sought after at auction. Which one is the more collectible of the two, though?

Morgan Dollar

Coins — both silver and gold — were first issued for circulation by the United States Mint in 1794. But it may surprise you to know that, at that time, anyone possessing either silver or gold bullion could request that the US Mint create coinage from their bullion in fractional values for use as legal tender. The Coin Act of 1873 changed that policy when it demonetized silver for the first time, putting the United States on the gold standard.

By 1878, the Bland-Allison Act re-monetized silver into dollars. The Mint intended to strike a new silver dollar beginning that year and turned to Assistant Engraver George Morgan, a die engraver originally from Great Britain, to design it. The final design featured a profile of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap of freedom (modeled after teacher and philosopher Anna Willess Williams) on the obverse and an American Bald Eagle with outstretched wings on the reverse. The Morgan Dollar, named for its designer, was circulated from 1878 until 1904 (it was reissued in 1921 and reintroduced in 2021 as a commemorative proof coin).

The redesigned silver dollar of 1878 was so pleasing to collectors, compared to previously minted coins, that it was promptly named the Morgan Dollar for its designer, George T. Morgan, an Assistant Engraver for the US Mint. This closeup shows a first issue that recently sold for $59,500 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy: 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Peace Dollar

The Pittman Act of 1918 required the melting down of existing silver dollars into bullion and purchasing an equal amount of silver from western silver mines to be re-minted into new silver dollars, initially continuing the Morgan Dollar design. However, coin collectors strongly encouraged a unique design to commemorate the world at peace with the end of World War I.

In 1921 a new silver dollar was designed by sculptor Anthony di Francisi after winning a competition sponsored by the Commission of Fine Arts. The obverse featured a profile of Liberty wearing a stylized crown (modeled after his wife Mary Teresa) and a perched Bald Eagle with sun rays in the background on the reverse that together would “…capture the spirit of the country – its intellectual speed, vigor and vitality.” The new silver dollar was immediately nicknamed the Peace Dollar.

The Peace Dollar would remain in circulation from 1921 until 1928, with reissues in 1934, 1935 and a collectible proof coin beginning in 2021.

Following War I, a new silver dollar was being considered to celebrate the final victory. The result was sculptor Anthony di Francisi’s design for the Peace Dollar. It was first issued in 1921. This lot of 40 uncirculated ones together with 60 uncirculated Morgan Dollars for $4,000 (without buyer’s premium) in 2011. Image courtesy: US Asset Forfeiture & Seizures, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

A Comparison

The Morgan and the Peace Dollars are considered by collectors to be the most attractive and collectible of all United States coins. Both feature Liberty on the obverse and a Bald Eagle on the reverse, but each design’s details and artistry make them so distinctive that when they were first released, they set the standard for all future coin designs.

The composition of Morgan and Peace Dollars is identical, but their numbers are dramatically different. Both are of the same thickness, diameter, and weight, minted with 90% silver and 10% copper (the 2021 proof coins of each are .999 silver content). Only the Morgan Dollar was minted in larger quantities, about 650 million circulated for more than 27 years. In comparison, 190 million Peace Dollars were circulated over nine years. For that reason, the Morgan Dollar is the more “collected” of the two types.

Collectors will find many Morgan Dollars in uncirculated condition, meaning that the coins do not feature the usual scratches and wear such coins would naturally encounter over a long period of public use. Coin dealers may point this out as a selling point, however many Morgan Dollars weren’t generally circulated by the US Mint and instead were kept in vaults. For that reason, uncirculated Morgan Dollars aren’t necessarily scarce.

While assembling a complete collection of Morgan Dollars is more of a challenge and amassing a full set of circulated Peace Dollars is more manageable, each type has its rarities. For example, the Morgan Dollar, reissued in 1921, was minted in San Francisco, but it was also minted in Denver for that year only, making the 1921 D Morgan Dollar quite rare. The 1893 S had a small mintage of only 200,000, and any with an early mint mark of CC (Carson City, Nevada Mint) is quite scarce.

The Peace Dollar was initially minted in high relief in 1921 and 1922 to call attention to the detail of its design. The dies used to highlight the coin’s fine detail were subjected to too much pressure. Frequently they would crack or break and would immediately be replaced with the latest coin design, featuring a lower relief. One might occasionally encounter a high-relief Peace Dollar for 1921 or 1922 at auction, but, except for the existence of about 10 or so, all of the high-relief coins were melted down and never circulated. Also, many of the Peace Dollars minted in San Francisco beginning in 1923 are considered rare for their relatively low mintage and are a collector’s favorite at auction.

Each Morgan or Peace Dollar will have its distinguishing characteristics such as rarity, condition, mintage, and errors that collectors should watch for at auction. Always check with a reputable dealer, the American Numismatic Association, collectors.com, and prominent coin-grading companies such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) to help track the rarities and follow the current value of any Morgan and Peace Dollar.

In the end, both the Morgan and the Peace Dollar are collected equally, based on a personal interest in their symbolism, design, and overall collectibility in the marketpplace. Their history, alone, instills a feeling of pride in any collector who holds one of these beautiful coins in their hand.

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A 1916 D Mercury Dime, graded as nearly uncirculated, sold for $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Gold Standard Auctions. Image courtesy of Gold Standard Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Misconceptions can be stubborn things. The Pilgrims didn’t initially land on a rock at Plymouth Harbor. Betsy Ross didn’t sew the first American Flag. The Mercury dime doesn’t feature an image of the Roman god Mercury on its obverse side. Yet these ideas persist, and coin collectors continue to call the early 20th century American 10-cent coin the Mercury Dime. It has become part of the American lexicon.

In actuality, the profile on the dime is a Winged Liberty Head a woman wearing the Phrygian Cap of Liberty with wings denoting freedom. But the debut of the coin was misunderstood by the press, and it was nicknamed “Mercury” instead. 

In 1915, the Mint started the ball rolling to secure a new coin design to replace the Seated Liberty dime that had been in circulation since 1892. After a sponsored design competition failed to produce a suitable winner, a commission was given to sculptor and artist Adolph Weinman, who had created the Walking Liberty Half Dollar and several military campaign medals.

An antique-tone 1916-D Mercury Dime with a PCGS grade of MS-66 sold for $49,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

Weinman’s vision featured a side profile of the aforementioned Winged Liberty Head on the obverse and a Roman fasces with an olive branch on the reverse to symbolize both war and peace. From its introduction in late 1916 until its run ended in 1945, the Mercury Dime rose to become one of the most popular coins produced in the United States. 

As with most types of collectibles, condition is key for coins. But Mercury Dimes usually show more wear than most, because the collar surrounding the outside of the coin was reduced to better interact with coin-operated machines. The higher relief of the leather bands of the fasces on the reverse is key to grading a Mercury Dime. If the bands are crisp and distinct, it is considered a “full strike,” which is something not all mints were able to produce consistently.

Rarities and mistrikes that collectors prize so highly appeared throughout the three-plus decades of the Mercury Dime’s lifespan.


The Mercury Dime was first issued in October 1916 at the Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver Mints. However, the Denver Mint was told to stop production of the Mercury Dime in favor of the Standing Liberty quarter. Denver issued only 264,000 Mercury Dimes in 1916, with most entering circulation before being collected. Production didn’t restart until late 1917 making both years from Denver relatively scarce for the dime in any condition.


Production for the 1921 Mercury Dime was relatively low, with about 1.2 million in Philadelphia and about a million in Denver. No dimes were issued in 1922 and no 1923 dimes were issued in Denver. If you see a 1923 D Mercury Dime, it’s a counterfeit.


The Denver Mint did not issue Mercury Dimes in 1930, which means any coins shown as 1930 D are bogus. In 1931, San Francisco and Denver issued relatively few dimes, making the 1931 D and 1931 S desirable to numismatists. In 1932, when America endured the peak of the Great Depression and the song Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? captured the mood of the moment, American mints didn’t issue any dimes at all. The same held true in 1933 no new dimes were struck. 

A 1942/41 Mercury Dime, displaying a (noted by white edge) double-strike error, sold for $4,100 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021 at 3 Kings Auction. Image courtesy of 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers


The rarest Mercury Dimes are the 1942/1941 double-die errors. Both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints suffered this hiccup, produced when a mint planchet overstruck a 1942 dime with a 1941 date, in effect double-striking it. The problem is hard to spot. Usually, magnification is required to see it properly.

The 1945 S series, which was minted in San Francisco, may show a smaller than usual “s” due to using a puncheon intended for coins bound for the Philippines. While the 1945 is one of the most common Mercury Dimes, the quality of the strikes was inconsistent, and the high relief of the fasces on the reverse was more vulnerable to wear. Only about two percent of the dimes display the leather bands as clear, distinct “full-strike” examples, adding extra collectability and value to these dimes.

A 24K gold Mercury Dime, issued in 2016 to commemorate the dime’s centennial, sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Gold Standard Auctions in Dallas. Image courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service, Wikimedia.org and LiveAuctioneers


In 2016, a commemorative 24K gold Mercury Dime, weighing a little more than three grams, was issued at the West Point Mint in business proof condition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Mercury Dime in 1916. Only 125,000 gold proof coins were issued, and they sold out fast. At auction, the commemorative is usually valued more for its gold content, which is about a tenth of an ounce, than for its mintage.

No coin is immune to counterfeiting, artificial aging, and other forms of doctoring, but collectors of silver coins, the Mercury Dime included, must be wary of an extra hazard: it’s possible to reduce the silver content of a coin.

A lot of 23 Mercury and two Barber Dimes sold at auction for its silver value at $42 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021 at Lot 14 Auctions. Image courtesy of Lot 14 Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

When mulling the purchase of a 1916 D Mercury Dime, check its date. It should be on a straight line, not canted upward as a counterfeit will be. Also take care to weigh the coin. A genuine Mercury Dime weighs 2.34 grams and has 90% silver content (.07234ozt). A counterfeit will weigh more due to the heavier metal added to replace the silver. Note: Be sure the troy ounce setting of 31.10 is used, not the standard ounce setting of 28.35.

Counterfeiters may also cut away the bands on the fasces on the reverse to create the “full binding” look to increase its grade. Close examination under powerful magnification will easily identify the cuts.

It is always a good idea to have any high-value Mercury Dimes authenticated under magnification, have their weight checked, and have them screened for errors by members of the American Numismatic Association, who you can find at www.money.org.

Collecting Mercury Dimes requires a modicum of due diligence, but it’s worth it. Adolph Weinman’s creation is considered the most beautiful dime design ever struck, and it was immediately popular with the public and coin fans alike. A total of 2.6 billion Mercury Dimes were issued. Assembling a set is both rewarding and fun, and you can often find these coins in online auctions, such as those on LiveAuctioneers. 

The Wheat Penny: rare ones harvest big money

A 1909-S VDB bearing the initials of Victor David Brenner, sold for $700 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Gold Standard Auctions in Dallas. Image courtesy of Gold Standard Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The one-cent coin that became known as the “wheat penny” was minted in the United States for nearly half a century, from 1909 to 1958. Yet that span of time represents one of the most collectible periods for the penny because of the unusual number of changes to its design.

The 1909 centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln generated a great deal of attention from the public and from commercial vendors who were eager to have new coins and commemoratives honoring the beloved president. The Chief Executive at that time, President Theodore Roosevelt, commissioned sculptor Victor David Brenner to create a penny design based on his acclaimed bronze plaque of a right-facing profile of President Lincoln, shown below.

President Theodore Roosevelt was impressed by sculptor Victor David Brenner’s plaque of Abraham Lincoln and commissioned him to redesign the penny in 1908 based on the image seen on the plaque. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and available on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license

The debut of Brenner’s penny made history in and of itself. Prior to 1909, allegorical figures such as Lady Liberty or a composite image of a Native American wearing a headdress were the most common elements in American coin design. The wheat penny, boasting the image of Lincoln, represented the first time a real person appeared on an American coin.

But it was the artwork on the reverse side of the penny that prompted its enduring nickname. It was a simple design featuring the words One Cent; United States of America flanked by a pair of curving wheat stalks. Brenner’s artistic flourish almost ensured that the coin would be dubbed the “wheat penny.”

During its five-decade reign, changes in the production of the wheat penny some major and some minor, some intended and some not – sparked interest that has yet to abate. Its journey shows just how determined collectors are in their quest to locate coins that display quirks, oddities or deviations from the norm.

1909 Wheat Penny

The Philadelphia Mint issued around 22 million wheat pennies in 1909, making them the most common variety of this mintage. The San Francisco Mint, however, issued only about 484,000 wheat pennies in that inaugural year, identifiable by the “S” mint mark and “VDB” (representing sculptor Victor David Brenner’s initials) on the reverse. The initials stirred controversy because of their prominent appearance on the coin, and ultimately mint officials decided to remove them. The letters would not return until 1918, and once reinstated, they remained part of the coin design until its discontinuation. The relative scarcity of the San Francisco Mint 1909 wheat penny makes it one of the most valuable pennies minted that year, and a 1909 S that lacks the “VDB” is a rare prize, indeed.


In 1911, the Denver Mint began striking the wheat penny with the mint mark “D,” joining mints in San Francisco (S) and Philadelphia (which did not use a mint mark) in producing the coin. D pennies from 1914 are among the lowest-circulated wheat pennies, making them a favorite among collectors and auctioneers, and, unfortunately, counterfeiters.

Wheat penny completists make a point of obtaining a 1916 example of the coin. In that year, a slightly different die was used for the Lincoln portrait, which sharpened some of the facial features such as his cheek and part of his coat.

Some examples of the 1917 wheat penny are affected by what is known as a “double-die strike” – an occurrence in which two impressions of the die overlap enough to cause a noticeable error. In this case, the word “Trust” and the date are marred. Production flubs such as these generally make a coin more valuable.

This 1922 wheat penny lacking its ‘D’ mint mark realized $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021 at Gold Standard Auctions in Dallas. 
Image courtesy of Gold Standard Auctions and LiveAuctioneers


Another favorite from the Denver Mint dates to 1922, a year when the city’s mint was the sole manufacturer of the wheat penny, yielding 500,000 for the nation’s needs. Some 1922 specimens feature a faint “D” mint mark or don’t have a mint mark at all. Naturally, they turn the heads of collectors, but care must be taken – would-be owners will want to confirm the mint mark was not deliberately removed.


The 1931 S wheat penny was the only one issued that year due to the impact of the Great Depression. It had a rather low mintage, and most of the coins were held in US Mint vaults due to low consumer interest. For this reason, 1931 S specimens are more like proof coins – the highest quality grade of coin issued by the mint. (Proof coins are struck twice instead of just once like regular coins. The extra strike gives the coins a much shinier, cleaner-looking finish and makes the fine details of the design pop. Most proofs can be identified by their mirror-like background.)

1936 brought the issuance of one of the first proof wheat pennies, except it had a satin finish that gave it an uncirculated appearance. A second strike was issued with a more brilliant finish. Both versions are sought after by collectors.

This 1943 copper wheat penny sold for $220 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020 at Rare Treasures in Harrisburg, Pa. Image courtesy of Rare Treasures and LiveAuctioneers


The 1940s are notable for producing the greatest variety of wheat pennies and the most error-strike coins. To reserve copper and tin for wartime needs, a zinc-coated steel wheat penny was issued for 1943 instead of the usual copper ones (which also included zinc and tin). About one billion were minted, making this issue not particularly valuable. However, a few dozen copper 1943 wheat pennies were struck from 1942 copper planchets, and these particular 1943 coins are extremely collectible.

Not surprisingly, the 1943 copper wheat penny is often forged. A favorite technique for producing a bogus specimen is removing the left side of the number “8” from a 1948 copper penny, or electroplating a 1943 steel penny with a thin layer of copper to pass it off as a full-copper issue.

By 1944, conditions had improved to the point that American mints resumed striking pennies from copper. Production of steel wheat pennies waned. As a result, the relatively small number of steel wheat pennies dated “1944” are the lead numismatic prizes from that year.

Also notable are 1944 copper wheat pennies with the “S-over-D” flaw. Some pennies minted in 1944 in Denver somehow ended up with an “S” mint mark, forcing the stewards of the mint to mechanically remove the “S” and replace it with a “D.” This type of error coin typically sells well at auction.

A double-die strike 1955 wheat penny sold for $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Premier Auction House in Englewood, Fla.
Image courtesy of Premier Auction House, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers


The final decade of the wheat penny was relatively quiet, yielding few variations of note. One worth discussing is the 1955 double-die wheat penny, an error coin that displays the “shadow” appearance produced when a coin is accidentally struck twice with the same die. The effect is most visible in the motto “In God We Trust,” the date, and the word “Libert”’ on the obverse, or back, of the penny. Because of its notoriety, many counterfeits are sold to dealers and collectors and consigned to auctions.

What Collectors Look For

What we’ve discussed here are just the better-known varieties and errors of the wheat penny. The full range of variations and subtleties would keep a completist busy for a lifetime and beyond. As with most collectibles produced in massive numbers, condition comes first and foremost. The crispness and legibility of the date, the motto, the Lincoln profile, and the overall appearance of the coin affect a wheat penny’s value. So, too, do smaller details, such as the raised rim, the quality of the strike, the weight and composition of the coin, and the number of examples in circulation.

All production information for each wheat penny is available for public review at usmint.gov. Connect with other collectors online at the American Numismatic Association’s website: money.org.

The seemingly endless campaign to eliminate the one-cent piece from America’s currency will succeed at some point in time. Until then, it’s wise to stop and swap at the “take a penny, leave a penny” tray when you’re out shopping. A variety or error wheat penny just might be your reward.

World coins, commemoratives offered in online auction May 27

Collectible coins from around the globe – more than 300 lots – are offered in an online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, May 27. Countries represented in the auction include Denmark, Korea, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Australia and China.

Cook Islands 2010 $20 three-ounce silver coin, depicting Viktor Vasnetzov’s ‘Three Bogatyrs,’ Masterpieces of Art Series. Estimate $550-$700. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Rare world coins to be tendered in online auction May 20

Nearly 350 lots of collectible coins are offered in a Jasper52 online auction that will take place Wednesday, May 20. The diversity of this auction is revealed with coins from the United States, Denmark, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Australia and beyond.

Kingdom of Persis, Vadfrad; ad I 3-early 2 cent, AR. Estimate: $2,500-$3,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

All-American coins to change hands in online auction Jan. 15

Good old American dollars and cents are on the block in an Exclusive Coins Auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, Jan. 15. The sale consists of nearly 100 lots of gold and silver dollars, commemorative gold coins and other scarce U.S. coins.

1878-S Liberty Head Double Eagle – Type 3, gold coin, condition: XF40. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Heads up for gold coins in numismatic auction Oct. 1

U.S. gold coins stand out in a Jasper52 online numismatic auction that will be conducted on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The highlight of the 87-lot sale is a brilliant uncirculated 1878 Liberty Head $20 double eagle. The auction catalog also contains proof sets, silver certificates and commemoratives.

1878 U.S. Liberty Head $20 double eagle gold, BU++. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.