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For example, collecting the entire series of Lincoln cents, to date, could cost a typical coin collector more than $2,000 when taking into account the cost of rare dates, such as the 1909-S V.D.B., 1909-S, 1914-D, and 1931-S.
Add in the 1922 plain cent – a rare variety customarily included in many Lincoln sets – and the cost sky rockets another $700 to $1,000. Oh, want the highly popular 1955 doubled die Lincoln cent? Look to spend an additional $1,500 to $2,000 for an entry-level piece.
Beyond taking out a second mortgage on your home to afford the expensive key dates in the coin series of your choice, there is one answer: complete short sets. A short set is basically a set within a series of coins that spans several years, or a certain range of years and, by and large, bypasses the need for buying expensive key coins.
For example, a short set of Lincoln cents may include coins from the years 1941 through 1974, which is a date range long ago popularized by coin folder companies. Completing a set of Lincoln cents minted from 1941 through 1974 takes coin collectors through an interesting era in small cent history. The set includes both wheat ears and Lincoln Memorial cents, encompasses the last regular-issue Lincoln cents to bear an S (San Francisco) mintmark, and features the ever-popular 1943 steel cent. The price for this set? To buy, about $10 in circulated grades. Just for kicks though, some expeditious coin collectors will try completing this set for face value by picking through countless rolls of Lincoln cents from the bank.
Another popular short set of coins is the 1941 to 1947 Walking Liberty half dollar collection. Curtailing the need for some heavy-hitting key dates (such as the 1916-S obverse mintmark, 1921, and 1921-D – all of which cost upwards of $150 to $300 each, depending on the grade), the 1941 to 1947 short set includes 20 examples of what many consider to be one of the most beautiful coins ever struck.
The beauty of building a short set is that you can decide for yourself how abbreviated you want your set of coins to be. You can customize short sets to whatever range of dates you prefer or can afford. And, if you ever decide to try your hand at completing an entire series of coins, having a finished short set gives you a solid foundation upon which to build the rest of your coin collection.
My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I'm a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I'm also the editor at CDN Publishing (a trusted source for the price of U.S. rare coins), editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I've contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I've also authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins — and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!