Everybody’s coin collecting tastes are different, but there are a few coins that every collector of United States coins must have if they want to represent the history and nostalgia that floods American coinage.
Thankfully for coin collectors of every budget, the 7 coins you must have in your coin collection aren’t expensive.
These 7 coins are affordable symbols of another time and place in America. They also represent some of the most artistic, storied, and historic chapters in United States coinage.
What 7 coins am I talking about?…
7 Coins You Need To Have In Your Coin Collection
Here are the 7 great American coins that your coin collection can’t be without:
#1 – Indian Head Cent
This classic American coin was minted from 1859 to 1909.
Designed by James Longacre, the Indian Head cent lasted 50 years and was made for a period of time lasting from before the Civil War to the advent of telephones, phonographs, and the cinema.
The woman on the Indian Head penny actually isn’t a Native American but, rather, Miss Liberty wearing an Indian-styled headdress.
Indian Head pennies, which haven’t been widely seen in circulation since the 1950s, can be bought for as little as $1 to $2.
#2 – Lincoln Wheat Cent
Proceeding the Indian Head penny in 1909, the Lincoln wheat cent was minted until 1958.
Lincoln’s profile, designed by Victor David Brenner, is the longest running design on any United States coin, seeing only minor modifications over the past century.
The Lincoln wheat cent was one of the first modern coins widely collected by date and mintmark and has since become, by far, the most popular coin to collect among both beginners and seasoned veterans alike.
Lincoln wheat cents can still be found in circulation (though they’re getting harder to find). A nice example of a common Lincoln wheat cent can be bought for under $1.
#3 – 1943 Steel Cent
With World War II causing rationing all across the nation, the United States government authorized the production of zinc-plated steel pennies to help save copper for the war effort.
1943 steel pennies (often mistakenly referred to as silver pennies because of their color) are quite common and inexpensive, worth around 10 cents to $1 for circulated specimens.
This distinctive looking penny with a patriotic history is a definite addition to any American coin collection.
#4 – Buffalo Nickel
The Buffalo nickel has a solid place in Americana. Minted from 1913 to 1938, Buffalo nickels have been collected by tens of thousands of coin collectors for decades.
The Buffalo nickel, designed by James Fraser, hearkens back to an era when a nickel represented some buying real buying power. Like Lincoln wheat pennies, Buffalo nickels were very well-used coins during the Great Depression, when small change became very important to many Americans without much in the way of means.
In fact, some Buffalo nickels were artfully altered and passed by those down on their luck for things like meals, clothing, and a night’s rest on a bed. These so-called Hobo nickels have long since gained a following all their own and are highly valued by many.
Typical, circulated Buffalo nickels of common dates can be bought for $1 to $2.
#5 – Mercury Dime
The so-called Mercury dime (actually Miss Liberty with a winged cap) is a silver dime that is as respected for its beautiful design as it is its place in numismatic history.
Adolph Weinman created the Mercury dime, which was minted from 1916 to 1945. The coin saw two world wars, the Great Depression, and the invention of many products and technologies that are today highly commonplace.
The Mercury dime was the dime design that was both begun and finished in silver; it also represents an era in United States coinage that relied on stylized, highly contemporary designs to capture the American ideal of Liberty.
Common-date, worn Mercury dimes can be bought for $2 to $5.
#6 – Walking Liberty Half Dollar
This highly patriotic design depicts Miss Liberty walking toward a rising sun on the obverse. The reverse shows a beautiful rendition of a bald eagle.
The Walking Liberty half dollar exudes some very American ideals in an artistically dramatic and complex design. This coin is such a work of art, it was resurrected almost 40 years after the end of its 1916 to 1947 run on the American silver eagle.
Worn examples of Walking Liberty half dollars from the latter half of the coin’s design period can be purchased for around $10.
#7 – Morgan Silver Dollar
You’ve probably seen the Morgan silver dollar before. It’s often a coin that pops up in magazine and television advertisements — and for good reason. The Morgan silver dollar bears an iconic design which was produced from 1878 to 1921.
Morgan dollars, so named for their designer — George T. Morgan — depict a representative head of Miss Liberty on the obverse and a bald eagle on the reverse.
The Morgan dollar circulated during a time and in a place widely romanticized as the Old Wild West. However, millions of Morgan dollars either stayed or wound up in bank vaults. Morgan dollars became particularly popular collectibles when these coins were released from bank vaults during the middle of the 20th century.
Prices for common Morgan dollars ride the wave of bullion values. Right now, a common Morgan dollar retails for between $35 and $50.
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!