I am often asked what my favorite coins are, or what coins might be the best investments. It is impossible for me to make a "Top 10 Coin Investment Recommendations" list that applies to everyone because we all have different budgets and collecting interests, but I will share my personal Top 10 Coin Picks for 2011 along with the reasoning behind them in the hopes that it will guide you in evaluating your own coin purchases. Do not construe this article as investment advice; instead look upon it as a glimpse into one collector's personal opinion and list of collecting goals.
1. High-Grade Coins of British India
India is a very large, populous country with a rapidly expanding economy. Like Americans (indeed, like people of most nations,) people of India enjoy collecting the coins of their own country. As the economy of India grows, and the middle class broadens, more and more Indians will want to acquire their own coins, especially the intricately beautiful silver colonial issues under British rule. I stick to higher grade specimens from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially the coins of Queen Victoria. This pick is #1 because my silver coins of India have appreciated by nearly 170% in the past two years.
Tip: Look for BU coins that are free of contact marks and dings.
2. Common Date Saints Graded by NGC or PCGS
Most people are surprised to learn that they can own the beautiful Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle gold pieces (called Saints by insiders) for little more than the cost of an ounce of gold bullion. Although the Saints don't contain a full ounce of gold, they're pretty close at .96750 ounce. The mintages for many years of Saints are above 1 million, so demand hasn't (yet) exceeded the supply. If you're going to buy gold bullion, why buy modern rounds when you can own these beautiful classic coins for just a small premium over bullion?
Tip: Buying classic U.S. gold gives you a double-whammy investment. The gold will likely rise in value over time, but so might the rare U.S. coin! You can hardly go wrong with these!
3. U.S. Bust Half Dollars
There was a large influx of Bust Half Dollars into the U.S. coin market from 2007 until early 2010 with the result that prices for mid-grade and downward Bust halves have softened significantly, especially for common-date raw (non-slabbed) specimens. Until the market can properly absorb this excess material, you can get some great deals on Bust halves.
Tip: Although the best deals are in raw halves, be careful that you don't buy any "problem" coins (such as cleaned, scratched, holed, dented, etc.) These are very rarely good buys for any type of coin.
4. High-Grade Barber Quarters
The coins designed by Charles Barber don't get a great deal of respect right now. To be sure, they are flat, unattractive specimens when worn down to VG-8 or lower. However, in better grades (EF-40 and up) the Barber quarters and halves can be quite appealing. I recommend the Barber quarters because the price versus rarity ratio is higher. In other words, you can generally get a rarer coin for the same price in the Barber quarter series than you can in the Barber half series.
Tip: Toning and contrast are the key to superior eye appeal on Barber types. Don't buy "blast white" BU Barbers unless they have a full cartwheel effect (proving they've never been improperly cleaned.)
5. Bags of U.S. Silver Coins
While sorting through pocket change looking for error and variety coins is a popular hobby, especially in difficult economic times, sorting through bags of so-called "junk" U.S. silver coins can yield some amazing surprises! A recent bag of $100 face value worth of U.S. silver dimes contained about 35% BU coins. Although this percentage was high, virtually every bag of silver dimes and quarters I have searched has turned up BU specimens, repunched mint marks, doubled dies, and other error and variety types.
Tip: Play this game the same way you do searching freshly-minted coins: Search and remove the coins worth more than bullion value and then exchange the rest for more coins to search through!
6. Mint State Jefferson Nickels Prior to 1960
I have been a big fan of Jefferson Nickels ever since my childhood days of scouring Mom's change purse every night for that elusive 1950-D. To this day, you can buy $4 worth of circulated Jefferson Nickels (that's 2 rolls) and likely find a variety of dates spanning 4 or 5 decades or more! Right now, the opportunity to "cherrypick" nice nickels from coin dealers is amazing. Look for non-slabbed nickels that have full steps and an attractive appearance, especially bright, sharply-struck specimens from the early-to-mid 1950's.
7. World Silver Crowns
Crowns are large-sized coins, typically slightly larger than Morgan Dollars, that are issued by various nations, primarily former British Empire countries. Although there is a great deal of downright junk out there on the crown-sized world coins market, I see a good investment potential with silver crowns minted before 1970. Most of these crowns contain only 50% to 85% silver, but whatever the content, these can frequently be purchased in AU and low BU grades for just a little over bullion value. These coins enjoy the same double-whammy as classic U.S. gold double eagles - the silver might rise in value, but so might the rare coin itself!
Tip: Know the silver percentages of the crowns before you buy, so you don't overpay.
8. U.S. Mint Uncirculated Coins Set
The annual Uncirculated Mint Set put out by the U.S. Mint each year is one of the sweetest deals going. For the 2010 set, you received 28 better-quality coins in two folders priced at $31.95 for the pair. These coins have a special "Satin Finish" which can only be found on coins in this set, and the attractive packaging allows you to see the edges. In 2011, the Uncirculated Mint Sets will return to the brilliant finish used prior to 2005. Although these annual sets are great to "put away," they also make fantastic gifts for kids and grand-kids!
Tip: Always buy directly from the U.S. Mint, if possible! The sets are cheaper there than when buying from coin dealers. Non-U.S. citizens might enjoy their own national sets.
9. Dollar Coins Via Direct Ship
The U.S. Mint has a program for current, circulating $1 coins called the Direct Ship Program. You can buy rolls of Presidential and Sacagawea Dollars in $250 and $500 increments via credit card, and have them sent to you free of shipping and handling charges. If you use a cash-back or points-earning credit card, you can make money just buying the coins! I get 2% cash back on my VISA card, so I buy dollar coins through Direct Ship, search them for edge lettering errors and other varieties, and then spend the rest.
Tip: Make sure you're buying Direct Ship coins and not the U.S. Mint branded bags and rolls which sell for a stiff premium. Direct Ship coins cost face value (even though they're the same coins!)
10. 2011 Nickel and Dime Rolls
My long-shot pick for 2011 is another coin type that you can get for face value. All you have to do is sit on them for 20 to 25 years to see what happens. I plan to put away at least 500 rolls of 2011 nickels and 250 rolls of 2011 dimes, equally split between both U.S. Mints that produce circulating coinage. In a worst-case scenario, I can just spend the nickels and dimes if I have to. In the best-case scenario, dealers and hoarders overlook these coins, and stocks of BU rolls will sell at a high premium.
Tip: If you had set aside rolls of 1986-D pennies, you could sell them for $25 per roll today!