Key date coins are generally the rarest or most difficult to find coins for a particular series. It is a common practice for United States coin collectors to acquire one example of each date and mint mark for a given series. The final coins to be acquired will tend to be the key date coins due to their scarcity or cost. As such, the keys often carry a special mystique and allure, making them the centerpiece of the collection.
Some of the most iconic and well-known key date coins are found within the more highly collected United States coin series. Even novice hobbyists will be aware of the 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln Cent, which carries a mintage of 484,000 pieces. During the first year of production for the series, this coin was briefly struck at the San Francisco Mint before the presses were halted in order to remove the designer’s initials “V.D.B.” from their prominent placement on the reverse. This peculiar set of circumstances created a much-storied rarity for collectors.
Another famous key date coin is the 1893-S Morgan Dollar, from the widely collected series of silver dollars. While the coin’s mintage of 100,000 pieces was not the lowest of the series, nearly the entire mintage was immediately placed into circulation. This resulted in an extremely low survival rate, leaving relatively few coins to fulfill the eventual high demand from collectors.
Even modern series can yield keys, such as the 1995-W Proof American Silver Eagle. This coin represents the elusive key date coin from the popular ongoing bullion and collector coin series. While most other issues of the series experienced a wide public release with high mintages, this coin was only offered within a more expensive set containing four gold coins. The high price point kept orders low, resulting in a shockingly low mintage of 30,125 pieces. As a result, this one ounce silver coin ended up having a higher value than the four other gold coins it was originally packaged with.
As can be seen, many factors can contribute to the key date status of particular coins. First and foremost, the original mintage level plays a role as the starting point for the number of coins potentially available to collectors. Beyond the mintage, the survival rate may play a significant role in the eventual rarity of an issue. In some instances, coins with relatively high mintages have become rarities due to extensive circulation or melting. Finally, collector demand for an issue plays a role in pricing and availability. Low mintage coins within highly collected series tend to be more highly valued than similar mintage coins from less collected series.
This site will provide a thorough exploration of the most valuable and well-known key date coins issued by the United States Mint. Each page takes focus on a particular coin and provides details on the background and history of the issue, the original mintage, and information on the finest known specimens and their values. While many of the coins may be beyond the reach of the average collector, the knowledge and stories surrounding these rarities remains available to all with intellectual curiosity and an acquisitive mind. Enjoy this journey through the key date coins of the United States Mint!