The rare coin market of 1880 – Shield Nickel Coin

Today, the Shield Nickel Coin takes us back to 1880 and the opinions of the day on collecting old and rare coins.

From the Bryan [OH] Times newspaper dated December 2, 1880:


Rare American Coins.

Said Mr. E. F. Gambs, a St. Louis numismatist, to a Chronicle reporter:

Those who have a weakness for collecting old and rare coins are generally men of wealth who indulge in it as a pleasant pastime.

They can afford to pay handsome prices for rarities and become amateur numismatists.

The principal coin center of the United States is Philadelphia, mainly because the mint is situated there.

In Eastern cities, such as New York and Boston, coin-collecting is more indulged in than in the South or West.

There are about one hundred journals devoted to the coin and stamp interest published in the United States.

The prices of rare coins fluctuates considerably from time to time.

Probably the rarest coin is the silver dollar of 1804.

There are said, on good authority, to be only six of them in the whole world.

Their market value is all the way from $300 to $700.

About two years ago Mr. Gambs ran across a half-dime of the year 1802, which was an unusually fine specimen.

He sold it for $50 to Wm. P. Brown, of New York, who shortly afterwards refused $200 for it, thinking that it would bring more at auction.

It was sold at auction for $147.50 and changed hands again for $175.

The second rarest American coin is the half-dollar of 1852.

They were only coined at the Philadelphia Mint.

Cents and half-dollars are the principal coins looked after by coin collectors, more of these denominations being sold than any other.

Very scarce are the old copper pennies of 1793, 1799, 1804 and 1809.

The half-cents, which were coined from 1793 to 1857, for some dates within that period bring handsome prices.

General  W. T. Sherman is said to be a great collector of coins, and the late King Victor Emanuel and A. T. Stewart, the great dry-goods merchant, were both active stamp collectors.

In New York, Philadelphia and Boston auction sales of collections are frequently held.


First of all, what were the prices for these rare coins in today’s dollars? And, how do the values compare to the 2017 Red Book numbers?

The 1804 dollar with its value of between $300 to $700 would be roughly $7000 to $17,000 using an inflation calculator for 1880 versus 2015 dollars.

From the 2017 Red Book, an 1804 First Reverse, Class I, silver dollar was sold for over $4.1 million in August 1999.

An 1804 Second Reverse, Class III, silver dollar sold for $1.88 million in August 2014.

Time and rarity sure beat inflation in this case.

Next, the 1802 half-dime sold for $50 would equate to roughly $1200 with inflation from 1880 to 2015.

From the 2017 Red Book, the 1802 half-dime shows values from $20,000 at an AG-3 grade up to $325,000 at an AU-50 grade.

Again, time and rarity win over inflation.

Though he did not mention the 1880 values, the other rare coins he listed vary in their collectible value today.

1852 half-dollar — from $350 at G-4 to $3100 at MS-63

1793 cent — from $1250 to $175,000 depending on grade and variety

1799 cent — from $1250 to $80,000 at EF-40 (an EF-45 9-over-8 sold for $368,000 in September 2009)

1804 cent — from $750 to $16,000 at EF-40 (an MS-63 BN sold for $661,250 in September 2009)

1809 cent —from $50 to $4000 at EF-40

Half-cents from 1793 to 1857 — a wide range of values from $35 to $100,000 depending on grade and variety with a couple of special specimens from 1796 going for $718,750 (MS-65RB+ with pole) and $891,250 (MS-65BN no pole)

It’s interesting to compare values from 1880 to now and to see how coins can grow in value.

Though, his statement that numismatics is a rich man’s pastime should be changed to its a prudent man’s pastime.

The Shield Nickel Coin shows with an image of a coining press, circa 1861.

Shield Nickel Coin