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What Is "Key", When Collecting Coins?

May 27, 2008
Key Coin: A coin that is among the toughest and Most Expensive to obtain within a series. In the Lincoln Cent series, for example, the 1909-S VDB would be considered the key, as would the 1914-D and often the 1922-Plain.

A coin somewhat lesser in stature but still among the tougher in a series to collect is called a semi-key; the 1909-S and 1931-S fulfill this role within the Lincoln Cent series for many collectors. Both key coins and semi-key coins are in great demand due primarily to the limited supply of coins available. Since this increases the demand for such coins, the results are higher prices for all such coins. Coins with higher grades are even more difficult to acquire.

The grade of a coin is everything in coin collecting. This entices the rogues and cheats to misrepresent a coin's grade or quality. But this only works with raw coins. A certified and graded coin - by PCGS, NGC, ICG or ANACS - stifles the would be cheat and insures authenticity. In fact, these companies guarantee the coin's Authenticity, Identity, and Grade. I have seen company representatives, at trade shows, pay immediate cash reimbursements where a coin was mis-graded, or had a questionable identity or grade. The extra protection offered by a sealed slab, helps to maintain a coins condition and grade, which in turn keeps the value at a higher level than raw coins. Many people have had their entire collections sent in for certification and grading for the protection and value alone. It certainly increases a coins marketability, and eliminates any doubts about what is being bought or sold.

Other "Key" Dates include the following:

Lincoln Cents: 1909 S, 1909 S VDB, 1914 D, 1922 no mint, 1931 S
Jefferson Nickel: 1938-D, 1938-S, 1939-D, 1939-S and 1950-D

Roosevelt Dimes: 1949, 1949 S, 1950 S, and the 1951 S
Washington Quarters: 1932 D, 1932 S, 1934 - with Double Die Obverse (DDO), 1935 D, 1936 D, 1937 - with Double Die Obverse (DDO), 1937 S, 1938 S, 1939 S, 1940 D, 1942 D - with Double Die Obverse (DDO), 1942 D - with Double Die Reverse (DDR),1943 - with Double Die ?, 1943 S - with Double Die Obverse (DDO), 1950 D/S Over mintmark ( coin is a '50-D, with underlying S mintmark ), 1950 S/D Over mintmark ( coin is a '50-S, with underlying D mintmark ), and the 1955 D

The Concept of "Key" may also apply to the Type or Purpose of the coin collection, rather than the individual coin. For example, if a collector is putting together a collection of Walking Liberty Half Dollars, without regard to the Condition of the coins, then the "keys" are the 1921, 1921-D, and 1916-S.

But, if the Collector is putting together the same set, in Gem BU Condition, the 1919-D and the 1921-S would be considered the "keys" and the 1916-S likely would not, because the 1916-S either not available at all, or is plentiful. Also Key Date may be a replaceable term.

Another example, using Lincoln Cents: The "key dates" for the Lincoln Pennies, from 1909 -1958 (wheat cents) are: 1909s, 1909s VDB, 1914 D, 1922, and the 1931 S.

The "semi-key" dates are: 1910 S, 1911 D, 1911 S, 1912 S, 1913 D, 1913 S, 1914 S, 1915, 1921 S, 1922 D, 1923 S, 1924 D, 1926 S, 1931 D, and 1933 D.

Certain Sellers use the term "Key Date" to generate interest in a coin, whose date may be "Key", however, the Condition of the coin is usually less than desirable. Pay Attention!

Have fun collecting your Perfect Coins!

Robert L Taylor, JD
Copyright 2006-7
About the Author
Robert Taylor is a retired Lawyer with a passion for collecting US coins. To share his Passion, he created http://www.ThePerfect-Coin.Com which features US Coins (from 1960) and http://www.PerfectDollarCoins.Com featuring US Dollars, all certified by NGC, PCGS, ICG and ANACS.
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