An Overview of Modern American Coins
American coinage can be divided into two major categories: Vintage and Modern. The former term is usually applied to coins all struck prior to 1965, while the latter applies to all coins issued since. Within the realm of modern coins are three basic groups: circulating denominations, bullion coins, and commemoratives.
The circulating denominations are Cents, Nickels, Dimes, Quarters, Half Dollars and Dollars. This includes both business strikes (i.e. coins made for circulation) as well as proof issues (i.e. pieces specially prepared for collectors). To clarify, even though the American Silver Eagle carries a face value of $1, it is not classified as a circulating denomination since it was made for bullion purposes. As a general rule, modern circulating coins are extremely common and affordable, even in proof format. Many modern proof sets, for instance, sell for $10-$20 each.
America’s modern bullion coins include Silver Eagles, Gold Eagles, Platinum Eagles and 5 Ounce Silver America the Beautiful coins. In most cases these coins are worth relatively close to melt—but there are some exceptions. For example, Proof Silver Eagles sell for multiples of melt, some low-mintage 5 Oz ATBs trade for significant premiums, and some backdated Silver Eagles have considerable numismatic value in MS69. With that being said, ordinary bullion coins with robust mintages sell for a small premium over their metallic value.
The third major category is commemoratives. The United States Mint struck dozens of commemoratives from the 1890s through the 1950s, but halted production of these special-edition coins until 1982. Since then, the Mint has released a plethora of beautiful commemoratives in a variety of denominations. In most cases, these modern “commems” are either copper/nickel clad Half Dollars, silver One Dollar coins, gold $5 coins or gold $10 pieces. However, a few outliers exist. In one rare case, the Mint released a bimetallic gold/platinum $10 coin in 2000. It’s also worth mentioning the 2009 $20 Gold Ultra High Relief and the 2015 $100 High Relief; they were both unusual one-year issues.
Speaking broadly, modern American coins are not difficult to obtain in high grades. Modern proofs almost always grade Proof 67 or higher, with most pieces exhibiting strong cameo contrast. Uncirculated bullion coins tend to grade MS 65 or better, especially if sourced in original rolls. Circulating business strikes are usually worth around face value—even in Uncirculated condition—unless they are virtually flawless. Original rolls and bags exist for most modern circulating coins and therefore Gem Uncirculated specimens are plentiful.