by Ryan Moretti
One of the best things about numismatics has got to be the vast amount of ways you can choose to collect coins. The options are quite literally never ending. Often, people focus on putting together a complete series such as Morgan Dollars or Barber Quarters, or a specific date early proof set such as a 1936 with Brilliant and Satin issues. One of my favorite ways to collect tends to be slightly more esoteric but, in my opinion, has got to be the one of the most exciting ways to collect coins, If you have the patience to learn and look: die varieties.
If you are the type of person who loves “the thrill of the hunt,” then cherrypicking is probably right up your alley. Cherrypicking for die varieties has to be among the most rewarding kind of numismatics, not only because of the potential for financial gain, but also the euphoric rush that we get when we are excited to have discovered something that no one else found is second to none. You can actually find extra value in your pocket change, if you are diligent enough to look and have the knowledge to know what you are looking for. If you are going to dive into the world of die varieties, there are two major paths to consider.
The first question to ask is, “Should I collect a series, or collect all variety types?” If you love Bust Half Dollars and have little interest in Lincoln Cents and Jefferson Nickels, then you’d want to collect the varieties of “a series.” In the Bust Half Dollar series, varieties are called ’Overton varieties’ and are listed in high detail in the “United States Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794-1836” reference book by Donald L. Parsley. This book is filled with a vast amount of information about each known Overton die variety. This would be a great place to start and a must have reference for any serious collector.
However, if your answer was “all variety types,” then you have a much broader task ahead of you. The best place to start would then be the official “Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins” by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton. This set of two books is the Holy Grail for major recognized US varieties. It is the treasure map to hunting for varieties, as it encompasses all U.S. denominations and types and lists some of the best and highly sought after varieties for each series.
Either direction to go is an admirable one that will take many years to master and collect. Patience is very important, as well as trial and error. It is ok to make mistakes in attribution, it’s happened to even the best in the industry. Learning from the mistakes is key. Often it is easier to learn more from the mistakes, if we don’t let it get the best of us. The love/hate relationship that comes with collecting die varieties, specifically “cherrypicking” can be a frustrating one. Cherrypicking is often a tedious task that begins with a large amount of trial and error. Stick to it and your patience and efforts will be rewarded. The trick is similar to most things in life, and especially numismatics: knowledge. And in the world of cherrypicking, knowledge truly is king.