Transition… it can mean so many different things! For collectors, coins of transition offer an exciting opportunity to own pieces of history and intrigue!
What IS a coin of transition?
Each year, collectors expect to see one series for each denomination in circulation. Cents, nickels, dimes, quarters… and, if they look closely, half dollars! But once in a while, two completely different designs are issued in the same year! (For this article, we’re not considering “golden” dollars. Coins for both the Native American and Innovation dollar series are released each year, but that’s an intentional, ongoing decision.)
In the truest sense, coins of transition are two coins of the same denomination – one featuring the last design of one series, and the first design of another – issued in the same year! The most popular examples are:
- Cents of 1909 – 1909 saw the last Indian Head cents, and the first regular-issue U.S. coin to honor an actual person – the Lincoln cent!
- Nickels of 1938 – The buffalo nickel design was retired partway through 1938 after 25 years of service, and replaced with a design honoring third president Thomas Jefferson.
- Dimes of 1916 – Mercury dimes were to be released in 1916… but the new dies weren’t ready until late in the year! So the Barber design was continued to meet demand.
- Dollars of 1921 – 100 years ago in 1921, the U.S. Mint was busy preparing to meet a demand for silver dollars following a 17-year hiatus. While work began on the new series, the Morgan dollar was resurrected for one final time. Partway through the year, the first Peace dollars – intended to commemorate peace following WWI – were released.
More than just a traditional transition
Going beyond the true definition of what defines a traditional transition set, a collector’s opportunities grow! Sometimes, a coinage series will undergo a change within a year – same series, same year… but two different designs! Most recently, we’ve seen this in the 2021 American Silver Eagle series.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the series, an all-new reverse design depicting a Landing Eagle was created. Until the new design was ready partway through the year, Silver Eagles with the original Heraldic Eagle reverse were issued for collectors. It’s a modern transition that collectors have jumped at the chance to own!
A transition trio
Transitions-within-a-series sets happened for the Lincoln cent and Jefferson nickel as well – just not within the same year!
When introduced in 1909, the Lincoln cent displayed designer Victor David Brenner’s V.D.B. initials along the lower rim of the reverse. Criticized as too prominent, they were soon removed, creating a second 1909 issue. Not until 1918 were Brenner’s initials returned to the Lincoln cent – and then, they were in barely noticeable small letters below Lincoln’s shoulder on the obverse (next to the rim). Together, these three releases mark the Lincoln cent’s “V.D.B.” transition!
Have you ever collected coins of transition? What are your favorite transitions? Let us know in the comments below!