The following was re-published from the “Bowers on Collecting” column on Coin Update.
The rare coin market went into overdrive in the 1880s. Many dealers opened up shops, several issued their own magazines (Ed Frossard’s Numisma and Scott Stamp & Coin Company’s Coin Collector’s Journal notable among them), and the field of auction catalogers grew as well. John W. Hazeltine and the Chapman brothers created many memorable sales, with the 1882 Bushnell Collection by the Chapmans being the most exciting auction event of the decade.
Harrison Garrett, of Baltimore, and Lorin G. Parmelee, of Boston, became known as super-collectors, snatching up rarities. Rare coins furnished fodder for newspapers, and metropolitan dailies carried many accounts of rare 1804 silver dollars being sold at auction, or old Massachusetts Pine Tree shillings being found buried in the ground, and more. Throughout this scenario, the prices of scarce and rare U.S. coins continued to rise. A 1793 cent worth $5 to $10 in 1860 was worth $20 or more by 1880, part of a nonstop march that still goes on today. Silver coins of the 1790s, any and all gold coins of 1795 through 1834, and other classics remained in steady demand.
When, in 1883 the Philadelphia Mint turned out a new type of nickel five-cent piece with the denomination given as simply V, without the word CENTS, word spread that a great mistake had been made. There was a mad rush to buy up every one in sight. Of the 5,474,000 minted, it is likely that most were tracked down by the public and kept as investments. Soon these would be of immense value, it was thought. Meanwhile, dealers with large supplies were selling them for 10 cents to 15 cents each, often as get-acquainted offers to invite other orders from price lists. The 1883 without-CENTS nickel, although it never became rare, did inch up in value over the years, and now an MS-63 coin lists for $50 in the 2021 Guide Book. The CENTS-less variety did its duty to boost interest in collecting, and quite a few who found them in circulation went on to become important in the numismatic field. Interestingly, the higher-mintage 1883 with-CENTS piece, of which 16,026,200 were made, but of which relatively few were saved as there was no excitement about them, now catalogs for $300 in MS-63 grade.
During the 1880s a dozen or more newspapers devoted to collecting coins and stamps and other things were published. The Numismatist began publication in 1888 under the auspices of Dr. George F. Heath, a Monroe, Michigan, collector. The year 1889 saw the beginning of collecting by Virgil M, Brand. Spending most of his waking hours buying coins, including rarities in duplicate and triplicate. By the time of his death in 1926, he had amassed more than 350,000 examples, including 6 of the 10 known 1884 Trade dollars, an 1822 $5 piece, a 1787 Brasher doubloon, quantities of 1793 cents, and other treasures. The Brand Collection was subsequently disposed of over a period of more than half a century.