For over 60 years, a popular pattern of coin collecting has been to assemble a current or obsolete series of United States coins by date and mint mark. The objective of this process was to create a complete set, including the more expensive key dates from the series.
From this experience, some collectors had found it frustrating and expensive to find the scarce key coins to complete their sets, and forever dropped numismatics in favor of other hobby pursuits. This switch out of numismatics is regrettable, but could have been prevented by collecting a chosen series of coins through "mini" sets where the collector is in charge of his hobby, instead of the coin folder.
"Mini" set collecting has been around since the inception of coin collecting, but over time it has been subdued in favor of consecutive date and mintmark collecting, popularized with the introduction of popular coin albums in the l930s.
There are several advantages to "mini" set collecting. The most appealing is that the collector can take his coin sets in any direction, giving them a personal, imaginative twist. Instead of filling up an album with holes, the collector can fashion his collection into a reflection of his tastes and interests as they apply to numismatics. By this process, the collector will discover that coin collecting is much more than filling album holes, but a study of coins and how they integrate with the culture, technology, economics, and history of the world. For example, in San Francisco during the gold rush era, the cost of living was so high that privately minted $50 gold slugs widely circulated to cover costly transactions, which were many.
Many practical opportunities also await the collector of "mini sets." By discounting the importance of the key dates, the collector on a budget has more time and money to obtain coins in a targeted series in the higher grades. This might not be possible if the collector had to sacrifice condition because of its cost in order to buy the key dates necessary to make a complete set.
In my opinion, a shortened collection in choice condition is much more desirable and unusual than a complete set of coins in mediocre condition. I think most coin dealers would also agree.
"Mini" set collecting also allows the collector to explore those dates within an obsolete series that are scarce and undervalued, because of the inordinate attention given to the so-called keys. In many instances after a little research and careful notation, the collector may conclude that some of the common dates are not as common as generally believed, but are appealingly low priced. This equates to a buying opportunity.
The coin market also benefits from the collecting of "mini" sets. Because the heavily promoted key coins have been put in their proper perspective, collectors on limited funds can drop their inhibitions and venture into an obsolete series or even early type issues without intimidation. This in turn stimulates the coin market with the infusion of collector dollars that would be absent if strict and sequential date and mintmark collecting were observed.
The denomination and design of United States coins to be assembled into "mini" sets are entirely the decision of the collector, based on his own particular tastes and interests. But just to be helpful, some selected sets of coins will be mentioned.
For a long time Standing Liberty quarters have been not on the top of the popularity list with collectors because of the expensive keys to the series, the l9l6 and the l9l8-S 8/7 overdate, which is really only a variety. But there is a hole for it in most albums. By implementation of "mini" set collecting, the collector can forget these issues and concentrate on the other coins in the series. For example, all the Philadelphia mints could be collected, or one of each from one of the branch mints, or all the dates after l925. Or maybe just some of the favorite dates of the collector's choosing, like a l9l7-S variety II, a l920-D, l923-S, and a l924-D, all in very good condition, with all four digits of the dates readable. Now, when was the last time you saw something like that? It can done, of course, with diligence and searching. Will it be costly? Not that much, as compared to paying for a complete set. Is it a good value and worth the money? Definitely!
Buffalo and Liberty nickels also offer many great "mini" set opportunities, as well as early type coins that include half cents, large cents, two and three-cent pieces, and Liberty seated silver coins, Morgan dollars and gold.
"Mini" sets put the fun back into collecting, because you are in charge and can take the collection on its own personal course that reflect your tastes and interests. That immensely adds to your collecting enjoyment, saves you money and cultivates valuable specialized knowledge that can be very useful when you have coins to sell.