When I was in high school and college, if I ever found a coin minted in 1976 – my birth year – I would keep it. And if I found a Wheat Penny, or any coin minted during WWII, I’d be overjoyed. But after college, my nascent coin collecting died down. I know my first couple of years of State Quarters went to doing laundry.
For the last couple of years I’ve had a retail job to pay the bills. The worst aspect of it is having to stand behind a register for hours at a time dealing with customers. But it has allowed me to see some old coins. Now if I see a 1976 quarter, I treat it just like a regular quarter. And if I see a Wheat Penny, I’ll probably set it aside, but only to give it out as change to an older customer or perhaps a kid. Someone who might get a kick out of it. Even coins that I happen to see are from the 1940’s don’t elicit a reaction.
What prompted this post was that last week, just after starting my shift, I saw something odd in the nickels. At first I thought it was a foreign coin which I collect as long as they’re from someplace exotic, meaning not Canada. The reason I thought it was foreign was because it had a big “V” on the back of it. But when I picked it up, I could read “United States of America.” Turning it over I saw that it was a 1912 Liberty Head Nickel. A 106 year old coin? That’s mine. (Don’t worry, I didn’t steal it. I traded it for a 1997 nickel.)
This got me wondering. When I was in my teens and earlier twenties, was I excited by a fifty year old coin because it was “super” old? Like, does a coin have to be more than twice your current age to be worth collecting? Because if I found a 1934 coin – making it 84 years old, or twice my current age – it would be cool, but I don’t know if I’d go gaga over it. But a coin from the 1920’s or earlier, yeah. I never thought about it before, but I wonder if anyone else has come up with a similar rule of thumb.
I have two side notes from this. The first is that I also once found a 1934 $10 “Silver Certificate.” I had one of the managers set it aside – I only had like $5 in my wallet that day – and I exchanged a modern $10 bill for it the next day. I wanted it just for the “Silver Certificate” not because it just so happens to be twice my current age. (Actually, I think I found it last year, so it would have been more than twice my previous age.)
Anyway, the one thing I’m wondering is, “Who is spending these old coins?” I mean, my Liberty Head Nickel might be worth a couple of bucks if I cared enough to try to sell it, but I’d never spend it as … a nickel. I almost wonder if it’s someone who hated their dad – perhaps he spent more time with his coin collection than at their ballgames – and so after he died they’re spending them just as a giant middle finger to him. Fortunately, I don’t have any kids. My nieces and nephews will get to fight over – or spend – my meager collection.