What Did I Collect as a Teenager? Part Twelve

In the earlier parts of this subject, I dealt with what I as a teenager during the 1930s and 1940s could collect. I talked about the Depression years, and how we learned to collect things that cost very little or no money. Even with coins, many collectors contented themselves with collecting what they could find in circulation.

When I look back over the past few decades, the years from 1985-2015, collecting has changed immensely, As kids we had albums or boards to keep our coins in, and filling the spaces gave us wonderful satisfaction. Adding coins one at a time to fulfill our goal of completing a collection was a great pastime. We found coins in change, in dresser drawers, in cookie jars, in the street.

However, today collecting a full set of a denomination or series almost necessitates going to a dealer to purchase coins. And, many coins are in holders, so “filling a hole in your collection” does not quite have the same feel. Even products acquired directly from the Mint require paying a premium above face value. Mint products also come in fancy boxes with special packaging. Taking them out and putting them in an album or holder reduces their value. Plus, there are many different collectible coins being produced at the Mint and in many different finishes and packages. While this means there are a lot of options for collectors of modern Mint pieces, it also means that staying current and having a complete set can be well beyond the means of many collectors.

Even finding some modern regular issue coins in commerce is difficult. In July of 2014 I wanted to give a half dollar of that date as a souvenir to each person attending a special birthday party. I need about 35. I went to banks near where I lived. No luck. I went to banks in New York City. No luck. I even tried some of the dealers I knew. Still no luck. The only place I could get them was the Mint Store in Washington, DC. And I could only purchase them by the roll, at what I felt was a significant premium. Each $10 roll of half dollars cost $17.50. I wish the profits were that good at our coin store!

I found out that banks did not keep all years of certain coins “in stock.” Especially for denominations like the modern half dollar and dollar coins, they only received shipments when they needed more and those shipments could be coins of any year that the Federal Reserve Banks had on hand. It was not always this way. As coin dealers in years back, we always wanted current date coins on hand as an accommodation for clients who needed them. So we could go to the bank, get several bags of each denomination, and exchange bag for bag with fellow dealers in Denver or San Francisco to get the mintmarked coins. In this way we all had “stock” to accommodate our clients. I believe it would be virtually impossible to do the same today. Collecting modern coins often necessitates purchasing them directly from the Mint Store at a premium.

So, collecting is very different today than it was when I was a kid. But, luckily kids still collect all kinds of things — even coins, whether it is State quarters, America the Beautiful quarters, “pennies” with wheat backs, international coins their relatives bring back from overseas, or whatever strikes an interest. Not all of these kids will grow up to become serious numismatists, any more than my friends did over a half century ago. But, as collectors and professional numismatists, we should do all we can to encourage youngsters to expand their knowledge and discover all that is so wonderful about the hobby.


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