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Coin Collecting: So You've Got Some Old Coins
( Published 1963 )
So you've got some old coins! Well now, that's just fine. So what are you going to do with those old coins? What can you do with them? There are four courses of action open to you.
You can ---
Let's examine each possibility.
1. No matter how old, if they are United States coins, you can spend them. Of course, the blonde beauty in the box office may take a dim view of that 1825 half dollarshe may even decline to accept it. But it's worth every one of the 50 cents called for. The merchant collecting sales tax may object somewhat when you put down a half-cent copper of 1809 to pay out the exact tax percentage. And he may not like it too much when you offer a 3-cent silver piece (1851) and a 2-cent copper (1864) in payment for that pack of gum. But every one of those old coins is as full legal tender as the day it was issued by the U. S. Mint.
2. If you decide to save them, you may gain considerably in the long run. After you study them, understand their place in United States history, learn what makes them valuable, you may decide to use them as a basis for a coin collection of your own. Such a course of action, if it suits your temperament and pocketbook, may appear costly at first because, after all, you can't get old and valuable coins at face value today. But if you do become a serious collector of fine old coins, it probably will pay off handsomely, not only in personal pleasure, but in future dollars and cents.3. If you decide to give them away, present them to some youngster who'll enjoy them thoroughly-at least for a time. It is indeed remarkable how those little discs of metal called money can fascinate a boy or girl. The coins may be from foreign countries and of no particular value to a United States coin collector. This almost never detracts from their attractiveness to the young accumulator. That they represent value to someone somewhere in the world is quite enough-for the present, at least. 4. The fourth and final course o f action is to sell them. If you're like most Americans, you're not the least bit interested in the appearance of the coins (except that they "look old"); you couldn't care less about why they were issued or who designed them. You want the answer to just one brusque question: "How much are they worth?"
That's not an easy question to answer. It's something like: "I've got an old automobile-what's it worth?" Now, you may have a genuine antique auto almost as bright as the day it came from the maker. Or you may have a brokendown car that's only a cough and a gasp from the scrap pile. How much is each "old automobile" worth?
So it goes with coins. One may be ready for the junk heap, another a classic that deserves an honored place among the best. To the average person, unschooled in the world of numismatics (the science of coins and medals), they have one thing in common-they're "old." But age alone doesn't bring value to a coin, any more than it makes an old auto desirable.
There's another question that keeps cropping up: "How old must a coin be to be valuable?"
While not quite the same as the classic riddle, "How old is Ann?" it's even more difficult to answer. An ancient Roman coin in mediocre condition may be worth only a dollar or so, even though it is more than 2,000 years old. At the other extreme, a certain American cent, not yet 50 years old, will bring several hundred dollars if it's in Uncirculated condition-as new as the day it came from the mint. The factors involved aren't too difficult to understand. There are three, and they are:1. In the United States there are thousands of collectors, young and old, who are trying to put together sets of Lincoln cents. They create a continuing demand for certain coins to complete the series. In contrast, there are far fewer American collectors of ancient Roman coins. The demand for a "key" Lincoln cent (the one needed to complete the set) raises the going price far above its face value. Similarly, the lack of demand for mediocre ancient coins makes them almost unsalable. Thus, demand is probably the most important factor in determining how much a coin is worth.
2. Almost everyone prefers a brand new article to one that's nearly worn out-whether it's a motor car, a fur coat or a kitchen stove. The mint-new Lincoln cent struck at Denver in 1914 is most desirable to the collector of small cents. The worn bronze coin of a Roman emperor is not aesthetically pleasing nor is it particularly desirable to the person who collects the coins of such emperors. And, since there are available today those same coins in a beautiful state of preservation (at more money, of course), why settle for less? Thus, the condition of a coin could be said to be the second most important consideration in valuing a coin.
3. How many of a certain type of coin were struck in a stated year? This question may have a definite bearing on the value of that coin. And a second question may have to be given an answer, even if it's only approximate: How many have survived and are available today? For example, the then-new U. S. Mint reported that it struck only 7,776 silver dollars in the year 1797. How many are in existence today? No one can be absolutely certain, but it has been estimated that about 4 per cent may have survived in all conditions. If this estimate is accurate there may be some 311 of the 1797-dated United States silver dollars available to the collector of early silver dollars.
It is small wonder then that a 1797 United States dollar today has a market value ranging from under $100 for a specimen in "Good" condition to over $1,000 for one in "Uncirculated."
At the other end of the comparison, in the years 1944 and 1945, the U. S. Mint at Philadelphia struck over a billion Lincoln cents each year! In a hundred years or so, those cents, if still bright and uncirculated, may be worth considerably more than face value. But they are not worth much today-nor will they be tomorrow.
The three elements which today are the principal factors in determining a coin's value may be stated thus:
1. Demand. 2. Condition. 3. Number available.