By the Roll:
Paper or Plastic for Your Coins?
By Dr. Sol Taylor
One of their full-page advertisers for several of the early years was Manchester Coins of Los Angeles. They featured uncirculated rolls of every denomination from the cent to the half-dollar from 1934 to date.
Apparently, as the value of these rolls began to rise rapidly, Manchester and other dealers acquired large hoards of such bank-wrapped rolls (never opened), and checked them out for the choicest of Brilliant Uncirculated coins. These machine-wrapped rolls were made of a heavy Kraft paper, usually in red for cents, blue-gray for nickels, green for dimes, orange for quarters and beige for half-dollars. The coins on the ends of the rolls were visible so one could tell the date of the coins inside. In many cases, the wrapper itself also bore the date and mintmark of the coins.
Shortly thereafter, many manufacturers including Harco and Whitman came out with their versions of plastic coin tubes to hold these coins, as many wrappers were unfolding, stained or otherwise opened. The variations included soft plastic tubes with a cap at each end. Some tubes were hard plastic with a screw top.
Each of the early tubes had design flaws; since they were round, they easily rolled off the table top. The hard plastic tubes tended to shrink over time and made emptying the tube very difficult without drastic measures such as cutting open the tube.
Around 1965, Milt Grossman and several associates came up with a square tube with a snap-on cap made of a fairly rigid but yielding plastic material, which eliminated the design flaws of the earlier tubes. The material was also virtually unbreakable, so when such rolls were dropped, they did not crack or pop open.
Before too long in the 1970s, the majority of the old paper-wrapped tubes were placed in the new square tubes. By the 1980s, the majority of paper-wrapped "original" coin wrapped rolls wound up in square tubes.
The more common dates of the 1950s and 1960s wound up in the melting pots as silver rose to $48 an ounce in late 1979 and early 1980. As certain BU coins began to command a huge premium over "ordinary" uncirculated coins, most of the older rolls were opened and inspected for the quality coins to be sorted out, and the reassembled rolls came to be known as "put-together rolls."
In the 1960s, the Coin Dealer Newsletter was created to keep dealers updated on the prices of rolls of coins and specific better date coins. It is also known as the Grey Sheet.
With the access of the teletype system starting in the 1960s, dealers were able to communicate broadly (like today's Internet chat rooms) with other dealers for wants and haves. Rolls were traded like so much bullion rather than actual coins. The Grey Sheet prices often reflected the value for "original" rolls, while "put-together rolls" often were sold for a discount.
Other types of coin tubes were invented such as octagonal tubes and screw-top tubes, but the square tube had captured the market share.
Recently issued coins (since the 1990s) still come in paper tubes, and at any coin show some dealers will offer such rolls for sale.
Today when old collections and hoards are evaluated, many of the older, early-type tubes are seen with BU coins often with dark rims, spotting and uneven toning depending on the their tenure in the paper tubes before being transferred to the plastic tubes.
Some of the earlier Whitman tubes need to be broken open, as they tend to shrink and imprison the coins. Many of the paper-wrapped tubes of coins I have examined that were put away 50 or more years ago tend to have very dark "end" coins, darkened rims and many spots.
The worst case I ever had to deal with was in the Maurice Gould estate in 1976, when I saw a bank-wrapped roll of uncirculated 1877 Indian head cents. Upon carefully unwrapping the paper, the coins came out almost as single entity stuck together with a green, crusty material (copper sulfate, probably) and most with spotting and discoloration but obviously all BU coins when wrapped many years earlier. They had been in a bank vault in Boston a rather high-humidity city for up to 75 or 80 years.
I spent many hours working on each coin to remove as much crud as possible and treated each one with pure mineral oil in order to salvage as much value as possible from this potentially very rich find. I managed to sell each coin for about 33 percent of its BU value at the time.
The plastic coin tube is making a comeback as the new 50-states quarters are being sold primarily by the roll, as are the four Jefferson nickel commemoratives and surely the new dollar presidential coins. Paper machine wrapping is becoming obsolete, as more machines now wrap coins in a thin, Mylar-like tube sealed at both ends.
Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.
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