Answers to Your Coin Questions

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, September 10, 2005

yths persist in numismatics, as elsewhere. Here are some of the questions we have fielded over the years that come up time and again:

Q. Were the initials "JS" on the Roosevelt dime those of Joseph Stalin?
A. The initials of John Sinnock, who designed the new dime in 1946, appear at the base of FDR's neck.

Q. Is that a hammer and sickle under John F. Kennedy's neck?
A. The monogram of Gilroy Roberts, the designer of the JFK half dollar, appear at the base of JFK's neck.

Q. Why is our one-cent coin called a "penny"?
A. Our first one-cent coins minted in the 1790s were about the size and weight of English pennies. The name stuck — even though the large copper cents were discontinued in 1857 and the word "penny" has never appeared on a one-cent coin.

Q. I live in Seattle and we gets lots of Canadian coins in change. Even though they are the same size as ours, vending machines do not accept them. Why?
A. Canadian coins have been worth about 20 percent less than U.S. coins for some time, and to prevent even-dollar exchanges, vending machines are geared not to accept them. Canadian 5-cent, 10-cent and 25-cent coins are magnetic and thus do not work in our vending machines. If there are any one-cent vending machines left, they will usually accept Canadian one-cent coins.

Q. Is it true that in 1909, the initials "VDB" were removed from the new Lincoln Cent because the coin artist, Victor David Brenner, was Jewish.
A. Probably the best documented reason for the removal of the initials in August 1909 was that the chief Mint engraver, Charles Barber, had his initial "B" on the dime, quarter, and half dollar. He objected to a non-Mint employee (outside contract) having his three initials on a U.S. coin. When Barber left office in 1917, the initials were returned (at much smaller size) to the 1918 coins, and they have been there every year since. The "Jewish" story originated in an article in a Lithuanian publication asserting that Brenner (born Barnauskas) was a Jew and thus not considered a Lithuanian. The article did not appear until some years after the issuance of the 1909-VDB cent.

Q. How long does a $1 bill usually last in circulation?
A. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing frequently reports on the life of our paper money. The dollar has a useful life of about 18 months. In humid, warm states such as Florida and Alabama, the life is shorter.

Q. I have a five-gallon jar filled to the neck with pennies. It is too heavy to lift and it is glass, so I think it is even dangerous on a dolly. How do I know how many pennies are in the jar?
A. About $200, plus or minus $1. If the coins are mostly pre-1959, you can get a coin dealer to buy it — and pay more than $200.

Q. What is the relationship to prices in the "Red Book" and what I can expect to get for my coins?
A. "Red Book" prices for many coins — especially common, late-date coins — are very high. No one will pay 10 cents for a new 2005-D cent, yet that is what the Red Book says. For scarce coins (valued over $100), the "Red Book" tends to undervalue the coins. It is a guide to relative values. It is not a guide to base your insurance value or tax donation value. Only a coin dealer can do that. I have been offered collections at "Red Book" prices, based on the highest value listed (usually Mint State-63 or MS-65). When I explain that those values are for uncirculated coins and are higher than retail in many cases, the owners feel as if they are being fleeced. I was offered a "brilliant uncirculated" roll of 1973-D cents recently for $25. When I offered to sell the owner several more 1973-Ds at $2.50 a roll, he got the message.

Q. Is buying proof sets at the mint a good investment?
A. Going back from 1936 to date, the answer is yes. Going back 40 years, the answer is no. There are good years and not-so-good years. Many older proof sets now sell for less than the issue prices decades ago. The 1964 JFK proof sets sold for $2.10 at the Mint, went up to $24 in mid-1964, and fell to $8 for many years thereafter.

    Send questions to SolTaylor2@aol.com. 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.