What is the Ideal Birthday or Holiday Gift?

Greetings From America
A relatively new gift idea from the U.S. Mint is the 50-State Quarters Greetings from America Portfolio, which combines the year's five quarter designs with their corresponding postage stamps for $29.99. (Photo: U.S. Mint)

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, December 17, 2005

oys hold a very limited interest. Clothing has a small finite life span. Electronics become obsolete too fast. So what is the ideal birthday or holiday gift for a youngster? For generations the answer has been — coins.
    As a youngster during the Great Depression, my favorite birthday gifts were gold coins — usually $2.50 gold pieces (called "quarter eagles"). Back then, they were worth about $3 or $4.
    Since the 1950s, a favorite birthday or holiday gift has been the proof set. The U.S. Mint today makes several varieties, including silver sets and American Legacy Collection sets in custom, plush cases.
    Current proof sets run from $23 for base metal to $38 for silver; at the high end, the American Legacy sets, which include the annual commemorative pieces, sell for $135. These gifts have a long shelf life and in many cases appreciate in value over time.
    Special "birthday" holders come in three-piece plastic format with an oval for a photo and proof coins of the birth year of the recipient. These are very popular as bar-and bat-mitzvah gifts, since they are personalized and can be displayed in a cabinet rather than stashed away in a safe deposit box. Any coin dealer usually has an inventory of various years of these sets on hand, and can easily obtain sets for years not in inventory.
    Another popular gift item has been a shiny silver dollar, preferably from the 1878-1921 era (called "Morgan dollars"). There are many custom holders available to house these coins, and they make ideal birthday gifts. Again, most coin dealers have such coins on hand, usually in the $25 to $30 range (of course, much more for certain dates).
    Each year since 1999, the Mint has been issuing five of the 50-state quarters in special mint holders. Unlike the coins you can get at the bank, these coins come with an "S" mint mark, indicating they were made in San Francisco. For most years, these sets sell in the $15 to $25 range.
    The quarter series is more than halfway complete. For each year of the series, one can assemble a rather impressive collection — 50 coins in 10 holders, and possibly 55 coins, if the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories are added. They make a special gift for a college graduate, a 21st birthday, or even a wedding present for the couple who has "everything."
    Finally, the ultimate gift, for those who can afford it, is a large, gold coin such as the Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece, dated 1907 to 1932 (the 1907s and the few in the 1930s are definitely not affordable). This large, handsome piece is sometimes seen in necklace pendants — often special gifts given decades ago. Today such coins run about $600 in average condition.
    Other large gold coins can serve the same function: modern U.S. gold eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs, Austrian 4 Ducats, and a variety of other large foreign gold pieces. Prices vary with the bullion market.
    Unlike more common gifts found online or at the mall, these gifts have long-lasting beauty, value, and in most cases appreciation. Plus, they are gender-neutral, universally admired, and often very attractive.
    Happy shopping.

    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.