Dr. Sol Taylor

Collecting Jefferson Nickels

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, August 1, 2009

n the early years of the 21st Century, it is possible to look not that far back at our coinage — especially to those series that are disappearing or have already disappeared.

    Wheatback cents were found in smaller numbers each decade past the 1960s and now are virtually extinct. To find one in 1,000 is above average. The ones that do find their way into a cash register come from a coin album, a piggy bank or a jar of pennies.

    Lesser known "S" mint cents — the last ones made for general circulation from 1968-1974, have disappeared. Even a decade ago, one could find each date in a few rolls of cents. Today the number in such rolls is zero, or a very tiny number.

    The toughest of the group has always been the 1974-S, which was widely hoarded in mint rolls and bags in 1974 and sold for a premium. Used copies hardly ever showed up in circulation.

    Readers of Coin World complained that they couldn't find any in change or get any from their bank. Since I had found quite a few from culling through bags of cents from local vending machine operators, I offered free 1974-S cents to anyone who would send me a self-addressed stamped envelope. Quite a few did. I hope they became collectors.

    Although the U.S. Mint still produces Kenendy half dollars, essentially most issues since 1999 were relegated to mint and proof sets with no "P" mint coins issued for general circulation. In fact, checking with banks from Los Angeles to Washington and Houston (the three areas where my children live), I managed to extract fewer than a few dozen in the past three years. And in that group, fewer yet were the premium valued 1965-1969 40-percent silver varieties.

    Silver half dollars, as well as silver dimes and quarters, vanished several years ago. Up to the early 1980s it was my experience that almost every roll of dimes, quarters and half dollars would turn up at least one silver (pre-1965) coin.

    While they were recent issues, the Thomas Jefferson/Lewis and Clark four-coin series seems to have slipped into obscurity. Most of the 2004 and 2005 issues caught the attention of collectors, hoarders, dealers and speculators, and few of the tens of millions released for circulation actually show up in the marketplace. However, many coin dealers offer them in brilliant uncirculated sets, rolls, and specially formatted historic sets.

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    As recently as the 1980s, Eisenhower dollars would show up in the bank, the marketplace, and in general commerce. Today, rarely does one show up anywhere.

    These are not numismatic worthy coins (except the blue-pack and brown-pack issues). Whenever I spent one, the cashier would look it over to see what it was; some were too young to know them. At one store last year I spent two of them, and the woman behind me in line asked if she could buy them from the cashier. She did.

    The Susan B. Anthony dollar coins see only limited use in some public transit systems such as San Francisco and in exports; many go to Ecuador, where the locals prefer $1 coins to their own paper money.

    Some of our overseas military bases use them, since they get paid with them (in addition to regular paper currency). Again, they have no numismatic value and probably very little future potential — even though they hardly show up in most local markets.

    The same is true of the Sacagawea dollars. The newer golden presidential dollars also are a no-show as far as the local marketplace goes. The Mint makes them for collectors, although not expressly with that purpose. How many readers have found any in their change at the market?

    The fact that two significant varieties (errors) showed up on some early issues — plain edge versus lettered edge and double edge lettering — spurred many to buy up whatever their local banks could get from their Federal Reserve branch.

    The casinos in Las Vegas gave up on dollar coins many years ago and either rely on credit card use or casino tokens instead of U.S.-made dollar coins.

    The Lincoln bicentennial cents came out in 2009, but letters to Coin World indicated that the coins are not being dispersed evenly throughout the country. Dealers have rolls and even bags for sale. Many have made their way into super high grade (MS-70 RED and PR-70 DCAM) holders for resale at hundreds of dollars each.

    Lincoln Cent expert Chuck Daughtrey of Missouri commented in a July 2009 editorial that the rush to make these new coins numismatically valuable is bound to backfire as the Mint is producing them by the tens of millions. In July, I have only found four in circulation.

    Regarding the 50-state quarters, even the first issue, Delaware, can be found in circulation by going through a few rolls of quarters. There are no scarce issues in the 50-coin series, and almost all can be bought for 75 cents or less from many dealers.

    Some ads offer each of the 50 coins in ten-roll lots. Since they were the only quarters issued in the 1990s (and early 2000s), they are not disappearing as quickly as if they were competing with traditional, earlier-issued quarters. The only challenge is for collectors to find both the P and D version of each of the 50 states — and for people on either the East or West coast, that is a challenge. 

    I usually can pick up quite a few different P-mint quarters when I go to Philadelphia or Washington. The D-mint coins can be found right here in Los Angeles.

    Although this is 2009 and not 1959, searching through change, rolls, or even mint-sealed bags is still a fun challenge for the collector.