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Coin Clinic: Coins wear in owners’ pockets

By Richard Giedroyc

One recent question asked in your column is how long it takes for coins to wear. In 1982, when the new George Washington commemorative half dollar came out in silver I decided to carry one of these in my pocket for 10 years because I had not carried silver coins in my pocket in decades and I wanted to see how it wore.

Two different Washington half dollars were each carried as a pocket piece for 10 years. The results are above. NN01, left, was the first 10 years and NN02 was the second decade.

Two different Washington half dollars were each carried as a pocket piece for 10 years. The results are above. NN01, left, was the first 10 years and NN02 was the second decade.

I carried example NN01 from 1982 to 1992 (1982-D) and example NN02 from 1992 to 2002.  I would say that these coins wore to very f-ine in 10 years, being carried along with all of the other change that I had in my pockets.

I would guess that I am not the first person to carry commemorative coins in my pockets as souvenirs or something different to show to people.

NN03, left, and NN04 right are classic commemorative half dollars. The Columbian half and the Monroe Doctrine half could have circulated or kept as pocket pieces in their turn.

NN03, left, and NN04 right are classic commemorative half dollars. The Columbian half and the Monroe Doctrine half could have circulated or kept as pocket pieces in their turn.

NN05, left, and NN06 are Stone Mountain and Cleveland commemorative half dollars, respectively.

NN05, left, and NN06 are Stone Mountain and Cleveland commemorative half dollars, respectively.

NN07, the Booker T. Washington half dollaris another classic commemorative that spent its life as a pocket piece. NN08 was purchased after it had been worn to less than good condition more than 30 years after issue.

NN07, the Booker T. Washington half dollaris another classic commemorative that spent its life as a pocket piece. NN08 was purchased after it had been worn to less than good condition more than 30 years after issue.

NN09, a Trade dollar, and NN10 a Peace dollar also seem to have spent their lives in someone’s pocket.

NN09, a Trade dollar, and NN10 a Peace dollar also seem to have spent their lives in someone’s pocket.

Images NN03 through NN07 show five different commemorative coins dating from 1923 to 1946.  I know that some of the commemorative coins were placed into circulation, but I do not believe that coins like these circulated for a long time before anyone pulled them out of circulation. I consider them to be pocket pieces.

NN11 is a Lafayette dollar worn to very good.

NN11 is a Lafayette dollar worn to very good.

I was really surprised to see a 1900 Lafayette dollar in very good in a dealer’s case at a show (NN11). I do not think that this coin would have worn down just from circulation without anyone pulling it from circulation. I consider it to be another pocket piece, carried for quite a few years.

The same is true for the 1876 Trade dollar, image NN09. Since this coin soon became a devalued coin by the U.S. government, I figure that this too was a pocket piece that someone carried for a number of years. One of the first very well worn coins that I bought from a dealer is the 1935 Peace dollar, image NN10. Although it is difficult to see, it is a beautiful brown color on both sides in addition to being nicely worn.

I heard from one dealer that people back in those days carried a silver dollar in their pockets for good luck, perhaps because they would never be completely broke. Both of these dollars are Fair-2 grades, indicating that they must have been carried a long time.
I bought the 1971-D Eisenhower dollar sometime in the early 2000s. That would have given it 30 years to have become worn to this less than good condition.  I’ve never seen another Ike dollar worn down as much as this one is. Back in 1971, when the Ike dollars first came out, I took the silver 1971-S out of its package with the intent of carrying it for a long time, again, as a silver coin that I had not had in my possession since they left regular circulation in the late 1960s.  Unfortunately, I lost that dollar coin.

I think that there is something neat about owning coins such as these that have been in someone’s pocket for a long time.

Back in the late 1990s, after a coin show, I told my brother that I had seen a good 1857 half cent. He told me that I should have bought it because I might never see another one like it.

His prediction has come true. For over a decade, I asked dealers that have half cents and large cents if they have any 1857s that are in good condition. They told me that they did not exist. The best that I could do is to find an 1857 half cent that graded very good and an 1857 large cent that grades Fine-12. The latter coin I bought as a VG and was disappointed when it came back [from a third-party certification service graded] Fine-12.  That’s the kind of irony that we who enjoy these coins have to deal with.

Thanks go to George Schaetzle for this photographic tour of very worn coins. Studies have been conducted on die wear. Studies of dies for modern coins are important for manufacturing purposes. It is necessary to know how many coins a die can be expected to produce before the die wears beyond its ability to produce acceptable coins.

Die linkage and die wear studies on ancient, medieval, and some earlier modern coins or on their surviving dies helps us learn about the technology of the time and allows reasonable estimates of how many coins were minted.

I am unaware of any studies that have been conducted on the wear modern coins rather than the dies from which they originate experience once the coins have entered circulation.

(The exception would be design problems that resulted in unwanted early wear such as that experienced on the 1916 to 1924 Standing Liberty quarters.)

Such a study would be challenging. Consideration would need to be given to how often the coins have been handled; how often the same coins are in some form of storage that does not include handling, contact with other coins, or motion; and the environment to which the coins are consistently subjected.

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I want to sell my Lincoln-wheat Ear cents, but the local coin dealers only want to give me a value based on quantity rather than looking at the dates. Won’t they take advantage by looking for better date coins after they’ve purchased them?

I doubt it. The labor involved searching Lincoln cents would make it unprofitable. If someone approaches a dealer with better date cents that have already been separated from the bulk in a group, the labor is already done and the coins are purchased accordingly. Dealers are willing to reward you for your labors if you find a better date, but committing employee time to search cents is another thing.

E-mail inquiries only. Do not send letters in the mail. Send to Giedroyc@Bright.net. Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions.

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