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Early finds of ’06 coins indicate good year

This time of year is always fun and interesting because of the release of coins to circulation with new dates. Readers are reporting receipt of 2006-dated cents and dimes already and I look forward to hearing about nickel and quarter denominations.

Have you been searching your change? I always do. It is not only a habit, but a pleasure. A colleague here in the office, Fred Borgmann, our new issues editor for world coins, received a 1944-S war nickel in change from a machine in our breakroom the day before this was written. This is not a new issue, but it adds incentive to keep looking at your change if you need one.

I have not received a 2006-dated coin in my change yet here in Iola, Wis., but I expect I will soon, judging by reader responses.

We are now in the eighth year of the state quarter program. Can you believe it? It seems like it just started. The nickel has a new design this year and the Mint has gotten a good response with its offer of Return to Monticello pieces to collectors. It is clear from the sales numbers that the new nickel design is popular among collectors. How long will it take to make its way to Iola and other out-of-the-way places across America when it is released? I don?t know. What I do know is that I talked to my father a couple of days ago. He is not a collector. He brought up a coin topic to me, which is unusual for him. What was it? He had received one of last year?s Buffalo nickels in change. The funny thing is he hadn?t even noticed the buffalo. What caught his eye was the offset portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

What does this prove? I think it proves two things. One is that it has taken a long time for the new nickel designs to make their way into everyday use. The other is that noncollectors somewhere are taking notice of things even if it is more slowly than active collectors. Both of these factors influence how the hobby grows.

One of the aspects of new dates on coins that I try to evaluate is whether the coins are appearing early or late. Since reports from readers date back to the first few days of the new year, it would seem that new coins are entering circulation rapidly in 2006. This is usually an indication of good economic times. (It can also be an indication of good Mint inventory control.) In bad times, coins tend to enter circulation more slowly and inventory can build up and take a while to work off. A booming economy generates more economic transactions and more coins are demanded in commercial channels.

Last year this indicator did not work very well. Reader reports seemed to indicate a bit of a slow release pattern. Economic statistics say 2005 was a pretty good year, with the Gross Domestic Product rising 3.5 percent. The Mint?s coin output rose.

We have gone from just over 12 billion coins produced in 2003 to just over 13 billion in 2004 to just over 15 billion in 2005. The improvement coincides with a general uptrend in the economic data. However, we are a long way from the 28 billion coins produced in 2000, which was the concluding year of incredible economic boomtimes.

It is conceivable that coin demand is in a permanent state of decline and we will not soon (or ever) reach the 2000 highpoint. This theory depends on new coin spending and use patterns made possible by greater acceptance of technology in the form of debit and credit cards and Internet bill payments.

There is also the growing use of coin counting machines in various commercial locations.

Since we haven?t gone through a complete economic cycle since the 2000 coin production peak, there is still room for doubt. This leaves room for me to write that coin circulation patterns at this stage in the year indicate stronger economic growth, which seems to run counter to the wisdom of the economic pundits. We will see.

In the meantime, look at your change and report what you find. My e-mail address is david.harper@fwpubs.com. You will satisfy my curiosity and, I am sure, that of other readers.

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