Coin collecting began for me in 1960 when I started looking at my pocket change and found, to my surprise, that one of the coins – a cent with a gentle Indian portrait – was different from the run-of-the-mill coins bearing Abraham Lincoln’s portrait.
One day, I found a 1906 Indian Head cent, well-worn, probably in good to very good condition (with two, not three letters of “Liberty” remaining in the headdress). I asked my mother about it, and her response – God bless her– was that we should go to the Rockville Centre, N.Y., Public Library and find out.
In 1960, I was in the 4th grade, which made me 9 or 10 years old. Before turning in the find, it was important to me to know what it was and what to do with it. The public library at that time had a children’s section and a separate room for younger readers, who were precluded from going into the main reading room.
Coin books were more an adult hobby (even then), and as a result, there were none in the children’s section; and perhaps a three-foot bookshelf worth of adult coin books. My choice was the Red Book, and aside from a few details, the important thing was that the coin was worth 25 cents (which turns out to be the amount of the weekly allowance I received from my folks that year).
And so I discovered that with some diligence, I could acquire a coin worth 15 to 35 cents for just its face value. A single cent quickly multiplied to several times face value. What’s more, I found there was a ready market for it. This wasn’t rocket science then; what was new was watching what other collectors did with what they were finding in change. I was not alone. Millions were doing what I was.
Through the years, I have always tracked my pocket change and this year is no exception. Earlier in 2012, I found a war nickel in pocket change – worth the weight multiplied by the price of silver, or 0.05626 troy ounces times $26.67 (worth around $1.50 at current prices) – but that’s about all that came my way.
Well, many of you know that besides writing and practicing law, I am also a county legislator in Bergen County, N.J., where I have the title of “freeholder,” dating back to Colonial times. Working for me this year as my chief of staff and freeholder aide is Jared Lutz, an affable 26-year-old man from Hackensack who, besides being bright (he speaks Mandarin Chinese and Japanese) turns out to be a coin collector.
A number of people who are coin collectors and become acquainted with me are initially uncertain as to whether I am the same person who is also active in the numismatic hobby; after all, I’ve been writing this column since 1965, meaning that it has appeared in all or part of six different decades.
Jared’s collecting was off the beaten trail and he was not part of the organized community; hence, he read books, used the Internet to pick up some details and mostly had fun acquiring coins out of pocket change.
Sadly, chiefs of staff for freeholders are not paid enough to live the life of Riley or luxury – so Jared decided to start acquiring coins out of pocket change to augment his official government salary. In the process, he decided to record them and see just how well he could supplement his government paycheck.
He’s kept a record of what he found – nearly a complete set of statehood quarters (Philadelphia and Denver Mints), a set of silver Roosevelt Dimes (1946-1964) which is 80 percent complete (10 missing) ; a set of Jefferson nickels (1938-1975) missing five coins (I told him what he would be missing before he told me – not hard to predict: the 1938-D and S, 1939-D and S, and 1950-D).
We talk coins whenever I am in the freeholder office, and sometimes by telephone, so when I suggested to Jared that he keep track of what he found, he readily agreed – and since then has regularly shared these results with me. Most of the results come from going to local banks and buying rolled coins from them just as many of us used to do.
In my case, it reminds me of what I was doing in 1960. On Saturdays, I’d take the bus from home to the center of town and then go to a local bank, fork over $2 and ask for four rolls of “pennies.” I would then go off to the side, lean back and go through the rolls of cents looking for dates and mintmarks.
As each coin was found, I ticked it off my list (and put them in my 39-cent Whitman album). Usually, I’d find a coin or two that way each weekend – so if I brought 10 single cents with me, it wasn’t hard to re-wrap the rolls and get back on line, only to ask the tellers again.
Amazingly, back in the present, Jared also found nine clad proof dimes in his pocket change search. Nickels were more amazing: proofs were found from the San Francisco Mint for 1976, 1977, 1984, 1998; half dollars were available in the Bicentennial issue and others see below:
• Cents, Wheat-back: 521
Indian Head: 3
• Nickels, war: 99
Liberty Head: 1899.
Proofs: 1976-S 1977-S 1984-S 1992-S 1994-S 1999-S 2003-S 2004-S
• Dimes: silver Roosevelt: 228
Seated Liberty: 1875
Canadian 80 percent silver: 2.
Clad proofs 1987-S 1997-S 2003-S
• Quarters, 90 percent silver Washington quarters: 30
• Halves, 90 percent Kennedy: 8
40 percent Kennedy: 73
Walking Liberty: 2.
Clad proofs 1983-S 1986-S 1999-S 2002-S.
Jared searched through $70,637 in change over the first 26 weeks of 2012, utilizing local banks, and from that he recovered a total silver equal to 44.1127 troy ounces worth about $1,232. (Typically, he got $300 worth of change at a time from the bank and had fun doing the work himself).
Not bad. It could also happen to you. Has it?