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More than one way to value a set

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Yesterday I had a conversation with fellow staff member Tom Michael, who works on the Standard Catalogs.

We were talking about all of the circulation finds collectors who had an old Whitman cent album for coins from 1941 to date.

Hundreds of thousands of us, perhaps millions of us, filled those albums hole by hole and have retained them ever since.

They have no value beyond face value. What good are they?

This conversation was launched because at lunch I had received a 1960-D small date cent in change. It had been badly cleaned and had a hideously light color. That’s what got my attention when I received it.

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I will never know who cleaned the coin or why. I expect it was someone who was filling the Lincoln album hole by hole as I once did. I think this because all week I have been receiving some old 95 percent copper cents in my change. I had even shown Tom a 1979 that was uncirculated a few days earlier.

If my theory is true and these various coins come from an album that somehow got taken to the bank, then that is a sad thing. But what else can be done?

As I reflect on the value of the set, it was how we as budding collectors put them together that gives them their value, not the coins themselves.

That value is the knowledge that was acquired to complete the set. With attention spans being what they are, anybody who takes the time to fill an album clearly has more than a passing interest in coins.

Those individuals learn about relative scarcities and what’s common. I cannot tell you how many 1963-D and 1964-D cents I had to look at as I sorted through bags and rolls of the coins.

That hands-on experience was priceless. I remember how the coins smelled. I remember how my dirty hands felt after I had gone through hundreds or thousands of pieces.

I learned about grading. I learned about damage. I learned to tell the difference between the two. I learned about mint errors. The late 1950s dates were particularly rich in minor errors. The steel 1943 cents are kind of ugly. I learned that some collectors liked to buy reprocessed versions because that made them nice and shiny instead of the dull blotchy kind of gray. That taught the lesson of what a coin that has been tampered with is actually worth.

The best part is I was having fun. What I learned has benefited me ever since. I didn’t have to attend an American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar to obtain it.

So my full set of cents, like millions of others, was made valuable because of what it taught me rather than what the coins themselves are worth.

Sure, the economic motive was ever present. I was filling out the 1909-1940 album, too.

I expect one day that my heirs will probably get little or nothing for my 1941 to date cents, but that is OK because I have gotten a lifetime of value from them.

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