From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue - By: Jay Elder • Washougal, Wash.
I was only 8 years old in 1961 when my grandfather, George Elder, pulled out his old Whitman books and showed me his coin collections. It was love at first sight. I spent hours looking at the coins and dreaming about the year they were minted and where they had been before my grandpa placed them in the empty holes of the folder.
We lived close to my grandparents so were able to visit often, mostly for dinner. There were four kids and that must had been a handful for grandma in her small two-bedroom house in Los Angeles.
Grandpa was employed as a land surveyor in San Diego. He was there for years and was a well-respected man in the industry. Since he was an engineering type, he started his coin collection when his interest in this field development. I remember he said while he was in grade school he started collecting. Although he had sold or traded his earlier coin collections, he started collecting again later in life. I always wished he had his collection from the early 1900s; that would have been the cat’s meow, eh?
Grandpa Elder’s collection was not anything of monetary value, as most of the coins were found from pocket change searches. They were all well circulated, except of course the newer minted coins, but all were circulated as George would not spend “good money” for uncirculated coins. I remember him saying, “Why would you pay more than face value for a coin?” It was quality time my grandpa spent with me talking about the different mints, changes in the designs and of course the excitement of finding a needed coin to fill the holes in the old folders.
I was hooked (line and sinker!) on collecting coins from then on. Grandpa bought me a few Whitman folders, a new cent and a nickel, to get me started. He even found a few common coins and placed them in the folder for me. The next time the family went over for dinner, I was presented with the new folders and instructed to look through father’s change each night after work for the ones I needed.
Mom and dad were not all that happy to turn their coins over to the youngster, so it was a battle for me to find my dearly needed coins. We needed the money to help feed and clothe the four kids and pay the household expenses. Times were tough for us and money was not something that was readily available to a youngster. I was able to get a few coins now and again when dad was not looking or mom would let me hunt through the change jar properly stored above the refrigerator where children could not gain access. I did spend hours trying to figure out how to get up there without getting hurt or breaking anything, with no success.
I later bought a dime and quarter folder and over my teen years was able to get a pretty good collection of circulated coins in all denominations, up to the quarter. Halves and dollars were too far out of my budget to try , although I would dream of some day having such a collection.
Over time I assembled a great little collection and was able to start buying coin rolls from the bank as I got a paper route going and mowing lawns in the neighborhood. It worked out pretty good as I had most of the common coins already, so it would only be on occasion that I would find one that I needed. By then I was also looking for the older coins, mainly cents Indian cents and Buffalo nickels. Although as time went on they were getting harder and harder.
Of course when I started there was ample silver still to be had. But I must say it wasn’t long before the Indian cents, Buffaloes and silver dimes and quarters were hard to come by. Must have been the late 1960s when I noticed the hoarding of the silver. You must remember there was no internet/web, readily available publication or coins shops for me to visit to get information on what the Mint was offering. I never did figure out how to get on the Mint’s mailing list. I must not have tried hard enough.
I am not sure why or how my special interest in the cent was established, but that is the one coin I was after. Later on I was looking for the elusive 1 cent Flying Eagles and Indians and, of course, the famed 1909-S VDB cent. Wouldn’t that have been something to find one in father’s change? Of course when I mentioned it to my parents they said if I found one then it would be sold as we needed the money.
At first I was devastated, how could you sell something like that just to make some money? It was beyond me why my parents would sell such a coin. It was apparent that they were not well informed of the true value of ownership of the 1909-S VDB cent. Of course I was unaware at that time about the 1909-S Indian, let alone the 1988/7 Indian cent. Holy cow!
I coveted my coin collection and was always trading with the others in the neighborhood who had collections (there were only a couple others). I had a nice little collection, nothing of great value, except for the memories of the hunt, the find and the placement in the folder hole of the missing coins. Bringing out the Whitmans before bedtime and going through, looking at the ones I had collected, then pulling them out and inspecting the reverse to see if I had missed something the other 200 times I looked at each coin – these were special times and wonderful memories.
I learned that not all material things are to be considered a monetary value, but that sometimes the act of stopping, looking at what is in front of you, contemplating where it had come from, who had used it, what it was used for and how many times it had been passed along brings some reality to the crazy world we live in.
Like the metaphor of “stop to smell the flowers,” but stop and look at the coins in your change. It takes my mind off my worries, calms me down, refocuses me on the simplicity of life and makes me a happier person. If everyone would collect coins there would be peace in the world. I’m still looking for the 1909-S cents. It keeps me sane.