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Markets don

In 1968 when nickels became the last serious circulation finds option for me, I found a 1939-D in a roll that I had obtained from the local bank.

In 1968 when nickels became the last serious circulation finds option for me, I found a 1939-D in a roll that I had obtained from the local bank.


It was probably an AU, but the nearest thing in the price guide was the XF column. There it was priced at $7.95. It was my best Jefferson nickel find. The 1950-D always eluded me. Nevertheless, I was pleased with my results and the 1939-D.

It became one of those coins that I always regularly checked on. Why? I don’t know. I imagine you might have a short list of favorites that you like to keep in touch with, too. This was just one of mine.
After a time, the price rose to $8. Maybe it will hit $10, I told myself.

Well, what hit 10 was basically the number of years I watched the price without any further change to it. When I walked through the front door of Krause Publications as an employee in 1978, I met Bob Wilhite, the price guide editor.

Now prices are the mother’s milk of numismatics. We’d all be lost without them. Wilhite had the keys to that kingdom and I was determined to learn all about the market as he saw it.

One day I worked up the courage to ask about the 1939-D nickel in XF. Why had it not changed in price for 10 years, I asked in all seriousness?

“Well just a minute,” Bob replied, as he often did when he was thinking. He pulled his pile of green computer printouts closer to himself, shuffled through the pages that were attached to each other with perforated edges, found the Jefferson nickel section and pointed to the XF 1939-D Jefferson nickel listing. Then he pulled out a pen, crossed off the 8.00 and wrote in 7.95.

“There, it’s changed,” he said.

That wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but he had made his point. He didn’t invent the prices; the market set them. Jeffersons had been essentially a backwater for all of the years I had followed them. Had I asked him about the 1950-D that I had bought in BU in 1969 for $12.50, I probably would have been more disappointed.

This is what I thought about when I received a letter from a retired person who said he was trying to sell two silver dollars that he had purchased almost 30 years ago. He was upset that they had not gone up in value. They had not gone down, either. He wondered why. Grading didn’t seem to be an issue.

I am sure he doesn’t want to be told it is just how the market performed, but that pretty well sums it up. Three decades ago was the peak of the market. Silver dollars had another peak in 1989 and then fell hard. Many prices are lower now than they were 20 years ago.

That’s simply what happened. I gather from the personal information in the letter that these two coins were not part of a larger collection. That is too bad because he seems to have bought them, I presume, as an investment and missed the full hobby experience. Being a longtime hobbyist doesn’t necessarily lead to financial success, but it is much more satisfying than taking what turned out to be two shots in the dark for the letter writer.


2010 U.S. Coin Digest - Nickels
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2010 U.S. Coin Digest, The Complete Guide to Current Market Values, 8th ed.

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Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 1928 to Date

Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition