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Never got one of these in change

 (Image courtesy

(Image courtesy

I received an interesting quarter in my lunch change this week. It had been a long day. It was evening when I got home before I even looked at it.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I did look. No, it was not a silver coin. That would be unusual. But this is a coin that I have never before received in change.

In my hand was a 1966 quarter from a Special Mint Set. Because the Mint suspended production of both proof sets and uncirculated coin sets in 1965, 1966 and 1967, it took pity on collectors and created a hybrid set.

The Special Mint Set was supposed to contain coins that were better than uncirculated coins but not as good as proofs.Proofs had to be struck twice with polished dies under higher pressure.

The quarter I had in my hand certainly met that hybrid definition. It was definitely better than an uncirculated coin. Before I saw the date I had thought I had a proof coin in my hand.

Its polished surfaces were still lustrous. It also seemed to have just come out of the package, which it very well might have. Local coin dealer Kurt Krueger might have been at the restaurant ahead of me that day, or he could have taken a batch of coins to the bank.

However it got into my hands, this quarter began life as a collector coin.

That made me curious. Why would this coin be out of its original hard plastic holder?

I looked more closely. There was some ugly black spotting along the rim. It is not overwhelming, but it is there.

I checked the high points around Washington’s ear. There were tiny scratches there. Certainly no collector would want a coin with these.

This quarter must have been floating around in change for a time. The scratches were not something done at the Mint. This also surprised me because a quarter as bright and shiny as it is should have grabbed the attention of others who might have gotten it before I did. I am glad it didn’t. It gave me the chance to practice a little of what I preach. I have long advocated that collectors buy some cheap proof sets and mint sets and take the coins out of the packaging for close examination and study. They should hold them.

This 1966 quarter had needle sharp reeds along the edge. I really could feel them when I held the coin. This is not a sensation you get as strongly with just an ordinary uncirculated coin, or from a coin housed in plastic.

In our age of plastic slabs and other holders, collectors as a group are suffering from a lack of familiarity with their coins. They should know how they heft, how they feel – even how they smell.

Playing with coins in this way does them no good. That is why you buy the cheap sets. But handling them is an education worth the cost of the sets.

In this case, I got a dose of education without having to take a set apart myself. Perhaps the other denominations are still around town, or have gone elsewhere in circulation. I hope they are found by someone who will appreciate them.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you'll want to check out Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins.

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.