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Past and present meet in Washington half

When I was a kid, I used to page through price lists and daydream about the coins I would one day buy.

Sometimes I did buy something.

However, most of the time, my desires for coins far exceeded my ability to buy them.

But thinking about future acquisitions is the starting point for formulating a collecting plan.

Now, many years later, I allowed myself some daydreaming this morning.

After I checked the Kitco website to find that the current price of silver is $17.63 a troy ounce, I went to the APMEX website to see what was being offered for sale.

I was not looking for bullion buys.

APMEX does more than sell bullion, but I was looking at coins that were practically priced as bullion even though we collectors don’t think of the pieces as such.

One coin that jumped off the web page at me was the 1982 George Washington silver half dollar.

I remember how important I thought that coin was when it was issued. I remember how excited I was that commemorative coins were once again being made by the United States Mint after a 28-year gap.

Of course, I sent my orders in for both the proof and the uncirculated pieces back then.

I was not alone.

Buyers of the 1982-S proof acquired 4,894,044 of these half dollars.

For the uncirculated version dated 1982-D, collectors grabbed 2,210,458.

Now 35 years later, you can go on a bullion website and buy one for $10.41.

Silver melt value is $6.38.

In percentage terms, that’s not exactly a cheap form of silver, but it is not all that expensive either.

Think of the many hopes like mine that were invested in these coins when they were issued 35 years ago.

Now they are hardly more than so much bullion.

That is to be expected.

With roughly 7 million coins sold, how can they be anything other than priced according to melt value?

Interest in commemoratives now has shrunk so that current U.S. sales figures for silver coins are hardly more than 1 percent or 2 percent of the Washington half dollar demand.

And no, I haven’t put the decimal point in the wrong place. One percent of 7 million is 70,000.

It is sad, but it is also an opportunity for today’s collectors.

There are an awful lot of coins from the past that can be purchased this way.

Collectors can acquire a nice little stash of silver, or gold for that matter, by buying one of each of these kinds of pieces for not that much over melt value.

In drooling over this possibility, I have actually come full circle and I can see that I still have a lot in common with my collecting self from 50 years ago.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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