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Sweet smell of experience

I received a couple of cents in change yesterday along with two quarters a dime and nickel. Both lay in my hand Memorial side up. My first thought was one was zinc. The other was copper. I turned them over. Sure enough, that’s what they were.

Recognition of this kind is not exactly the most exciting news, but it got me thinking about rolled-up sleeve collecting of the kind we did during the circulation finds era. What is the equivalent today?

Collectors of the time looked at huge numbers of coins in hopes of finding a 1909-S VDB cent or a 1916-D dime. I never found either one, or anything that was truly valuable, but I did get an education.

I learned what metals looked like. I could tell the difference between silver and copper-nickel without having to look at the tell-tale edge that the general public relied on. I could tell you a date range a coin would fall into from the reverse just looking at the wear. I could tell what a real uncirculated coin looked like versus something that had been played with.

None of these so-called skills would be of much interest at a cocktail party because all of the collectors of the day had to wash their dirty fingers after a coin examination session just like I did.

But we all learned the texture and feel of real coins and even their smell.

What of the collectors of today when they are facing an onslaught of fake coins from China? How will they know the difference if they have basically not handled many or even any of the real ones?

If all you do is buy coins that are encapsulated either by the Mint or a grading service, how will you ever learn what we circulation finds collectors learned by simply rolling up our sleeves and diving into a pile of coins?