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A Gift That Changes Lives

Eisenhower dollar. (Images courtesy

Eisenhower dollar. (Images courtesy

Those attending coin shows may have noticed that several of them offer children one or more pieces of free coins or currency as they enter the bourse floor. I am also sure there are multiple coin shops around the country, including where I work, that offer youngsters in their store free coins or currency.

Can you imagine how many times that such gifts may have gone on to change lives?

In our store, parents often bring their children with them so that theyn can have the opportunity to select up to six foreign coins from a treasure chest in the middle of our showroom. While the adults are conducting transactions, their children get to have fun.

If I am serving such a family, I try to make sure to ask the youngsters questions about the coins they are selecting, so that they actually consider the information included on the coins’ surfaces. Among the questions are:

What country issued the coin? Do you know where in the world that nation is located? What is the date? What is the denomination? What is it made out of? What is the meaning of the portraits or artwork on the pieces?

When I have started to ask such questions, the most common response is that the child suddenly starts looking at the coins much more closely. In contrast, if you don’t spark the imagination of a youngster to really look at a coin or note to find answers to such questions, they would usually pull out the coins that are large and shiny or the currency that is the largest in size, in nicest condition, or has the highest denomination printed on it.

If you open someone’s mind to the fact that coins and currency are issued at a specific time and place for a specific purpose and that the information depicted on them reflects that situation, you could change a life and spark another lifelong numismatist. For numismatic organizations, that could increase future membership. For dealers, that could lead to more future business.

When I have taught classes on coin collecting in recent years, one of the first things I do is hand each participant a copper-nickel Eisenhower dollar. Then I go around the room asking each person in turn to identify a piece of information they observe on the coin. I picked this coin because most attendees have never seen one, so that makes it an immediate curiosity. Here is a list of the information that young and old participants have noted:


In God We Trust



Bust of Dwight David Eisenhower

Designer’s initials

United States of America

E Pluribus Unum


One Dollar

Eagle carrying olive branches in its talons landing on the moon, with the Earth in the background

Reeded edges

Multiple colors of metal on the edge

The diameter and thickness of the coin

The shape

Each of the elements of this coin is there for a specific reason. For instance, the reverse artwork was adapted from the insignia patch from the Apollo 11 spaceflight in which the first humans set foot on the Moon. Every feature tells a story that can inspire the desire to know more about money in particular and about the entire world in general.

If you can possibly achieve all this by giving away a coin or bank note, you will also derive some enjoyment yourself.

Patrick A. Heller was honored as a 2019 FUN Numismatic Ambassador. He is also the recipient of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award, 2012 Harry Forman National Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award. Over the years, he has also been honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild (including twice in 2020), Professional Numismatists Guild, Industry Council for Tangible Assets and the Michigan State Numismatic Society. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio archives posted at