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Looking Through Unsearched Rolls of Wheat Cents

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In the mid-1950s, when I was beginning to be really serious about coin collecting, I spent many an evening going through rolls of cents my father picked up at a bank or grocery store on his way home from work. These were all Wheaties, of course, and would be until 1959 when the Lincoln Memorial reverse was introduced.

Also, the rolls were all unsearched, and they often contained pre-1940 cents. In fact, they sometimes had pre-1930 or even pre-1920 cents in them. As you would expect, the older coins were usually more worn than the later ones, but occasionally the rolls contained coins that had obviously not been circulating the whole time after they were minted. I particularly remember finding an About Uncirculated 1924-S Goiter Neck (a Red Book variety at the time) in one of the rolls. 

My point is that the rolls were great fun to go through because I never knew what would turn up. Although I haven’t looked through cent rolls from the bank in ages, I feel reasonably confident that I wouldn’t find much of interest in them. In fact, I suspect that even Wheaties would be few and far between.

But what about the many listings for unsearched rolls of Wheat cents on eBay? Would these rolls be like the ones I looked through in the 1950s? As in the 1950s, could I expect to find a couple of G4 1914-Ds, a 1922 partial D, two 1909-Ss, and rolls of such keepers as 1939-D, 1929-D, and many others, including all of the semi-key dates?

I found my answers to these questions in a recent thread I came across on CoinTalk. The title alone provided one answer: “Deceitful eBay sellers-wheat pennies.”

The initiator (OP) of this thread was a new member who apologized at the outset for his lengthy introduction. The bottom line on his posting was that he had bought three rolls of “unsearched” Wheaties from an eBay seller and figured the seller was making $10 profit on each roll. “I bought them knowing they were cunningly advertised and plan to [check] a few more out with better documented proof. The 3 rolls I received had nothing but culls.”

So, the OP gave the seller a bad review, right? Wrong! “I also gave them positive feedback because they somehow got my personal email address and sent me a request to leave them positive feedback because their sales depend on it. I responded privately to them to let them know I wasn’t pleased but also purchased knowing they were going to be duds. Technically, I don’t have a claim for buyer’s remorse and everything else about the transaction went well.” The OP concluded by asking if there’s anyone else interested in trying to get these dishonest sellers at least reprimanded for their behavior.

In a later post, OP said that he had placed an order for three more rolls from an “ender” seller. This is the type of seller who puts an interesting coin at each end of a roll, interesting coins being items such as an Indian Head cent, a 1909 VDB Lincoln, etc. When he receives the rolls, which he is “optimistically pessimistic” about, he plans to make a “coin [public service announcement] video about them. . ..” 

OP’s purpose in all this is that he has “. . . a burning desire to crush these people. If I lose a few bucks here and there to hopefully bring these suckers down, it will be worth it.”

In response, one CT member wrote, “Caveat Emptor, a $10 lesson for beginning coin collectors. Some people have to take the test more than once to pass. Then it’s on to altered coins, counterfeiting and artificial toning. ‘An old man has many scars. A wise old man treasures his scars.’”

Another member railed against the tricky wordplay in the ads. Based on many years of experience, he cited terms such as “original,” “found in a vault,” and so forth. “These have almost disappeared and [been] replaced by “Unsearched,” which is where it becomes tricky calling them out . . .. The vast majority of those you reference are either dealers with a huge supply or an individual who buys them by the bag. They are then tubed without searching them.” And are thus “unsearched” by the person who put them into rolls.

Another member was critical of the positive feedback scores on eBay. “I saw someone who was selling [baseball] cards and had 100 percent feedback from over 350,000 buyers. Is that mathematically possible?” He also threw in some criticism of what OP was doing: “Buying these things for whatever reason, knowing they are duds, is just rewarding the crooks who pull this scam and it’s not going to save anyone else from being burned.”

A long-time collector noted: “With TV, social media, and eBay there is no way to protect new collectors and investors whose general goal is to strike it rich. That’s where ‘. . . a fool and his money. . .’ comes in. If they don’t have time to do some minimal research, then they need to learn the hard way.”

Another writer agreed with all the people who think there aren’t really any unsearched rolls being sold by eBay sellers. Furthermore, even if there were truly unsearched Wheatie rolls, they would “. . . most often contain only common coins with no rarities, because that’s how ‘common’ and ‘rarities’ work.” And I say “amen” to that, having looked through truly unsearched rolls in the 1950s and usually not finding anything worth keeping.

As for leaving negative feedback on eBay, another CT member related the following: “The last roll I was taken on the seller refused to refund because I had opened them. [Like how else are you going to look at them?] I left negative feedback and it was promptly somehow taken down.”

So, what’s the verdict? Do unsearched rolls exist? Well, they may exist in some venues, but it’s almost certainly not on eBay.