Being a young, college-aged numismatist, I do most of my collecting out of circulation, since the vast majority of my budget is devoted to tuition, room and board and a myriad of other college expenses that only seem increase with each passing year. I occasionally find some coins worth keeping within bank rolls or in pocket change, but having heard and read stories about the wide array of circulating coinage of days gone by, especially the 1960s, it is hard not to be envious of what once was available to the burgeoning collector. It is difficult for me to imagine a time when silver quarters, Mercury dimes, Buffalo nickels, better date wheat cents and the occasional Walking Liberty half appeared alongside the more familiar Jefferson nickel and Lincoln Memorial cent.
I generally content myself with the classic entry-level sets of Jefferson nickels and Lincoln cents, both of which I can find plentifully in circulation. Along with searching for coins to fill the holes of my folders – which, as their number decreases, are becoming ever more difficult to fill – I set aside coins that, while paling in comparison to the circulating treasures of the past, are nonetheless worth hanging on to. Wheat cents (mostly from the 1940s and ‘50s), wartime nickels and the occasional silver Roosevelt dime or Washington quarter still appear often enough to keep the hunt exciting and make for interesting finds.
While none of these coins are particularly rare, I enjoy the sense of history that comes with holding a 60- or 70-year-old coin in my hands. In this manner, I have been enjoying the hobby of coin collecting since the age of 12, when I bought my first Whitman folders, a pound of wheat cents and began acquiring rolls at a local bank.
Recently, I have begun making the occasional trip to a local coin shop or show as my budget allows in order to pick up a tougher date or two, but the majority of my participation in this fine hobby is from coins available in general circulation.
You can imagine my surprise a short time ago when searching through some rolls of Jefferson nickels, perhaps the only series that I can reasonably hope to assemble in its complete form out of circulation, I discovered an old Buffalo nickel. It had only a partial date, 1926, was well worn, and has a value of only $1.50 in G-4, but it nonetheless amazed me that such a coin was still circulating. That Buffalo nickel seemed like a relic from a bygone era, and brought to mind the stories I had encountered over the course of my relatively few years in the hobby about circulating obsolete coinage from yesteryear. Finding that nickel, on the surface an unremarkable specimen, gave me a hint of what it must have been like years ago when such coins still appeared with regularity.
Since that find, I have discovered several other coins that I believed had disappeared from circulation decades ago, including a second Buffalo nickel – this one with a full date of 1935-D – and a nice looking 1902 Indian cent. Finding these old relics, for that is how I view them, has greatly added to the excitement of searching rolls – for now I know firsthand that some of these old coins are still floating around – as well as deepened my appreciation for collecting coins the old-fashioned way, something which I had believed out-dated after the disappearance of silver coinage and Buffalo nickels from widespread circulation all those years ago.
While I can only hear stories about the good ol’ days in publications such as this one, and through the recollections of more experienced collectors, I’m convinced that breaking open a roll of circulating coinage today is still a worthwhile pursuit and can provide much the same enjoyment as it did 40 years ago.
James Cucchi is a 19-year-old coin collector from Massachusetts.