This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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As most coin collectors know, only two types of coins were minted for circulation in 1933, cents and half dollars. The total number of coins produced was 23,103,500, which represents the lowest Mint production in 138 years.
To put that in perspective, this quantity is not sufficient to supply each Texas citizen with even a single coin. My collection with a combined total of over 33,000 (about eight of 5,005 bags produced) represents more than 0.14 percent (or 1/700th) of the total coins minted that year.
Currently, I have approximately 30,000 cents and over 3,000 half dollars. Due to attrition from various sources, the number of currently surviving coins must be considerably less. From that standpoint, my collection should represent a much higher percentage of existing coins and I can only guess as to what that might be.
By way of history, I became interested and started collecting coins in my late 40s. After a short time I noticed that 1933, which was my birth year, appeared to be unique from a numismatic standpoint. I did a substantial amount of research and discovered many interesting facts about the 1933 coinage. Many of these facts were published in the March 19, 1983, issue of Numismatic News.
As I have learned, the 1933-S half dollar is probably scarcer than most collectors realize. Over 8 percent of my coins appear to have a weak strike on the date and only the “33” is visible. Despite this, most of these coins have full rims and other attributes that would likely enable them to grade fine or better. If these coins had remained in circulation a little longer, the date would have been completely worn and they, as well as countless others, would probably have been sold and melted for their silver value.
Also, I suspect that many other 1933 half dollars were lost when silver reached $50 an ounce 31 years ago. I believe that many of the nice 1930s silver coins were sold for bullion since that exceeded their numismatic value. Also of note is that the 1933-S half dollar mintage represents the lowest quantity of the denomination produced in the past 115 aside from skipped years with zero mintage, and it was the lowest mintage of precious-metal coins issued in 185 years. Fewer silver coins were minted in 1933 (1,786,000) than in any other year since, which includes the Civil War.
This uniqueness and my birth year coincidence sparked my interest and prompted me to concentrate on that date. My goal was to own more 1933 coins than anyone else, thereby making it, by percentage, the largest year holding of United States coins. It also occurred to me that the Depression years of 1931 and 1932 also had in common low coin mintages. Thinking that someone else might also try to collect coins from these years and compete with me, I began to buy these dates as well.
Years ago I read that Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, might have had the same idea. The auction of the Buss Collection included more than 15,000 1932-D cents in circulated grade.
Fortunately for me, his collection habits changed and he did not pursue it further than he did. His purchasing 1931 and 1932 coins, as well as the 1933s, would have made it harder for anyone to accomplish what I was trying to do. On the other hand, anyone trying it today would drive up the price of my coins, and I could profit from my earlier purchases.
I started my collection by purchasing primarily circulated rolls of 1933-P cents that were selling for around $15 per roll. Also, I bought some 1933-Ds and 1933-S half dollars at the right price. I was fortunate to have had several dealers around the country buying for me over the next couple of years, which seriously helped my totals.
My initial goal was to procure about 23,000 coins or about 0.1 percent of the total 1933 coin mintage. When I finally reached that goal my interest in collecting waned, but in the process, the 1933-P cents had escalated to about $45 per roll.
Before and during my active collecting phase, I was also in the business of making coin card displays as a related sideline. These included some with 1933 coins titled “1933 A RARE YEAR IN NUMISMATICS.” Unfortunately, I probably sold less than a hundred of these 1933 displays.
A few years later I got into the vintage newspaper business (1876-1976 printings) and soon forgot about coins. When eBay came along, I sold vintage newspapers online and currently still sell them there under the name “jimspages.”
About three years ago my interest was again reignited in my 1933 coin collection. This was the 75th anniversary of the 1933 coins, as well as my 75th birthday. Since I was familiar with eBay, it made it easy for me to start purchasing these coins again. As a result of that endeavor, I have added over 10,000 more 1933 coins to my original holdings and continue to buy more as I find them today.
I would be very interested to learn if anyone knows of a larger year collection by percentage or otherwise.
Jim Jacobs is a hobbyst from Germantown, Tenn.
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