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Collecting Experience Sheds Light on Wear

By George Kissinger

In the May 4 issue of Numismatic News, Charles H. Allyn wrote a very perceptive Viewpoint article that asked some interesting questions. The answers to these questions would be insightful to young coin collectors just coming up.

The first question has to do with the rate of erosion, wear on circulating coins. I started collecting from change in 1958 anticipating the Lincoln Memorial cent issue replacing the Wheat cents. So that time frame is firm in my memory. Like Mr. Allyn, I will use the Buffalo nickel and Standing Liberty quarter (SLQ) as guides, as their dates wore completely off at a certain point and that makes them good milestones for calibration.

In 1958, I could collect from change Buffalo nickels (with full dates) back to 1929/1930, partial dates back to 1925, and prior to 1925 the dates were all worn smooth. Therefore, it took 30 years (plus or minus) for a Buffalo nickel to wear to a grade of Good, 25 years to wear to a grade of Very Good to Fine and 20 years to wear to a grade of Fine to Very Fine.

In 1958, I could collect from change Standing Liberty quarters with dates going back only to 1925. I never found in change an SLQ without a recessed date, 1924 and prior. (I did find occasional dateless Type I’s without stars under the eagle on the reverse.) Those 1925 to 1930 SLQs mostly had full dates in 1958. By the 1965/1966 time frame, when silver coins of all types were picked from circulation, I was seeing exclusively partial dates for those same years. So, in approximately 30 years, SLQs found in change still could be found in grades Very Good to Fine. Five years or so later, in approximately 35 years, those dates could only be found in Fair to About Good.

Those population profiles are what my Whitman albums reflected and that is real coin collecting history from 63 years ago. Those facts offer a partial answer to the first question.

Now, how long does it take for an uncirculated coin to become About Uncirculated? The quick answer to that is one day. However, a more non-technical, real-world answer would seem to be a few months to a year for a coin to reach down to a grade of About Uncirculated 50, to Extremely Fine 40, perhaps a year or two, or three. (The nickel-copper clad coinage of today most certainly wears better than 90 percent silver. Also note the flattening-out of all designs to facilitate the minting of very large numbers unheard of a generation ago. That loss of relief, in itself, will slow down the wearing process.)

Now the second question posed by Mr. Allyn: Why does the Mint produce millions of coins each year? With that question, the Kennedy half dollar really exposes some significant waste and cost to the taxpayer. These Kennedys do not circulate. Why mint them? Period. It is my understanding that the millions produced each year are simply stored by: the Mint itself, the Federal Reserve Banks around the country and even some subscriber banks (probably, too, some warehouses given the bulk). No mention is ever made about melting them to make room for more – another needless cost. The Mint is probably required by some public law to produce a minimum number, but that law can, and should, be changed. Limit the Kennedys to proof-only issues.

This Viewpoint was written by collector George Kissinger.

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