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Discovering prizes in junk boxes

You never know what you will find in a junk box. Coins, tokens, stuff that can’t be organized. Items that no one has time to identify. Even now, treasures can be found in a junk box.

Back in the day, Morgan and Peace dollars in various conditions were placed in boxes for the collector to browse through. Prices were less than two dollars: $1.25 for circulated, $1.50 for better-looking coins. Most of these coins were 1921 Morgan, 1922 Peace, or common O-Mint dollars.

 The author discovered examples of both 1904-S and 1883-O Morgan silver dollars in junk boxes.

The author discovered examples of both 1904-S and 1883-O Morgan silver dollars in junk boxes.

As a new collector, everything looked good to me. Even without a want list, I had some idea of what I liked and what appealed to me. I usually passed over the Peace dollars to look through the Morgans. That set was much larger than the Peace dollar set.

Morgan dollars do not have to be super Mint State to be desirable. Many dollars I found in boxes were Very Fine to Extremely Fine. They showed signs of circulation, but no scratches or abuse. I did find a few excessively worn dollars, Morgan and Peace.

Among the favorite coins I found in boxes were 1883-S and 1884-S Morgans. Scarce and expensive in Mint State, those in worn condition were more available and less expensive. Both coins were nice for the grade, with just honest wear.

The 1904-O, once a rarity, was available in good numbers. But one day I found a 1904-S. This dollar showed slight wear and blended in with the other dollars in the box. Among a hoard of 1904-O, there was one 1904-S waiting to be found.

Morgans with a trace of mint luster cost a bit more. Searching through the “better Morgans” box took some time and looking, but a few better dates turned up. One of the finest Morgans I found in such a box was a 1902-S with shimmering luster, a lovely white color with some golden toning around the edge. I looked at the mintmark twice. Yes, it was S and not O.

Dollars found in the “better” box, for the most part, were pretty and in remarkably good shape. Cartwheel luster beamed from some of the coins. Surfaces were clean (not cleaned) and showed no major problems. A few were discolored.

Not every dollar was a beauty. A few of the coins in the box showed bagmarks in the field and on Liberty’s cheek. I recall one poor old 1882-O with beaming luster but heavy bagmarks. There was an 1884-O that looked satiny but for a large hit on the upper obverse.

And then there was the 1883-O with the lovely obverse and a stunning reverse. Multi-colored toning in shades of rose, violet, and golden yellow bathed the reverse. This was a keeper!

Not only United States coins were found in boxes. One dealer had foreign coins and “better foreign” in large boxes, just right for a beginning collector to search. I had discovered world coins, especially British Commonwealth, and spent many hours looking through these boxes. The better coins cost 35 cents each, and the others only 25 cents. Older coins, silver, coins from countries that did not exist anymore, all could be found in these boxes.

Probably the best find was a well-worn 1838 fourpenny “groat” of Great Britain. Queen Victoria’s young head adorned the obverse and Britannia the reverse – a small silver coin over 130 years old that was beautiful to a young collector’s eyes.

The days of a young collector searching for inexpensive finds are long gone. Prices have gone up, way up. Many coins are professionally graded and slabbed, especially the high-grade pieces. Even world coins are slabbed and not thrown into a box to sort through.

But junk boxes still exist. A scarce variety of large cent has been found in a junk box. This discovery made headlines in coin publications, but this is only one example. As long as there are hoards of coins that no one has the time to organize, or are assumed to be all common, there will always be junk boxes. And there will always be dedicated collectors who enjoy looking for a prize or a scarce variety.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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