August 04, 2004

Penny For Your Thoughts

Today's Bleat by James Lileks prompted my brain to go skipping down memory lane, and not just because Lileks incorrectly called a half-dollar a quarter, which I e-mailed him about in order to chastise the otherwise fine writer.

I collected coins in my youth, and it was a hobby that, for a time, basically defined my existence. It was the last of a string of collection hobbies that included, in order, Star Wars figures, transformers, dirty magazines and coins. Actually, I resumed my collection of dirty magazines in college but, by that time, it was just a matter of getting a subscription instead of the stealthy pilfering from my father's and brother's concealed horde.


I can't really remember why I ended up becoming so embroiled in coin collecting, but I do remember why I started. I recall stumbling across an abandoned penny collection that my brother had attempted at some point. For the most part, the collection consisted of your standard issue pennies, but tucked within was something that was totally alien to me:


It was a typical penny on the front, but the back was completely different from what I was familiar with. That fascinated me. I never put much thought into money. I had always just gotten a little allowance, which I promptly spent on caps, which I detonated with a hammer and pretty much caused my ears to ring for three straight hours. That was the extent to which I pondered currency.

The realization that the money of yesteryear didn't resemble the money of the current day had never really occurred to me. For the first time in my life, I felt a strange connection to history. If you asked me today what the date was stamped on that wheat penny, I honestly couldn't tell you, but it was the realization that the penny had far outlived me that was the most important thing.

I started combing through loose change around the house, hoping to find other wheat pennies, and I eventually found one. I was so excited, I had to show my Mom. And that's when Mom showed me her little coin collection, which consisted of:



buffalo.jpg buffaloback.jpg


morgan.jpg morganback.jpg

Now, remember, my socks had been sufficiently blown off by a mere wheat penny. By unveiling her little collection to me, my mother had, by all accounts, transformed me into a numismatic lunatic. I was hooked. Of course, it didn't help matters that my Mom had found the Indian head penny upstairs when my parents were putting in new carpet. It took all she had to convince me not to rip up the carpet in my bedroom in the off chance I'd find another penny.

Over the years, I built up a substantial collection and, if I were to sell it today, I think it's a pretty safe bet it would be worth over $7,000. Even though I haven't laid eyes on the collection in about ten years, and it lays quietly in a safety deposit box at my hometown bank.

And, to this day, whenever I get a handful of change at a convenience store, I automatically scan the coins for rarities. I still find a wheat penny, from time to time.

UPDATE: And, no, those aren't the "actual" coins from my youth, they're just examples pulled randomly off the Web.

Posted by Ryan at August 4, 2004 11:43 AM

How cool. My dad has collected coins, not seriously, my whole life. When I was a little kid our house got broken into and they stole at least some of my dad's coins.

I, too, still look for wheat pennies.

Posted by: Beth at August 4, 2004 01:26 PM

I'll hold on to Bicentenial quarters and other rarer coins if I come across them. And I really like the gold colored Sacajawea dollars you can get as change from Post Office stamp machines.

My favorite money to collect are silver certificate bills. I've only seen two in my life and I kept them both. They're dollar bills guaranteed by silver rather than gold and are rare and super cool with blue ink.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at August 4, 2004 01:57 PM

I dabbled a little in paper money collecting, but it never held as much fascination for me. But, yeah, I have five or six silver certificates, two of which I snatched, amazingly, out of circulation. That's amazing because bills generally don't have much of a life span once people start getting their grubby paws on them in the real world.

My favorite bill I have is a HAWAII silver certificate, like this one:

Posted by: Ryan at August 4, 2004 02:04 PM

I had the same experience with coins. When I was 10 my dad's boyfriend paid me a dollar to go through his massive coin jar that he'd been dumping loose change into for years, and put all the coins into rolls for the bank. What I found in that jar totally blew me away. Just the usual range of semi-rare stuff, but one thing in particular I found that I was so amazed by, I have it to this day: a steel penny. During WWII they made pennies out of steel for a while, so they could use the copper to make bullets.

Once about ten years ago a friend of mine broke his glasses, and a bunch of us pitched in to buy him a new pair. And when we were waiting at the glasses place to get his eyes checked and get him glasses, we were looking at the money I'd collected from our friends to pay for them and one of the bills was a $50.

"Hey," my friend said. "It's got red writing instead of green."

And, sure enough, one of the seals was in red instead of green. That's when we noticed it was a $50 from 1950 or so.

"Huh," I said. "That's neat."

We stared at it for a wile longer.

"You know what else it doesn't have?" my friend said. "It doesn't have 'in god we trust' on it."

And he was right.

That's the part I thought was most interesting.

Posted by: Joshua at August 4, 2004 03:25 PM

Caps!!! Hell yeah! My grandma used to buy them red rolls of them and give them to me and my brother to keep us busy. We'd take a gigantic roll out onto the driveway and pound away with a hammer for hours. She eventually bought us a cap gun that used them, but it rarely worked so we went back to just pounding the hell out them on the driveway. Damn they were a good time. Now I've graduated to buying huge ass fireworks to light off in the country.

Posted by: Rick at August 5, 2004 08:18 AM

I'm Luis Gracian I Started a coin collection about a month ago, I'm 11, and I have a jar full of pennies,I finnaly looked through it, and I figured out I have 278 wheat pennies!!! the oldest is from 1909, and now I'm facinated about coins and coin collecting.

Posted by: at June 5, 2005 07:42 PM

I collect only canadian penny. I've got over 12900 pennizzzzzzzz and it's fun doing it.

Posted by: Raj at June 7, 2005 01:32 PM
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