What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been

It’s interesting to reflect back on how your collecting interests have changed over time. You would assume that, as your income grows, so might the average amount you spend on new acquisitions. Looking back I’ve found this hasn’t always been the case. Like most coin collectors, for me it all started with pennies…

My grandad got me started. We would sit for hours at his kitchen table going through mountains of wheat pennies, ever on the lookout for a 1909-S VDB. After he passed in 1975 I continued to fill those blue cardboard Whitman folders with pennies from circulation. Back then wheat pennies were still plentiful and it took no time to fill a 1941-1974 book, each one a significant accomplishment for an 8 year old.

Jefferson nickels were next. It hurt a little more to part with a nickel than a penny, but it was still easy to fill that blue Whitman folder. Even that tough 1950-D could be found in pocket change with some searching.

At some point I discovered “Coins” magazine. All the different designs from the past 200 years were suddenly at my fingertips. I had no idea there was so much variety! No longer did I have to limit myself to what I could pull from change. My first mail order purchase followed shortly after, a well worn 1864 two cent piece and an 1868 three cent piece from Littleton Coin Company. I think the pair cost me seven dollars. That was a month’s worth of candy and comic books but those two coins were my pride and joy.

After a couple of years randomly accumulating silver dimes, quarters, and halfs I got a summer job doing road repair. A steady paycheck expanded my collecting horizons significantly! I joined the Liberty Seated Coin Collectors Club and began receiving Seated dimes and quarters on approval. For the then extravagant sum of twenty dollars a month I became the caretaker of about 20 or 25 different dates and mintmarks before the money ran out. At today’s prices I really wish I’d held on to those!

Life intervened. College, work, and family became the top priorities and my coin collection was pushed aside. The occasional AU Indian Head cent or Morgan dollar sufficed to keep my interest but there was no specific direction.To say that I was active in the numismatic world at that particular time would be a huge exaggeration.

Once the job turned into a career, my longtime habit again moved to the forefront. I was able to own coins that had always been out of reach. Third party certification had arrived and with it more confidence to collect unfamiliar coin series’. I tried my hand at high grade coins for the first time. A set of MS63 to 65 1878 Morgan dollars with all the mintmarks and different reverses (7 tail feathers, 8 tail feathers, reverse of ’78, etc.) was the first accomplishment. Then I tackled a short set of mint state Buffalo nickels from 1934 to 1938.

Mint state coins were beautiful sets to put together though very expensive. But when I put them next to my old Whitman penny books, those perfect shiny coins had no soul. They hadn’t passed from hand to hand over the years. They had no history, no character.

So I went back to circulated coins. First the early 20th century coins, the Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, and Walking Liberty halves. No high grades, just very fine circulated coins that saw some mileage. A group of circulated Standing Liberty quarters can tell a lot of stories.

Now my collecting is all about the stories. My 1804 Half Cent, my 1787 New Jersey coppers, the ancient coins from Rome and Greece, they have stories. Some of those coins aren’t very pretty but that doesn’t matter. Like the ghosts of the boys in the old football photo from the movie “Dead Poet’s Society”, each one whispers of a different time, an exotic place, a life all their own.

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