Coin collecting

By on 30 January, 2014 in Fun, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

An 1879 Morgan dollar, via Wikipedia

I inherited a mish-mash of coins recently, some in bags, some in special coin collecting folders, some in commemorative boxes. I wasn’t at all sure what they were worth, or what do to do with them.

I picked out a few that I thought might be worth something, based on the crazy array of Internet information I’d gathered in a few hasty searches. Thanks to some advance scouting, I learned of a pawn shop on the way to Wetumpka (Best Pawn) that had a small specialization in coins. So a little while ago I put some of the coins into a Red Root Farms bag and we headed off to see what we could learn about numismatics (That’s the fancy word for currency collecting – just adding to your value reading MML).

I’d never been to a pawn shop, though I’d seen that show on the History Channel purporting to document the comings and goings of a Las Vegas pawn shop, so I thought I knew what to expect. Also, I’d seen them around town with leaf blowers and other equipment out front. I’ve always loved junk shops but hated pawn shops, for no more reason other than the latent misery filling the space between sale and possible re-sale. The real pawn shop deal, River Region-wise, was slower, less glitzy, and actually somewhat more heart-warming than the TV version. Inside we saw a young man get his first bow. Even though we’re not so keen on recreational deer-hunting, we loved seeing the child and his father bond over the new bow and the possibility of more family time to come. And it makes sense that you might not want to pay full price for a brand new bow for a growing child that would soon be moving on to an adult-sized weapon.

I was there to talk coins. I expected a quick appraisal, but what I got was full-on education. Larry Campbell, of Campbell’s Coins, took me through the major categories influencing coin value, used current coin guides to show me what the stuff I had was worth, and ended up offering me extremely fair prices on what I’d brought in. The River Region is lucky to be home to such an expert.

In a nutshell, I learned that there are three things that influence a coin’s value: scarcity, age and condition — in that order. Turns out that even a coin that is pretty old can still be worth not much more than face value if there were a ton minted at the time. But if a coin is scarce, that’s a good sign. Then age plays into things; finally, condition is important. Is the face worn down? Are the little details still visible? It turns out that the early coins minted in a series have more details visible as the impressions become more indistinct for later coins. Like comics and other collectibles, coins have grades like fine and very fine. I was introduced to the “Official Red Book” called A Guide to U.S. Coins. It’s great for a novice trying to get her head around the market, with tons of information and pictures of different coins. You can look up a coin and, all by yourself, get a sense of what it might be worth.

Turns out I didn’t have a lot of value in the coins, but I sure learned a lot. I ended up selling a few Morgan Dollars from the 1880s for a good price and a few collectible proof sets from the 80s and 90s; these are worth just a little more than their silver content, but they look nice in the case. Mr. Campbell showed me the coins I had which actually had a little more value (again, no big scores here) – one with a full ounce of silver in it, another group of buffalo nickels and Indian head pennies. The best part was learning about coins – they really are an interesting window into our national history. I was glad I went, and think I might even work to complete the buffalo nickel collection my father started a long time ago.

Next up: knives! Anyone out there got a good idea for who to talk to around here about collectors knives? Maybe a collectors or a buying guide? Knives have such a history don’t you think?

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.



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