Monday, January 29, 2007

Buffalo Nickels in Your Change

It was about 1967 that I received two buffalo nickels in change at Clark's neighborhood grocery store. Two buffalo nickels. Around that same time, a friend of mine received an Indian head penny in change.

I remember how we routinely used to get old coins in change, back in those days when coins were worth something and we used to get our groceries at neighborhood grocery stores. Standing Liberty quarters. Ben Franklin half dollars. Walking Liberty half dollars. Mercury dimes. All these and more were not uncommon.

As a kid I had a penny collection. I didn't have every Lincoln penny issued, I was missing some of the rarer ones, but I had most of them, going all the way back to 1909, and including a 1909 VDB penny. And I built up my penny collection entirely by watching the pennies that turned up in my change.

I don't know just when older coins began disappearing from circulation. The abandonment of silver coinage and the rising price of silver certainly had something to do with it, though I remember silver coins didn't disappear from circulation overnight. I also thought coin collectors had something to do with it, as witness the gradual vanishing of wheat pennies from circulation.

I have a wooden box which has stood on top of my dresser ever since I picked that box up at a garage sale in the summer of 1982. For many years my pocket change tended to gravitate toward that box, where it sat forever until several years ago I finally went through and sorted it out. I found in this pocket change— dating back to 1982, mind you— several silver Roosevelt dimes, several dozen wheat pennies, and a number of steel pennies. I also found three buffalo nickels, no idea where that third one came from. All of which would indicate that, as recently as 25 years ago, there were still occasional silver coins in circulation, plus various other older coins including older pennies.

I won't say you'll never see a wheat penny in change nowadays, but I can't remember the last time I received one. It's been years. Today's coins just aren't the same, to say nothing of how they aren't worth a plumb nickel anymore. Assorted state quarters, most of them lackluster and obviously designed by committee. The occasional "fantasy nickel," with an odd three-quarter profile of Tom Jeff, or a Kon-Tiki raft on the back, or whatever. Imagine getting a buffalo nickel in change today. It just wouldn't happen.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate the new nickel. I'd forgotten they were doing a new one, and the first one I saw I thought was a fake or a weird misprint or something.

I hadn't thought about it, but you're right; you're less likely to get cool coins. When I worked in convenience stores, I'd trade for them, orfor foreign coins as whatever they circulated as. For instance, if we got a nickel from Bermuda, I'd trade it for a US nickel and add it to my foreign coin collection. Ditto for silver certificates. I got it elsewhere, but I have a $100 bill from the thirties with a red emblem on it, whether that makes it a gold certificate or it's just a fed note or whatever. I actually managed never to get deperate enough to spend (or see if I could sell) it no matter how poor I got over the years.

Monday, January 29, 2007 9:49:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

In that wooden box, I have five $1 silver certificates which I plucked from circulation back in the late 1960s, and have saved ever since.

I also remember when I was a kid, one time our family was going to a deer park, and my Dad was going to pay for admission with a $5 bill, and I noticed it had a red seal on it. I told him to save it out, only he didn't have another five, so he said to wait, and another one would turn up by and by. Well, it never did, until a couple of years ago I finally got a $5 bill with a red seal at a Saturday morning flea market down in Marquette, Iowa.

As for coins, I've pretty much concluded that, between bureaucracy, political correctness, and the postmodern artist's high calling to offend, all coins issuing from the US Mint henceforth are likely to be either banal or bizarre. We will never again see coins that are well designed. There will never again be another Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

I mean, there are certain elements which work in a painting, but simply don't work on a coin. Three-quarter profile, for instance. And the coin designers just don't get it. The Jefferson three-quarter profile on some of the new fantasy nickels wasn't the first, there was also the rearguardant Sacajawea three-quarter profile on the latest failed dollar coin.

Modern coins. They're sort of like modern art, or modern architecture. And don't get me going on the horrors of modern architecture, or I'll end up sounding like Prince Charles...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007 7:38:00 AM  

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