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Penniless at Last

John Yeigh

IN AN EARLIER ARTICLE, I noted that my savings journey began in 1960 with a couple of jars of pennies that I started collecting at age five. I was following family ancestor Ben Franklin’s maxim that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

One of my uncles also had an interest in coin collecting. He and I began to actively search through countless penny rolls to find pennies with dates that we didn’t have. We bought Whitman coin albums and organized our pennies by date from the earliest Lincoln head pennies from 1909 up through the 1960s.

We expanded our collection to include sets of Buffalo and Jefferson nickels, Mercury and Roosevelt dimes, and Washington silver quarters, plus any older coin we happened upon. Occasionally, we found Indian head pennies, Liberty nickels, Barber dimes or Walking Liberty quarters still in circulation. These dimes and quarters contained 90% silver through 1964, so they had a recognized commodity value.

Our coin-collecting hobby lasted for eight years. During those eight years, we amassed five nearly complete Lincoln penny sets, missing only the rare 1909 penny minted in San Francisco with the initials V.B.D. for its engraver. One of these pennies in fine condition can cost more than $1,000.

We had jars of old duplicate pennies as well. We assembled a couple of complete sets of Jefferson nickels and Roosevelt dimes. Our most valuable collection was the three nearly complete sets of Mercury dimes, lacking only a rare 1916 10-cent piece minted in Denver. We accumulated plenty of duplicate year silver coins as well.

My uncle passed away in 1968 due to complications from polio, and my interests shifted. That’s when my coin collection went into hibernation, stored in various basements untouched for 50 years.

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I have no interest in pursuing this hobby today, and neither do my kids. To clean up my estate, as I suggested in another article and on this blog site, I started to sell my coin collection a couple of years ago.

Monetizing a haphazard coin collection is not a simple process. The coins have different values to different buyers. The Lincoln pennies and Mercury dimes had more value sold as a set to collectors. My bulk coins frequently didn’t have much numismatic premium over their silver or copper melt value.

I sold the rarer loose coins at a premium over the web. The remaining bulk coins went to a local coin dealer at commodity values. Bulk coins are heavy, making them too expensive to ship to anyone willing to pay a slight premium.

These coin sales took me several years to complete. How did I do over my 55-year holding period? Okay, but not great.

After tons of work, plus some costs, I ended up grossing about $3,500. I don’t know exactly how much my uncle and I spent buying these coins back in the 1960s. We acquired the vast majority of the coins for their original face value. I’m guessing the whole collection cost $200 and certainly not more than $300, because we couldn’t afford much at the time.

At best, this translates to a total gain of 17.5 times the original investment. That’s roughly equivalent to the appreciation of silver since 1966. I made far more from the silver coins than I did from the nickels or copper pennies.

By comparison, the S&P 500 and gold prices have risen 50-fold over the same period. Berkshire Hathaway stock appreciated more than 21,000 times.

One clear takeaway: Only collect things for personal enjoyment rather than as an investment. Another is that the sale of a long-term collection can be annoyingly time-consuming. You can see this for yourself by watching the TV show American Pickers. They regularly demonstrate how hard it can be to monetize collections, even when the collections have solid value.

John Yeigh is an author, speaker, coach, youth sports advocate and businessman with more than 30 years of publishing experience in the sports, finance and scientific fields. His book “Win the Youth Sports Game” was published in 2021. John retired in 2017 from the oil industry, where he negotiated financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. Check out his earlier articles.

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Helpful Neighbor
Helpful Neighbor
18 days ago

Found a 1909 VDB in a kitchen drawer when i was about 10. ( Unfortunately it was not the “S” mint, which would have been worth considerably more.)Nonetheless, a thrill of a lifetime for a 10 year old. Still remember it 50 years later. Great article John!

Brian Cook
Brian Cook
18 days ago

I used to think that I could at least mail letters with uncanceled stamps from the collection my dad and I had. However, you need multiple older lower denomination stamps to get to the current mailing price. All those old stamps on one envelope are invitations for postal workers to add to their own collection. I tried twice to send cards but neither one got through. So I learned that that rationalization wasn’t valid.

Martin McCue
Martin McCue
18 days ago

I started to collect new and uncancelled stamps two decades ago. I did it because I just wanted to keep copies of stamps I found particularly attractive. Then I branched out into stamps that I thought were unique and might prove to be worth something (like the very first self-adhesive stamp). About five years ago, I went to a dealer to look for a particular stamp I had missed. In talking to him, I found that most stamp collections didn’t sell for their face value – they sold for quite a bit less. No one really wanted them. That changed my attitude. I realize now that the stamps I bought that had a fixed value are now worth far less than I paid for them in terms of their ability to pay for mailing a letter. In contrast, the “forever” stamps are a bit of an investment, in that their value goes up as stamp costs increase (and the average Joe can get a deal if he buys a lot just before stamp prices take a jump.) But, in the end, my kids and grandkids are just going to get a lot of nice pictures on sticky paper, and they will never have to pay for a stamp as long as they live.

Last edited 18 days ago by Martin McCue
Chazooo
Chazooo
18 days ago

Does anyone find it strange that so many people get hooked on collecting various things, but nobody wants to buy the collections, other than maybe museums buying somebody’s collection of Picassos, etc.?

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
17 days ago
Reply to  Chazooo

In addition to the coins that I unloaded, our attic is still full of my father’s lionel train collection, my wife’s barbie doll collection, my son’s playmobile collection and my daughter’s beanie-baby collection. My cleaning-out is by no means finished, but nostalgia rules……

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
18 days ago
Reply to  Chazooo

#GreatQuestion

Arnold Hold
Arnold Hold
19 days ago

Nice article, and gave me a couple of ideas what to do with some coins I’ve accumulated over the years. The actual values are probably pretty modest, though I always liked the history that circulating coins told. During years of financial distress few coins were produced making them more valuable today…1893, 1907, 1921 and 1933 are examples, in fact no quarters were made in 1933, guess they weren’t needed.

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
17 days ago
Reply to  Arnold Hold

Per the article, I’ve come to the conclusion that small denomination coins, while attractive, aren’t worth the trouble of storing and managing them – even those containing silver content.
In contrast, a nice quality St. Gaudens Double Eagle is arguably the most attractive coin ever minted, contains nearly an ounce of gold and can be purchased for just under $2K which is only a small premium over its gold content. Having one of these coins is much prettier to hold in your hand than say the gold ETFs GLD or IAU.

Last edited 17 days ago by John Yeigh
Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
19 days ago

Interesting article, John. I likewise did a small amount of coin collecting as a kid, getting my start from a nice collection my grandfather gave me. I sold it as a teenager, to fund some long forgotten teenage “must have”. I’ve often wondered what it would be worth if I’d hung onto it, and your article provides some solace that probably not a huge amount.

As a young working adult, at a time when I still had a broker who steered me into various individual stocks, I bought shares in mining company. The dividends were paid in small silver bars, which I thought was pretty cool, and I still have them.

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
19 days ago

I’d keep the silver bars. The collection had a few silver dollars which we didn’t sell. I believe we got these in the early 1960’s for $1 face value when banks still had some available supply – Las Vegas was using millions of silver dollars for their slots. This ended by 1964 with the silver and coin shortages which led to today’s clad coins.

HumbleGardener
HumbleGardener
19 days ago

Thanks for your article, John. I had a short-lived hobby in organized coin collecting as a child, and I still have a casual interest in coins. It was inspired by the owner of the local hardware store, who it seemed collected everything. The upper walls of the store are adorned with antiques. He is long gone, and store will soon be sold. I have wondered if and how the family will dispose of his collections.

David Sayler
David Sayler
19 days ago

I still have my coin folders and update them annually. I don’t expect the collection to be worth much, but it is interesting to see which coins are still in circulation after 20 or 30 years.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
19 days ago

Thanks for bringing back some fond childhood memories of a group of friends and I sharing a brief coin collecting hobby among many other fun activities we enjoyed. I still have my Mercury dime collection stored away even though I know it won’t yield much. I was convinced as a 9 year old that I would someday find a 1909 VDB penny in circulation !

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
19 days ago

Never found either a 1909 VBD or 1909 S VBD, but the collection had a few 1909 VBDs which I believe my uncle stepped up to the plate to buy from coin stores probably for 20-35 cents back in those days.

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