Rio History: Chump Change

A Coin Collector’s Dream

Special to the PRESS

Sorting through the coins that slid across the counter at my (now closed) Padre Island Trading Company, was always one of the highlights of my day. One night I was counting the change in our tip jar and was surprised to find an “elongated” penny with a turtle and the words: South Padre Island, Texas” embossed over the flattened image of Lincoln’s Monument on one side of the coin. Visible on the other side was a very stretched out picture of Abe Lincoln. Obviously a souvenir of someone’s vacation here on the Island, the semi-permanence of the coin and the fond memories that go with it, will provide our Island with advertising for years to come.

Another time, I found a 1945 D Mercury dime. Though it was a common date that had been struck at the Denver Mint, it was in uncirculated condition with a catalog value of $2. Wheat pennies were rather common. Though most of them do not have a particularly high catalog value, it is still a thrill to find a coin that has survived so many years. Many of these coins have been stuck away in drawers, old jars and the like, for years so it is getting harder to find them in circulation.

I remember buying numerous rolls of pennies in 1960. This penny had been minted using several dies. As a result, some of the coins had been stamped with a much smaller date and mint mark.  The mistake wasn’t caught until after the coin had been released to the general public. Collectors, remembering the dramatic rise in price of another error, the 1955 double die Lincoln penny, besieged banks with requests for bags of pennies. It was possible at the time to find two or three rolls per $100 worth of coins.

After the initial excitement over the discovery of the mint variation died down, the price of these pennies stabilized. Yeoman’s 1975 Guide Book of United States Coins put the value of the 1960 small dates at $3.50 for an uncirculated coin. At the time, this seemed a low price for a hard to find variety. However, the catalog value has actually dropped to around $3 in the 2002 Edition of Yeoman’s Guide.  The side benefits to looking for the small dates were profitable for me. I was able to fill in almost all of the key dates in my penny album such as the 1911 and 1912 “S,” the 1914 “D,” and the 1931 “S,” which is now worth about $40 in very fine condition. The best find I made in that time frame though, was another mint error; the 1922 with an almost invisible “D” mintmark. Normally, a coin without a mint mark indicates it has been struck at the Philadelphia Mint. This penny was different. The “D” on the die had filled in. As a result, a rather scarce error was created. To fully appreciate the coin’s rarity, one must consider the fact that less than eight million pennies were struck at the Denver Mint in 1922. Of those, only a few thousand were struck before the error was discovered. In today’s market, a 1922 with the “D” in fine condition, is worth between $55 and $120, while the scarce “plain” date is worth between $550 – $1,400.

In this version of the old saying, a penny saved turned out to be dollars earned!

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