The Michigan State Numismatic Society

Change for Change’s Sake (Various) - Benvenuto

(Winter 2008) The last few months have seen quite a few finds in change, but have also seen the MSNS fall show come and go.

That show means there have been some great finds in dealer bargain bins as well.

One of the amazing things about checking your change for a couple of months, then strolling across the MSNS show bourse floor is that if you look around a bit -- in both cases -- you can find the presidential dollars. A good friend gave me two of the new dollar coins, an Adams and a Jefferson, that someone had tipped her when she was checking coats at a black tie dinner. Not too long after, at the fall show, there were a few dealers with presidential dollars in their cases, already slabbed! I suppose it’s only natural for folks to get their hands on a roll or two and send the best looking ones in for grading. But it just seems so darn fast.

As well, the Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah quarters have made their way out to the public. Thanks to my oldest son, David, for plunking a couple of the Utah quarters onto the kitchen table after coming home from a late night working at the movie theater. What a nice surprise over breakfast. It seems though that whether it’s Idaho, Wyoming, or Utah, we are getting the P mintmarks before the D. At least, that’s what keeps coming this author’s way.

The Westward Journey nickels have made their presence felt as well. I’ve seen several of them -- all the different designs, really -- in change from the gas stations, 7-Elevens, and other stores. Plus, I keep finding them in my own change pocket in my car. That means I must not be looking at the moment I actually receive them. I guess I look a little more carefully when I’m searching for change for a parking meter. I’ll have to keep a sharper eye out, so I don’t keep surprising myself in my own car!

One place though with some truly amazing finds is the MSNS bourse floor. Oh, I know, it’s not truly a find from change, but what some dealers relegate to their bargain bins is really amazing. For example, the last show convinced me that while there is a set of reference guides for Canadian coins, not too many folks feel obligated to follow it -- and thank you for that! There was an excellent looking Newfoundland 1918 50 cent piece in one gentleman’s box for only a few dollars. That’s a handsome looking coin for an even more impressive price.

Another example, and one that really raised my eyebrows, was the gentleman who had a bargain bin of crown-sized silver. Even with the spot price of silver being rather high during the time of the show, his prices were very reasonable. He had some Canadian commemorative dollars in proof, which he had put into 3x3 flips, as well as several Maria Theresa thalers. If you’re not a huge fan of foreign coins, reconsider adding a Maria Theresa thaler to your collection. They’re all dated 1780, even though most of them now on the market have been minted by a non-Austrian mint in the last eighty years. But they are one of the earliest trade coins that saw use far outside the borders of their own country. Actually, that’s why countries like Britain chose to make them over the years -- they are well accepted in the far corners of the world. And, while the fine folks at Whitman may never make a blue book for U.S. silver dollars with one extra hole in it for a Maria Theresa thaler, the thaler really does have a place next to our own, big silver dollars. There were some other great finds on the bourse floor as well.

For those of us who never spend more than $10 on any single coin, there seemed to be a large number of dealers who had bargain bins filled with either world coins from about 1880 - 1950, or U.S. coins from the same general time frame. As I mentioned, the price of silver was high during the show, but there was one dealer on the back aisle with an impressive bargain bin that included good looking Mercury dimes, Buffalo nickels, and a smattering of Barber coinage, most in the $1 - $5 range. Thanks to him and all the other dealers who help keep our fine hobby affordable for all of us. If you missed this last show, there’s no need to panic.

Hopefully, we’ll have the same crop of dealers, with some new items in their bargain bins, when the spring show rolls around. And even if not, we’ve still got our daily change to hunt through. Enjoy! That’s about it for the moment. Remember though, if you have any neat finds to report, send them to Mark Benvenuto at: Thanks!

Finding A Modern Trove (Spring 2009)

Sometimes in this hobby you just get lucky! The days of finding great rarities in change might have passed into history, but there are still some fantastic moments that a collector can have.

But before I go off on a tangent, let’s start at the beginning.

The presidential dollar series is now going into its third year. The collectors, dealers, and entire numismatic community knows quite a bit about our newest attempt at a dollar coin made in a base metal, but the general public seems to remain blissfully unaware of these “golden” dollars. That might be because the Mint has not launched the same type of ad campaign it did years ago for the Sacagawea dollar. Some of us remember the television ads with an animated George Washington – the same bust as is on the one dollar bill actually – telling us that the new coins were a dollar and that using them was a way to save money, in that they lasted longer than the one dollar bills. More than a couple of op-ed columnists in newspapers around the nation suggested at the time that it was hard to believe an ad campaign which involved spending $67M – yes, sixty seven million dollars! – to induce people to spend a single dollar coin was somehow going to save us money. But the campaign ran on various television ads for quite some time.

The ad campaign for the presidential dollars appears to be more subdued. That in turn means that plenty of people who work at a cash register aren’t all that savvy as to what these new dollars are. I have yet to see a cashier at any store refuse one, but they usually give them a second glance before lobbing them in the till.

Since there doesn’t appear to be a lot of visible interest in these coins, I’ve taken to asking cashiers if they’ve seen any of them. More often than not, the answer is “no,” or a quizzical look. But on occasion, they have a couple, and are willing to swap them for “regular dollars,” meaning one dollar bills. By the way, if you want to do a bit of collecting this way, let me cue you into the informal protocol that goes along with asking for dollar coins from a cashier.

Okay, with all this in mind, I was at a Detroit area Burger King recently, with my son Chris, on a very quiet Friday evening. I had been asking about dollar coins for weeks, with a constant string of “no” answers coming back at me. In those weeks he and I had found plenty of recent quarters, including a Washington , DC – P quarter, but the dollars were basically a dry well. We were at the drive-through of this BK, there wasn’t a car behind us, or in sight for that matter, and I asked the cashier about the presidential dollars, as my son gave a slight shake of his head (he does tolerate me, I’ll give him that).

The young man commented that he thought they had a bunch in the back, and that he would ask the manager. I made a quick comment about not wanting to get him into trouble, but the manager was quick to come to the window and tell me she had quite a few, and would go take a look in the safe. A moment later she came back with twenty three dollar coins! She pointed out to me that one of them wasn’t “gold,” but I told her it wasn’t a problem, knowing that this was probably a Susan B. Anthony thrown into the mix. The transaction took only a moment, but we ended up having to give a quick ‘thank you’ as we took off, since a line of four cars had formed behind us.

The two of us were on our way to a college basketball game after this wonderful find, so I had to content myself with hefting my new trove of dollars throughout the game, and with waiting impatiently until we got home. The wait was worth it.

The break-down of these twenty three dollar coins were as follows: one 1979-P Susan B. Anthony dollar, one 2000-P, one 2000-D, and one 2001-P Sacagawea dollar, which was a pretty good representation of the dollar coins that pre-date the presidents.

As for the presidentials, well they were: one Washington –P and two –Ds, two John Adams –Ps, four Jefferson –Ps, one James Monroe –P, one John Q. Adams –D, three Andrew Jackson –Ps, and a whopping 5 Van Buren –Ps. Only President Madison didn’t make an appearance in this particular fistful of dollars.

There have got to be some other troves out there for a lucky collector to find. If you have a few one and five dollar bills of your own, why not try this question-and-answer form of collecting? Apparently, even the dry wells eventually re-fill. Or maybe, as I said, sometimes you just get lucky! Good hunting.

Musicpass Cards (Summer 2008)

It is definitely a great time to call yourself a numismatist. [...] Every once in a while, there comes something that changes the hobby, if not forever, at least for a while.

Many of us remember the phone card craze. There was a lot of ink spilled in the collector journals and magazines about the good and bad of them. “Phone cards will ruin the hobby,” said the doomsayers. “Phone cards are a neat way to get young people into the hobby,” said the pro-faction. And in the middle of it were a few voices pointing out that similar arguments were to be heard when people started collecting credit cards. Years later, after the dust has settled, we can see that there are some avid credit card collectors, as well as some avid phone card collectors. Both have their spot within the hobby, and neither have ruined it. Now, that sort of cycle stands poised to turn again.

If you are not the type to frequent music stores, you may not have heard of Musicpass cards. These plastic cards can be purchased just like a CD (or an LP, for the somewhat more “chronologically superior” collectors), and when purchased, can be used to download the singer or band’s music directly onto an iPod or an MP3 player. Musicpass cards are the same size as a credit card, and each has original artwork on it, just like an album cover or a CD case. Plus, they are being marketed as collectible. So, while they may not be as directly numismatic as a credit card, they do have a connection.

A credit card allows a person to use the promise of money to pay for goods or services. Musicpass cards are paid for with the promise of music that can be downloaded into a person’s digital collection. The Musicpass card pictured here, of the Backstreet Boys’ work “Unbreakable,” is just one of many that was for sale at a FYE (a music store) in the metro Detroit area recently. Keep an eye out in the next few years. These may become yet another collectible within the broad field of numismatics. If you hated phone cards, brace yourself. They’re not coins at all, but there is some common ground. Well, there we have it for the time being. Plenty of new quarters and dollars are out there, although you have to ask around for those dollars. And something totally new to boot: Musicpass cards.