August 17, 2004 > A Penny Saved...
A Penny Saved...
by Mekala Raman
Jars full of pennies and pockets full of quarters. Each day, coins pass through our fingers like water. Thousands of years ago, people assigned value to gold and silver and used it in daily commerce. While the originator of the first metal stamped coin is very much in doubt, it is generally agreed that they were issued on one of the islands of Greece. These coins bore a face, the reverse bearing simply a cross mark. The Greeks, Persians and finally the Romans minted coins of silver, gold and bronze.
Coins have come a long way from their crude beginnings in ancient Greece to the State quarters in circulation today. Their long history has created global interest and study of the world of coins, called numismatics. Numismatics is the collection and study of coins, paper money, tokens and medals.
Numismatists (coin collectors) take nickels and dimes very seriously. There are three main areas of interest in the world of coin collecting-Greek or Roman origin, Medieval or hammered coinage (a.d. 476-1453), and those produced in the Modern era.
The goal of a series collector is to acquire one of each date and mintmark made, usually including any major design differences. For example, the U.S. Standing Liberty quarter was produced from 1916 to 1930 at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints (coins were not made at all three mints every year, and none were produced at any mint in 1922).
A collector building a type set seeks to have one of each series and major design variation within each series. Examples would be 20th century Canadian coinage and U.S. gold coins.
Collectors of ancient coins find that the gold, silver and bronze of the ancient world are surprisingly available. A silver "drachma" issued by Alexander the Great might cost about $60 while a silver "denarius" from one of the early Roman emperors might cost $30. Gold costs more and bronze, being more common, costs less. For $10 or $20, you can own a bronze coin that circulated during the time of Archimedes or St. Paul!
The world of numismatists also encompasses the collecting of tokens, tickets, tallies and checks. In Great Britain during the mid 1600's, the 1790's and the 1810's, when the government ignored the needs of the people and refused to issue sufficient low value coins, traders took matters into their own hands and issued tokens. These formed a local currency and it took several acts of Parliament to ban them. The bans were never completely successful and the "common man's currency" continued to be issued, and used, through the mid 1800's. Although less valuable than coins, tokens are valuable to those interested local history.
Coins can be worth much more than their face value. Coins with no wear at all are referred to as uncirculated or in mint state (MS). Other coins fall in to the circulated category and are appraised based on the amount of wear they have encountered. Some coins are certified, meaning that they are examined by a grading service that attests to the quality of the coin. The certification process raises the price of the coin considerably.
Occasionally, coin collectors may hit the jackpot and discover very rare coins, which, although not necessarily a measure of the price of the coin, are usually quite expensive. They don't exactly have to be old either, but a 1794 coin is bound to be worth more than a 2001 penny. Alan Douglass, president of the Fremont Coin Club, is in possession of a 1916 mercury dime worth $475 and has seen coins going for upwards of six million dollars.
Although it is not uncommon to find rare coins by accident, most collectors will attend coin shows, club meetings, and shops in search of their next great find. People may even hire others to locate coins for them. Coins can be found at flea markets, bazaars, auctions, and even online through such sites as EBay. Once in possession of a coin, a collector usually turns to the Red Book, a pricing guide that is published yearly. Monthly guides are also published as prices can fluctuate from time to time.
Many Fremont numismatists belong to the Fremont Coin Club. Ron Miller, a local coin shop owner, organized The Fremont Coin Club over thirty years ago. Today, the club has well over 900 members from ages five to ninety-five and continues to grow.
President Alan Douglass has been a member since 1999. "Vince [LaCarriere, the owner of Fremont Coin Gallery] and his wife got me interested and I decided to join the club." As a child, Douglass would find, buy and sell coins, only to buy more. His hobby grew and he became a dedicated, full-fledged numismatist who still retains the wonder and excitement of coins that led him to coins as a youngster.
Fremont Coin Club meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month to hold auctions for coins and engage in other related activities. The coin club is not restricted to coins and includes all forms of currency such as bills, tokens, casino chips and medals. A number of the club members have interesting hobbies other than coin collecting. These are showcased at "Other Hobbies Night," where club members share other collections or hobbies amongst themselves.
The coin club meets on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays each month (except 2nd Tuesday in January and 4th Tuesday in December) at 7:00 p.m. at the Elk's Lodge 2121, 38991 Farwell Drive, Fremont - CA 94538 (Mowry East exit 0ff I-880).
Club membership fee is $5. For more information contact the Fremont Coin Club at P.O. Box 1401, Fremont or Vince Lacariere's Fremont Coin Gallery at 3769 Peralta Blvd Suite L, Fremont. 510-792-1511