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Would You Search 1 Million Cents?
By Dr. R.S. “Bart” Bartanowicz, Coins Magazine
September 04, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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I recently purchase some circa 1960s issues of a publication relating to coins, and was quite excited when they arrived. The photos of coin club meetings, showing men and women dressed up in suits and dresses, were priceless.

The ads and coin prices had me chuckling. Too bad I didn’t have the money back then. But it was the stories of some really dedicated collectors that were the real jewels. Here are some of my favorites.

The first is about an avid cent searcher in Springfield, Mo. The fellow wrote that he had searched through more than 500,000 cents.

He stated he was able to assemble a complete Lincoln cent set averaging out Extremely Fine, with the exception of the 1909-S V.D.B., 1909-S, 1914-D and 1931-S coins, which he had to purchase. The writer didn’t indicate how long this enterprise took him.

This would be near impossible today, but in the 1950s and early 1960s there were still a lot of good coins in circulation. The mere idea of sorting through more than 500,000 cents is laborious—though a labor of love.

This fellow was dedicated and proud of his accomplishment.

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While a half-million coins is impressive, another dedicated searcher reported that he had looked through 1 million Lincoln cents.

This collector was doing what we now call cherrypicking. He apparently had great success, as he reeled off findings that included two 1909-S V.D.B.s, seven 1914-Ds, 11 1909-Ss, two 1931-Ss, 14 1924-Ds and 10 1911-Ss as well as other scarce dates.

Not to be daunted, he had set a timetable to examine another 1 million coins over the next two or three years.

Although going through thousands of thousands of cents might be laborious and a little messy, this was topped in one way by a story in Baltimore. Police observed a fellow emerging from a sewer hole, covered in muck and his pockets apparently bulging with coins. When questioned by police as to what he was doing, he reported he was obviously looking for coins (as well as jewelry) and that on occasion he had found valuable coins.

Was this fellow a collector or an opportunist? Who knows?

In the 1960s public transportation always seemed to be busy and crowded. This was before people moved to the suburbs and started using their cars to get to work.

In the process of getting on and off public transportation, coins were dropped and ended up in the numerous street sewer drains. Many of these old sewers lines went back to the 1800s and were no doubt loaded with coins.

Would you go down into the sewers in search of coins - even wearing modern protective gear? I wouldn’t.

My favorite is the story about an Air Force technical sergeant who started collecting coins during World War II. A British major in the Royal Air Force gave him 100 of his duplicate coins.

This energized the sergeant and it was reported that he had assembled more than 60,000 specimens. The story was accompanied by a photo of the sergeant standing in front of a massive display at a Texas Air Force Base that was only part of his collection. Extreme collecting, sure, but the sergeant had bragging rights.

The above stories are all wonderful snapshots of regular people collecting coins—just people doing what they like to do. While going through 1 million or even a half-million Lincoln cents isn’t my thing, it’s great that these people enjoyed it.

The Air Force sergeant obviously had a collecting interest and a great sense of organization. Just the cataloging, storage and set up of such a massive display does indeed indicate great dedication. For the sewer finds, I would have to think about it.

Today the world is different. Patiently examining thousands of coins, especially one-cent pieces, may be a lost art. However, if there is a hobby that has folks who are patient, it’s this one.

Old magazines are fun. Pick one up and you will chuckle at the prices. You will also shutter at some of the coin preservation (cleaning) supplies that were offered for sale, which no doubt ruined many a nice coin, but at the time, who knew?

More Coin Collecting Resources:

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• IT’S HERE! Order the 2014 North American Coins & Prices.

• Get the 2012 Coin of the Year – limited quantities remain!

• See what guides and supplies our editors recommend for keeping up with your collection.


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